The tyranny of the majority

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As a member of a permanent minority (disabled people) I am increasing concerned about the aftermath of the referendum debate in Scotland; and,especially, how it will affect the ‘Yes’ camp if they become ‘the minority’ within this so-called democratic decision-making process.

I voted by postal vote before the ‘No’ campaign effectively became the ‘Devo Max’ campaign, so my vote was cast on a different choice to that which will be before voters on 18th September. If you remember, the ‘Devo max’ choice came into being after a poll showed the ‘Yes’ campaign was narrowly ahead, by just a few percentage points.

This situation reminds me of Lord Acton, the Liberal politician, who in 1877, wrote: “The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.” (The History of Freedom in Antiquity)

In my case, my minority group consists of 20% of the Scottish population. However, in the case of this referendum if the ‘Yes’ camp becomes the losing party, that minority may well be in its high 40%; a much more significant number.

Assuming this will be the case, and I realise it may not be so; but if it does transpire that there will be a minority ‘Yes’ vote then they will be forced to accept the ‘gifts’ bestowed upon them by Acton’s force of a fraudulent party – namely the Westminster Government and its Opposition

Probably there will not be a judicial inquiry into the legitimacy of this vote. Yet, as I bemoan my situation as a member of a disabled minority, who is taxed without representation, I can sympathise with those who could well lose after such fraudulent intervention, by parties who do not represent them.

In my case, after paying my income tax, I pay another 43% of my remaining income on care taxes, without any representation from my minority group among those who decide how much tax (called ‘client contribution’ by the DWP’s Independent Living Fund, in England) I should pay. In the case of the possible losing ‘Yes’ voters, they too will live under conditions, decided by others, down in England, who did not involve them in their decision-making processes, either.

Indeed, I am so sad to think that this referendum may be swung by such corrupt and devious actions, including that of encouraging big businesses to appeal to the selfishness of individuals by saying that basic food and drink prices will go up if we become independent – an assertion based on some dubious assumptions. I feel sad because people are being encouraged to vote selfishly, when scientists such as Peter Kropotkin, George Price and Samuel Bowles have shown that ‘unselfish’ acts of individual members of a species, be it a fish or a human being, can benefit the whole species and develop its welfare and evolution.

Wouldn’t it be great if this referendum were seen in terms of what was best for the whole of society; to benefit all of us; to undo the social injustices of the  UK Government’s neoliberal austerity cuts which have led to five of the richest families in the UK having more money and assets than 200,000 of the poorest; to form a more just, inclusive and mutually beneficial society. After all, we are Scots, who are more naturally friendly, open and community minded.

In the 19th century, John C. Calhoun, a Southern United States politician, developed the notion of a ‘concurrent majority’. To deal with what he also called ‘the tyranny of the majority’; in his case, by the Northern States within Congress; he advocated that great decisions (such as the one Scotland is engaged with today) are not merely a matter of numerical majorities but require agreement or acceptance by the major interest in society. Therefore, concurrent majority, according to Calhoun, is a constitutional method of enabling minorities to block the actions of majorities by giving them a power of veto, particularly if that decision inhibits their human rights

I can’t see this as a practicable solution to this debate, but Calhoun was writing just ten years before the American Civil War. Let’s hope the historical trajectory of the future governance of Scotland will find a more peaceful solution to this perpetual problem of the tyranny of the majority.


About jimelderwoodward

Disabled people's rights activist living in Scotland, promoting the principles and practices of independent living, the outcome of which is participative parity as equal citizens in all areas of community life - economic, civic, social and cultural
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