Tag Archives: multinational corporations

The Future Direction of Democratic Debate

15 Sep

Throughout the referendum campaign – and over the past few weeks in particular – the focus of almost every major news outlet in Britain has been on the activity of international financial markets and statements issued by senior figures in multinational corporations.

As the story goes, short term fluctuations in the share prices of international companies such as RBS and Lloyds should be factored in to the decision making process of each and every person with a vote this Thursday. Furthermore, statements made by senior figures in organisations that have premises and staff in Scotland should not only be considered as part of an overall weighing in the balance of the great many issues involved, they should form the very basis of the discussion as a whole.

The great problem with all of this, as I see it anyway, is where this now leaves the state of democratic debate moving forward.

If the public now wishes to conduct the democratic process under these conditions, as large sections of the Better Together campaign seem to do, then we must be prepared to face up to the logical and probable consequences that will flow from such a decision.

For starters, if share price volatility and the statements of unelected CEOs of multinational corporations are now to be factored in to the decision making process of each and every citizen in a democratic society, why bother having political debate at all?

Why not instead simply allow Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems to put out their manifestos and see which one pleases big business most? We could simply post the 3 manifestos to the boards of FTSE 100 companies and ask them to endorse 1 of the 3. We would then inform the public that big business is in favour of the Labour manifesto for the next 5 years and that a vote for Conservative or Lib Dems would make them seriously consider leaving the country or increasing their prices.

Is that really the kind of democratic society that anyone wants?

I am fully aware that this kind of talk is open to accusations of gross exaggeration here. But before simply dismissing it, let’s just look at the situation on the ground.

Last week shares in some large Scottish based corporations suffered a small drop in price after one poll showed that the Yes campaign was in the lead. Absolute pandemonium broke out on every major news channel on TV as dire warnings were issued to the Scottish people about the extreme damage that could be done to the economy if there was a Yes vote. 24 hour rolling news coverage relentlessly pursued the story that this small drop in prices was a sign that a much bigger financial meltdown would hit Scotland if the electorate were to inconceivably vote the “wrong way” in a democratic referendum.

The share prices returned to normal on Tuesday.

But by that time the major UK newspapers had gone to print with front page headlines that gave off the impression that the entire Scottish economy was on the precipice of a 2007 style meltdown, all because of 1 opinion poll taken from a sample of around 1000 people amongst an electorate of over 4 million registered voters.

The message from across the media has therefore been clear: unelected CEOs in some businesses are concerned about independence and share prices have fluctuated on international markets (which, by the way, I had always thought they were meant to do), therefore the people of Scotland should vote No.

You will notice here that this message has absolutely nothing to do with democracy. There exists no link between this line of argument and the idea of government of the people, by the people, for the people. The question of whether or not the people of Scotland should take full control over the governance of their country for generations to come has been entirely eradicated and replaced by considerations of how some economic entities may or may not act in the short to medium term.

But it’s not just within the context of the Scottish Independence referendum that the democratic will of the people could be treated as something of a secondary consideration to corporate interests.

Britain is likely to hold a referendum on whether or not it should stay in the European Union at some point in the next few years and it is with this in mind that I draw your attention to what is surely the most glaring inconsistency in both political rhetoric and editorial policy in modern times.

For years now, the front pages of several right wing UK newspapers have focused on what they perceive to be the EU’s implicit – and sometimes even explicit – crusade to destroy nation state democracy and replace it with a European federal super state.

It’s nonsense of course but the line taken on this by the vehemently eurosceptic British press has been that the British people deserve a say on whether or not they want their country to be a part of this organisation anymore.

Power rests with the British electorate, as the argument goes, and to prevent them from having a say on the EU question is an affront to democracy.

There is a huge problem here.

The vast majority of news outlets who have provided us with wall to wall coverage of CEO warning statements and share price volatility during the Scottish independence campaign are the exact same news outlets who are strongly in favour of the UK leaving the EU via an In/ Out referendum.

But in response to the prospect of the UK leaving the EU, several business leaders and neoliberal think tanks have warned that this would be an unmitigated disaster for the British economy. Companies would leave, jobs would be lost, international influence decline and British goods might be subject to tariffs when being exported to the continent.

All of this has been said already and you can be absolutely certain that as the prospect of an In/Out referendum on Britain’s EU membership increases, the idea that Britain could leave Europe will bring about the exact same voices of fear, doom and depression from the world of FTSE 100 CEOs and the uncertainty will also impact the share price of many British companies.

But what on earth will the mainstream media do then? They cannot possibly urge the Scottish people on an almost hourly basis to heed the warnings of the international markets when considering independence only to then dismiss these concerns when it comes to the British people’s vote on EU membership.
But this is exactly what will happen.

The vast majority of news outlets in Britain will go from treating Corporate CEOs as the golden boys of the Better Together campaign in 2014 to portraying them as the most untrustworthy, scheming, self interested and illegitimate people in public life when Britain’s EU membership comes up for discussion next year.

Nigel Farage will, of course, be at the forefront of this campaign against the undemocratic interference in the democratic process of the nation. He will rant “How dare these international financiers who crashed the world economy try and tell the ordinary man in the street that they should vote to stay in the EU?” He will rave “Surely this is a matter for the British people to decide?” And when he says “I do not think that the industry that gave us Fred Goodwin carries any credibility in the eyes of the average British voter”, the British press will give a unanimously favourable write up.

But wait! Isn’t this the same press that has been relentlessly telling Scots that they should vote against the economic uncertainty and financial instability that would come with a Yes vote? Aren’t these the same newspapers that dismiss the claim that there would be a huge drop in GDP if the UK left the EU as scaremongering but thinks that the relocation of a registered head office from Edinburgh to London is worthy of an in-depth discussion?

What on earth is going on here?

Surely we cannot have it both ways. We either admit the whims and aspirations of multinational corporations who are under no obligation or duty of loyalty to anyone but their shareholders into the democratic decision making process or we do not.

It cannot be one way for Scotland in 2014 and then the complete opposite when it comes to a referendum on EU membership or any other major democratic decision in the next few years.

Those who have sought to campaign for a No vote on the basis of stock market volatility and corporate interests rather than constructing an argument about the purpose and direction of the United Kingdom and how it could best cater for the needs of its people have not only failed to make a persuasive case, they have also suggested that future political questions should be conducted in the shadow of considerations of economic coercion.

If this is indeed how they now feel, they should be bold enough to admit that this is the way in which they want things to move forward and accept that the era in which politics was a means through which ordinary people could try to tame the market is now over.

The question being posed on Thursday is simply this: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” There is no mention of banks on the ballot paper. There will be no table of share prices in the voting booth. Sky News will not be interviewing someone from ASDA in the background.

We are being asked to consider whether or not future generations of Scots should be given the right to direct democratic representation.

It is a matter of principle not pence.

This Thursday, for the first time in history, absolute sovereign power will lie in the hands of the Scottish people and nobody else.

The choice will be whether the people of Scotland choose to keep that power or give it back.

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