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To obtain power, politicians tend to make a lot of promises but most of them can hardly be kept. In a feudal society, populism is simply a means to an end. A gullible populace can be faulted for being taken for a ride, again and again, and mostly by the same lot. For all its claims about democracy, the UK is no different.

The polls for the recent Scottish referendum showing ‘yes for independence’ voters pulling slightly ahead of ‘no’ for the first time, panicked the three major UK parties into overdrive, making a whole bunch of promises in the few days remaining till the referendum day (September 18).

The broad consensus hammered out between the Conservatives, the Labour Party and the Liberals for considerable devolution of power to the Scots to fail the ‘yes’ vote, unleashed a flurry of last minute pledges, going far beyond what had already been promised for a ‘no’ vote.

 Neither the pledges nor the general bonhomie prevailing between the major political parties lasted more than an hour after the results were announced. Welcoming the results on September 19, Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated that all the promises made would be kept. As an afterthought but clearly a well-conceived one, he unleashed a storm of controversy by stating that the voice of the English populace would now also be heard in denying the Members of the Scottish Parliament some say over the English laws.

More controversially, the potential threat to David Cameron’s leadership of the Conservative Party, London Mayor Boris Johnson, demanded revising of the ‘Barnett Formula’ devised in the 1970s by former civil servant Lord Barnett, giving £10,152 to every head of the population in Scotland for devolved public services compared to £8,529 per head in England. Attacking the pledges made during the referendum campaign as “reckless promises” to retain an outdated system, he publicly urged the prime minister to renege!

Alex Salmond, who is Scotland’s First Minister and Leader of the Scottish National Party, said that the two major British parties wasted no time reneging on the last minute promises for further devolution. He said the people of Scotland would be “astonished and outraged”, particularly those who were swayed in the last few days in the referendum to vote ‘no’. The Labour Party’s leader, David Milliband, could find his campaign strategy for the next elections badly disrupted on this ‘English question’. The Labour Party’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman, said that Cameron is looking to divide and outflank his opposition, both within and outside the Conservative Party, seeking narrow political advantage instead of looking at the future of the country.

Imran Khan may be giving examples of British democracy pertaining to community governance at the grassroots level, however, the fallout on the Scottish referendum has shown that British parliamentary democracy is not only quite imperfect, it can also be selectively unjust. The Scots may have lost their battle for independence, even if some of the pledges go through further devolution, they would have won the war.

To get their major objective of independence in 1947, the leaders of Pakistan had no option to shift away or even amend the British model. Once they got it, they had to persevere with it in order to consolidate the territorial and ideological boundaries of the new nation. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto faced the same limitations after 1971, saving what was left of a truncated Pakistan.

The 1973 Constitution shows that we have been straitjacketed into a system with hardly any relevance to the requirements of our population. Without governance at the grassroots level, democracy is abstract and meaningless at the provincial and federal levels. At the provincial level, elected community representatives make up the composition of the assemblies. The indirect election, electing representatives to the Senate, is a joke. Fundamental electoral reforms are needed to get our democratic principles in line with our needs. We must devise a more pragmatic and equitable system.

Modelled on the British system, our present version of democracy is feudal and farcical and only selectively democratic. According to the Magna Carta, it is in the blood of the feudals to make promises that can be easily broken without fearing any accountability.


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