Why the Swiss model of democracy should be introduced in the United Kingdom?
The United Kingdom is a country that has been ruled with “the Westminster model” of democracy for almost a century, which always served with full democracy, protected human rights to the utmost, and managed to be an example to several modern states. “Britain is a settled polity. It has been a full democracy for almost 100 years, and it has representative institutions”. Synchronously, with its complex and fascinating political system, Switzerland seen as a model country even by British politicians like Churchill and Lansbury, that latter called for a similar system to be introduced in Britain. This research illustrates the importance of introducing the Swiss model of democracy in the UK, and possible benefits if Britain adopts the Swiss model of democracy. Thus firstly, the paper represents the general benefits of Swiss model and the referendums with significant examples, secondly, it discusses two different electoral systems and importance of introducing proportional representation in Britain, finally, it demonstrates another important feature of Swiss model consociationalism-the representation of all major parties in the cabinet. So, while we see two accomplished countries that use two different kinds of democracy, and bringing one country’s model to another, the research makes more sense and becomes rational in this vital historical period of Britain. In this research, I have tried to give several examples while comparing two different democratic polities. There are numerous sources about the topic, but just to stay away from the misrepresentation and to complete the research precisely and deliver the comparison correctly to the readers, the sources are used in the research have been selected carefully, and comparative political analysis has been chosen as a main methodology for the research.
One of the elements of the Swiss model is direct democracy. Direct democracy (sometimes 'classical', 'participatory', or 'radical' democracy) is based on the direct, unmediated and continuous participation of citizens in the tasks of government… it is a system of popular self-government. So, in this country, people are the responsible ones, for the consequences of given decisions. Switzerland has a model of direct democracy which has allowed citizens direct influence over Government legislation, should the requisite threshold be passed on a public petition. It’s one of the general benefits of Swiss model that, the citizens may challenge a law that has been passed by parliament if they can gather 50,000 signatures against the law within 100 days. Also, citizens can put a constitutional amendment to a national vote, if they get 100,000 voters within 18 months to sign the proposed amendment. Since people have the right to challenge the law, lawmakers, elected representatives know that their work will be seriously checked by the public, so, they try to execute efficiently, not to go beyond the law and keep all the promises.
Contrary, in the UK another kind of democracy-representative democracy is used. “Representative democracy is a limited and indirect form of democracy. A system of government in which members of a community elect people to represent their interests and to make decisions affecting the community”. Every five years, people in the UK choose their representatives. Although there are many advantages of representative democracy like “representative democracy places decision-making in the hands of politicians who have better education and greater expertise” some philosophers including Rousseau argued that the general will of the people could not be decided by elected representatives: “the moment a people allows itself to be represented, it is no longer free: it no longer exists. The day you elect representatives is the day you lose your freedom”. Opposed to Swiss politicians, in Britain, they are not so devoted to their promises as their colleagues, for instance, Theresa May promised: “We will scrap the Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights”, but in reality, she abandoned the plan after becoming PM. So, if the British people have the right to scrutinizing and challenge the works of their politicians, all politics would approach their jobs more attentively and respectfully.
In Switzerland approximately four times a year, voting occurs over various issues, including referendums. A referendum is the device of direct democracy. “A referendum (sometimes called a plebiscite) is a vote in which the electorate can express a view on a particular issue of public policy”. Although there’re some downsides like: “they leave political decisions in the hands of those who have the least education and experience, and are most susceptible to media and other influences”, it is also the most democratic way in politics and “they strengthen legitimacy by providing the public with a way of expressing their views about specific issues”. “The use of referendums was traditionally frowned upon in the UK. They were seen as somehow 'not British' because they conflicted with the principles of parliamentary democracy”. Referendums also demonstrate the exact desires of people and they make the final decision where a party in government argues and can’t come to conclusion. An example of this can be found in the 1975 referendum in Britain, in which the public was asked if the UK should remain in the European Economic Community or breakaway. Most participants voted for the continuation of Britain’s EEC membership, an outcome that constituted a victory for the government. Another fact about referendums in the UK is the Brexit, that the parliament respects the decision of people and after long negotiations, they finally took the country from the European Union. So, the referendums can replace the sovereignty of parliament with the sovereignty of the people.
The electoral systems are totally different in these two countries: majoritarian and disproportional electoral systems versus proportional representation. Although proportional representation is used in some devolved parts of the UK, a single-member plurality system (SMP) or first-past-the-post (FPTP) is the main voting system. Here “voters select a single candidate, and the winning candidate needs only to achieve a plurality of votes”. There’re some advantages of SMP like “it’s easy for electors to understand and use, and produces strong and stable government”, meanwhile it doesn’t reflect nationwide vote and their opinion as it really is, and gives an unfair advantage to the two main parties. Contrary, in Switzerland it is the list system of proportional representation (PR), where no votes, or fewer votes, are “wasted”. “This is the only potentially pure system of proportional representation, and is therefore fair to all parties”. Although there’re few disadvantages of the list system like “multi-member regions can weaken the bond between elected representatives and their constituents”, there’re more strong benefits like “the high degree of proportionality between cast and seats won, and each vote has the same value”. So in Switzerland seats are allocated according to the proportion of votes. But in Britain, because the FPTP the minor parties can never come to the power, and the cabinet always is represented either by the Conservative party or Labour party.
A third important feature of the Swiss model is its consociationalism, which is the form of power-sharing in a democracy. “Consociational states have some internal divisions along ethnic, religious, or linguistic lines, with none of the divisions large enough to form a majority group and represented proportionally in the executive. The goals of consociationalism are governmental stability, the survival of the power-sharing arrangements, the survival of democracy, and the avoidance of violence”.
In contrast to the Westminster model’s tendency to concentrate executive power in one-party and bare-majority cabinets, the consensus principle is to let all or most of the important parties share executive power in a broad coalition. The Swiss seven-member national executive, the Federal Council, offers an excellent example of such a broad coalition shared the seven executive positions proportionally according to the so-called magic formula of 2:2:2:1, established in 1959. An additional informal power-sharing rule is that the linguistic groups be represented in rough proportion to their sizes: four or five German-speakers, one or two French-speakers, and frequently an Italian-speaker. So, according to John McGarry and Brendan O'Leary, the advantage of a consociational state is that “all groups, including minorities, are represented on the political and economic stage. Supporters of the consociationalism argue that it is a more realistic option in deeply divided societies than integrationist approaches to conflict management”. Application of consociationalism in the UK could be beneficial, as the cabinet generally composed by one party and coalitions are rare, the minority here is mostly excluded.
As the research has demonstrated, today in the world, the Swiss model of democracy is one of the model democracies seen by political researchers as purest democracy which has become a benchmark case, and introduction of this model in many countries, including the United Kingdom could be a benefaction. A good way of adopting this model can be done gradually, with the above mentioned most important features of Swiss model: accepting the advantages of direct democracy and giving broader scope to referendums, by changing the voting system fairer proportional representation, and by giving them an equal representation of all major parties in the cabinet. As we already have seen from the above-mentioned examples that in Britain they have (these problems) it can change their political life into a better direction and eliminate the flows in their policy. So, representing this research especially crucial for the UK as they just left the EU and are undergoing significant milestones of her own history.
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