Moyra Forrest: Be wary of threats to democracy

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HAD society valued bookmakers’ odds more highly, we could have called both the independence referendum and the general elections results from them.

One week before the referendum, we could have found a prediction of around 55 per cent for No and 45 per cent for Yes. Gordon Brown’s interference would appear to have achieved no change in the result; only lots of further pain via the so-called ‘Vow’ which then panicked David Cameron into ill-thought out promises for English votes for English laws. A proposed Constitutional Convention for the UK is gathering support, but it may be too late.

Similarly at the general election, far-sighted politicians were possibly making contingency plans based on odds rather than opinion polls. The odds I checked for single seats were uniformly correct.

The world has changed. Information and communication technologies have changed the nature of space and time. Lumbering organisations and outdated ways of thinking are not serving us well. It is exciting to speculate on a new political forecasting world. Where will the information come from? Can we trust it? And how much will it influence the way people vote? Might there be periods when no polls at all are allowed?

It is more than interesting to contrast the strict spending rules on elections in France with the huge amounts of money spent in the US. Americanisation of so much of our lives (including spelling!) is surely a curate’s egg. And the bad parts are pretty awful.

Democracy has been described as a pearl without price. Let us be very conscious of all threats to it.

Moyra Forrest is a former Liberal Democrat councillor in Edinburgh, a retired librarian and occasional book indexer