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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Democracy on the net

With Downing Street still reeling from the 1.5 million on-line signature petition against road pricing another interweb initiative is being launched, this time in Scotland. Two former Labour activists are attempting to appeal to disaffected voters and transform democracy through YouScotland.com.

The founders tell us that this site will rely on digital technology to challenge Holyrood's political establishment and change the 'malaise, cynicism and disillusionment' with the Scottish Parliament. It is modelled on the three-million-member US site moveon.org, which was hugely influential during last November's Senate and Congressional elections.

The objectives of the Scottish site are to rename MSPs as 'representatives' and to reduce their number from 129 to 108 - a move it claims will save around £4m a year. They also want to introduce a citizen's right to initiate parliamentary debate via a petitions system: once any petition received 100,000 valid signatures, a day would be set aside in parliament to discuss it. In addition the site will be arguing for a referendum on independence and to reduce the voting age to 16.

The Observer quote unnamed critics as dismissing the initiative as a method of reaching political anoraks rather than the general public. However, I am not so sure. It is true that ordinary people are far more likely to sign an on-line petition against road-pricing than they are to browse political web-sites, but any contribution to debate is welcome.

Given the increasing number of voters who now have internet access, I would not be surprised if youscotland.com gets quite a few hits as the election campaign picks up momentum. If that happens then politicians on mainstream media programmes will find themselves having to deal with the issues raised by the site. That can only be a good thing for democracy. When are we getting an equivalent in Wales?
The road pricing petition only worked because of tons of emails flying around, saying click on this link to protest. One email even claimed if they got over 700,000 signatures then it could never become law (dream on!)

As you say, to get most people interested beyond that is probably unlikely.

I notice that Tone is going to email everyone who signed the petition to let them know why they are wrong !

There was a website for disillusioned Labour voters for the 2005 General election called something like "so now who do we vote for" It advised Labour voters who to vote for, to protest, in areas where they wouldn't let a Tory in by so doing. I don't think it made much difference. In most areas Labour people just went to the Lib Dems anyway.
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