Democracy

Once we followed the biggest and boldest member of the tribe. That won’t do anymore, but someone has to be in charge. And the best way of working out who seems to be democracy – our next Fundamental British value.

Yet when wars are fought to displace dictators with the ballot box somehow it does not always work. The reason is as important as, to some extent, it is obvious. Democracy is not the simple act of voting, it is a frame of mind and a set of values in itself.

The question of who votes in a democracy implies who is a citizen and what that means. Landed gentry, property holders, over 35, then over 21 then 18, then women, over 16 in the Scottish referendum and all too late in South Africa, non whites. Each of these developments of who votes, over many centuries imply huge social changes that run far beyond the ballot box. With the right to vote come the responsibilities of the citizen as well and what that means.

Then there is what we vote for and how. A direct vote, voting for a party representative, first past the post or proportional representation. All produce different results. With roughly the same share of the vote the SNP lost the independence referendum and won a landslide in a constituency based general election. UKIP had just as many votes yet has one MP compared to nearly 60 for the SNP. There are real concerns about turn out and participation.

When more vote in Strictly than in council elections democracy may still need some tweaks but the underlying values of the rights and responsibilities of the voting citizen, not a British idea but one from Ancient Rome and Greece, is certainly an important fundamental value.