Margo MacDonald: Thinking out of the box for vote

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I’ve an idea about the future for the redundant police boxes. And just maybe I’ve hit on something that chimes with the present-day attitude to politics.

I’ve an idea about the future for the redundant police boxes. And just maybe I’ve hit on something that chimes with the present-day attitude to politics.

Everyone knows the referendum is important to their life and their family’s future prosperity, although we’re years away from the referendum, scheduled for 2014 and maybe even 2015, and they want to know more about the big questions. But, the referendum, regardless of when it’s held, will not take place in a political vacuum. In Westminster, there will be partisan party political business as usual, and it’s a fair bet the referendum will be dragged into the party politicking to be used as a weapon against opponents. But in the absence of anything cataclysmic, like a war in the Middle East, we will have our referendum.

Currently, running parallel to the interest in the questions posed by the referendum I sense an annoyance that nobody is painting a true representation of the future with, and without, independence. People in the street, in their homes, on radio phone-in programmes, complain that they’re never given the facts of Scotland’s position as regards being in the EU, for example. Instead of a calm explanation of the two or three possible scenarios, they have to watch the question being muddled and lost in internecine politics.

I’ve been advocating for some time that there must be a source of information about the referendum other than that offered by the parties. It should be possible to construct a narrative and offer unbiased accounts to act as a counterweight to the partisan policies of the parties on both sides of the referendum debate.

The police Tardis boxes might just offer the stand-alone delivery system I’ve been hoping to find. And if I’m right about what people want to know about the big issues, I’m sure the boxes could be customised to produce an ongoing commentary on the referendum, designed to give people the sort of information and choices they want before they commit their future one way or another. This information service would not be run by any of the political parties .

I might be wrong, but I sense that the traditional divide between the parties really has gone. And it’s done so because the sort of people who were the backbone of constituency politics are no longer interested in conducting debate on a “my party, right or wrong” basis. There still are some good people on the left who offer a socialist analysis but the wind is still blowing in their faces, and they will have a minimal influence on the referendum or the election to follow.

Scotland is not alone in what amounts to a considerable change in the democratic process. Across the part of Europe which has become used to democracy over hundreds of years, political parties find it hard to recruit members. The political castes in most EU countries are seen as self-interested and absorbed in matters a million miles removed from the battle waged by the common citizen to keep moving forward.

So even after the referendum, citizens’ information hubs could offer a means of allowing unattached voters the chance to construct or comment on policies. If they offered information before big contracts are signed, rather than justification and condemnation, from opposing political parties afterwards, the interested citizen could record his or her opinion on the issue.

I think it possible that public opinion will run alongside the processes of party politics and that citizens could visit a facility that briefs him or her, and allows for informed reflection. How else are people to be empowered to face the fact that the good times have stopped rolling?

We could take a decisive step into the new politics of the citizens’ involvement. Instead of poorly attended branch and constituency meetings informing the party’s policies or, more likely these days, a tight group round the leader handing down to members the party line, a continuous flow of information and opinion could be accessed from the information hubs.

But first, the referendum. The SNP is the party in charge in Holyrood. It’s there because most Scots preferred it to the other parties.

Public support for the supposedly pro-sovereignty party was expressed in the main by young and youngish people who found the idea of independence inspiring and, possibly representing the greater part of the vote, older scots who side stepped independence and voted for what they judged to be the greater competence enjoyed by Alex Salmond.

But the referendum has nothing to do with who does best on First Minister’s Questions, or which party is the focus for investigation into its way of handling political lobbying. Could customised former police boxes help run a citizens’ referendum?