Sunday, 21 October 2012
A workable compromise?
I have just read that the Electoral Commission are to release an interim report at 10:00 am tomorrow, Monday 22nd. There is of course some speculation about its contents. Most expect it to retain the constables, and probably restore the number of senators back to 12.
Regardless of my personal preferences, I have pondered what sort of compromise might be possible that would produce meaningful change, but preserve as much of the current system as is practical. In essence I am considering what might be a workable rather than desirable.
The big tension is between those who would have a single class of member, compatible with the various human rights conventions that apply as to the comparability of constituency sizes, equality of representation etc, and those who would preserve much of the current system. I cannot see how these obligations can be met by having multiple types of full assembly member based on different constituencies. In fact it is hard to see how they can be met even using parish boundaries as the populations of parishes vary so much,except perhaps having constituencies the size of St Mary, each wholly within a parish. That would mean 1600 population each, requiring an assembly of 60 to represent 96,000 population. I am of course assuming the parish boundaries are not to be redefined by the Electoral Commission! Any system that moves away from parish based representation is going to be perceived as undermining or diminishing the parish system . I do not believe the population will accept that, and I am sure the Electoral Commission will seek to avoid proposing anything that looks like that.
If the principal concern for those who would retain the constables in the States is that the parish system be not undermined or diminished, and we cannot have parish boundaries with equal representation, then the Electoral Commission needs to have a specific and ideally unique and central role for the heads of the parishes to reinforce that parish role while permitting other changes to happen.
As it happens we already have non-members of the States participating in the wider machinery of government , as required by the composition of the Public Accounts Committee, part of scrutiny. Using this as a precedent, it is possible to derive a partial solution that might be tolerable. The pragmatic issue here is that the connetables would not be full States member, but would have rights and responsibilities in the States assembly and wider machinery of government:
Connetables to chair scrutiny panels and committees and be responsible for running scrutiny. This single change would ensure parishes would be able to challenge and propose amendments to any proposals coming from the assembly. It also creates a mechanism for parishes to produce reports to the assembly on matters of concern to them.
Connetables to have right of audience in the assembly. Simply they can speak up on matters of importance, especially as it affects their parish.
Connetables cannot vote in the assembly.
Connetables able to bring propositions and amendments to the States, but only as directed by a parish assembly. This means the mechanism of the requete is still in place.
Connetables would not be eligible to be ministers or assistant ministers. This is both a practical move for avoiding the conflict of being parish head, and minister , but also logically follows from being expected to take active part in scrutiny.
Constable not permitted to stand separately as a States member. That would undermine the separation of roles this compromise tries to bring about.
Ideal it most certainly is not. It is a sort of substitute for having a second chamber, but avoids the questions that inevitably arise in that situation of supremacy and who has the superior democratic mandate. Also it does not address the other changes that may be made such as super constituencies, all island senators,etc. However I see the position of connetables as the major issue that has to be resolved. Without agreement on dealing with the constables, no proposition is likely to make progress. We will be back to the same errors as implementing Clothier