Business and Society Equality Inequality Politics

Equality of Voice and ‘Devo-localism’

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Dependent Smurf
Don’t I get a say?


That’s where the real constitutional debate needs to be – around a radical constitutional option that puts Scotland back into the hands of its people: devo-local, if you like. Trevor Davies, The Scotsman 10/5/2012

 [Politicians] see themselves as propping up something which is tottering rather than letting citizens build anew something that is soundly based. Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph 13/7/2012


Power wielded from the centre is slow to react, inflexible and discriminates poorly. Yet political power at all levels has been steadily eroded as a consequence of the economic demands of global corporations and the economic strain on central government to provide for these corporations and mop up the damage they cause. No redistribution of political power from centre to periphery can be sustainable without addressing the centralisation of economic power. The willingness to address the latter is surely what will separate the left ‘devo-localist’ from the right.

The threefold errors of modern society are the politics of brand management; the economics of revenue and profit; and administration by information packet. What these share is an attempt to streamline society, in the supposed interests of efficiency, by limiting the scale and scope of human transactions. In politics, instead of messy engagement with people’s real lives to find solutions, policies, parties and their leaders are molded to fit current (or anticipated) media demands. In business, real needs go unmet and social and environmental damage are done because wage contracts, prices and marketing cannot translate the complexity of human life. Management is driven by the need to rapidly transfer small context-less pieces of information across over-large government and business organisations. Yet the mismatch between real human reality and these limited forms of transactions adds up at every stage. So we end up with a dysfunctional society, a paralysed economy and increasingly unsatisfactory experiences of both public and private services.

Broadening the channels of communication requires a recognition that all citizens should have a right to be heard on the policies adopted in their local community, the activities of the businesses that employ them, operate in their local communities and affect our environment as well as how services that affect them are implemented. It also requires the understanding that everyone else will benefit from the greater cohesion and targeting of resources that will result. Instead of streamlining these concerns into narrower and narrower channels in which the voices of the poorest, weakest and least eloquent are rapidly dropped, we need to broaden them.

Politicians must have to and must be able to engage directly with all groups, not just those able to raise funds and express their views most loudly. Businesses must engage with their employees, consumers and local communities by aiming to understand what their needs are, what advances their interests and avoids damage, not just by paying the lowest possible wage, charging the highest possible price and creating the most persuasive (while staying within the law) advertising. All services, public and private, must develop and maintain expertise in dealing face-to-face and responsively with the individuals they purport to serve.

This all-encompassing requirement to seek and enable meaningful contact between organisations and people, I have called ‘equality of voice’. This is something more meaningful and more achievable than either ‘equality of outcome’, which attempts (usually unsuccessfully) to eliminate all differences whatever collateral damage this causes, or ‘equality of opportunity’ that attempts to eliminate some differences, often on arbitrary criteria and usually omitting many that are self-perpetuating.

It is vital to understand in advance that many of the processes required to fulfil this agenda may on the surface appear untidy, inefficient and time-consuming – real conversations between people often are. Yet the long-run benefits in achieving first-time the best possible solutions that have the maximum possible ownership will outweigh more ‘efficiently’ achieved, but poorly conceived, understood and supported, short-term ‘fixes’ that are frequently revisited and replaced.

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