Sunday, January 20, 2019

On How the Pro-Independence Press Distorts an International Index on "Direct Democracy"



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On How the Pro-Independence Press Distorts an International Index on "Direct Democracy"

  On the 8th of January, "The Economist" published its annual "Democracy Index". Once again Spain was listed as one of just 20 full democracies in the world. This did not please the supporters of Catalan independence, owing to the fact that their claim for independence revolves around the idea that Spain is little short of a totalitarian country because it does not allow a referendum on the independence of Catalonia.

  In an attempt to invalidate "The Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index", "Nació Digital", an online news outlet, subsidised by the Government of Catalonia, in turn following a Catalan nationalistic and pro-independence editorial line, has published an article on the 17th of January with the aim to dismiss "The Economist" Index, by making questionable use of the "V-Dem Annual Democracy Report"; a report which has a high degree of complexity and is difficult for the layman to interpret.

  Although the article acknowledges that Spain is considered a democracy by the V-Dem Report as well, its focus is on misleading the reader, by emphasising Spain´s low ranking on a very specific political practice which is that of "Direct Democracy" (i.e. the practice of addressing direct consultations to the population) and comparing it to that of Turkey or Syria, all two countries scoring considerably higher on "Direct Democracy" than most full democracies, which simply comes to show that regimes which are hardly democratic if not full dictatorships hold "direct consultations" more often than most full democracies do.

  By doing so the reader is easily tricked into believing that the democratic quality of Spain is poorer than that of countries which are considered dictatorships or very imperfect democracies:

  More specifically the following are the ranked positions of different countries regarding "Direct Democracy" according to the aforementioned study:

1. Switzerland
13. Turkey
17. Venezuela
34. Syria
39. Holland
 55. UK
68. Spain
95. France
107. Sweden
125. Belgium
127. Norway
128. Canada
145. Germany
166. USA

  Visibly, most democratic countries are ranked below Turkey and Syria with respect to so called "Direct Democracy".

  "Direct Democracy" is by the way, neither cheap (Ireland had spent €133 m in the 15 referendums held this century so far) nor representative of democratic quality overall. 

  Irrespective of the above mentioned ranking, there exists a a lot of debate around the real democratic value of "Direct Democracy".    American political scientist and philosopher Jason Brennan says “With very few exceptions, almost every referendum asks more of the public than they can give (…)".   Brennan also states: "When we survey voters, we find that the overwhelming majority lack even the most basic information relevant to current political questions, let alone the social scientific knowledge needed to use that information.”   Brennan believes that for crucial and fundamental questionswe should ask parliament and representative democracy to do its job. 

  Nonetheless, Jason Brennan also considers that because cognitive demands raised by local issues are far lower and the stakes are more immediate; offering citizens more incentives to become better informed on immediate issues, holding referendums in order to decide on local questions, could be beneficial. 

  Catalonia´s regional government is criticising and questioning Spain over its supposed lack of democratic quality allegedly for not allowing a decision process based on "Direct Democracy" on the issue of the independence of its region (the sort of referendum on territorial integrity no other democratic country with a written constitution allows since they all - including the US and not only EU states - consider sovereignty of each part as belonging to the whole) , yet interestingly, the regional government of Catalonia (in charge of managing matters including: media, TV, language, education, health, police, local administration, social assistance and infrastructure) has full legal authority to offer "Direct Democracy" on most local matters and in particular those issues which Jason Brennan considers reasonable to resolve via local referendums, yet the Catalan government has systematically denied Catalan citizens the right to vote on decisions regarding rights of municipal secession, by neighbourhoods who request it. 

  For example, most of the citizens of Vallpineda, a neighbourhood of the city of Molins de Rei, and those of Bellaterra, a neighbourhood  of Cerdanyola, wish to secede and become part of the city of Sant Cugat, due to closer proximity. Such demands could be considered reasonable or at least subject to resolution via local consultation, yet the Catalan government has refused to authorise a formula based on so called "Direct Democracy" to resolve such issues.

  Sources:

  • The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democratic Index
  • The V-Dem Report
  • The NewStateman
  • La Vanguardia
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