Perhaps it's just because I know many political activists and politically interested folk, especially in the US, but there does seem to be a real festival atmosphere in the air; lots posted to LJ today (are there stats kept?) and very high-quality posts. I love reading the celebration about the record-high turnout! Perhaps this is just a consequence of having such an extreme president that he really raised people's views about him, for and against, whereas the record low turnout in the UK last time was more of an admission that the status quo wasn't o unacceptable after all and that none of the opposition had much to offer. This is the most inspiring election I can remember since at least Labour ending 16 years of Conservative rule here in 1997. daweaver points to the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman being asked some undiplomatic and frankly silly questions about the US election and delivering the parliamentary-language equivalent of "I smack your foolish question down". (The line at the end is a killer.)
One aspect of the US election by which I am strongly impressed is the existence of explicit (even if small) Democrats for Bush and Republicans for Kerry campaigns, where people are encouraged to vote for a political philosophy rather than for a party line. Of course, perhaps I'm being naive here; could I really tell if they were instead "Democrats pretending to be Republicans for Kerry" and "Republicans pretending to be Democrats for Bush"? Of course, such counter-partisan and tactical voting is not unknown, but the British way to do it (the multi-partite way to do it?) tends to be to change your vote to a minority party. I would love to see campaigns explicitly called "Conservatives for Blair", "Liberal Democrats for Howard", "Labour voters for Kennedy" (which could well be the Guardian, we hear) and so forth.
One aspect of the US election by which I am strongly unimpressed is people who comment on the Republican Party not being conservative enough and those who attack Bush for financial liberalism. Now perhaps by US terms I'm down there with Walt Brown but as unimpressed as I am by the Republican party, I am even more unimpressed by the most excessive ravages of unrestrained capitalism. Libertarians on my Friends list - of whom I know there are many proud ones - I'm looking at you in a fashion that could be described as "kind of funny", bordering on disbelieving, here, and will ascribe our fundamental differences to radically distant viewpoints on the human condition.
Anyhow, particularly with the numbers that are starting to seep out (which I know we should all be ignoring and pretending they're going in the fashion that we would rather not see them go in) it should be rather a fun evening tonight. (Big party at daweaver's place!) Does there exist a chart of when the results from each state are expected? I've found plenty of charts with when the polls close in each state, but that's not the same thing. Ha-ha-only-serious jokes about "Ooh, two weeks next Thursday" aside, I'm half-tempted to try to get a nap between when the FL/OH exit polls come out, after the polls have closed, but before the actual results are declared, but I'm just not sure if that's practically possible at all. I was going to run a prediction competition myself but someone else is doing one instead. Still time to enter, though it's too late to win a prize.
That said, apart from the US election and the Ukraine election yesterday, I have my own chance to vote here in the UK. I haven't done so yet.
One of the Labour government's big plans has been devolution of power throughout the country. There are now elected assemblies in Scotland, Wales and London, and plans to have an elected assembly in each of England's nine-ish other regions. North-East England is the first region to have a referendum about whether or not it should have its own regional assembly. The government wanted to hold referendux in the North East, the North West and Yorkshire-and-Humberside, but there really wasn't the support in the latter two regions. It is felt that the NE region is the one in England that considers itself most distant from mainstream politics. Not to put too fine a point on it, we're the poorest.
My own standpoint is that government should take place at the most appropriate level. Local affairs should be decided at a local level, regional affairs at a regional level, national affairs at a national level, continental affairs at a continental level and global affairs at a global level.
At this point, I'm reminded of the other scary aspect of US politics: people who quite seriously want the US to divorce itself from global political institutions such as the United Nations, the World Bank, the IMF and even NAFTA. (Let alone the Kyoto Agreement.) I haven't seen this being described as US nationalism, but it seems to fit the description to me. Happily, this is an attitude shared by very few US folk, but it strikes me as arrogance of the highest order; I would be likely to favour political movements in favour of greater continental and global government and find it disappointing that this viewpoint is not promoted nearly as passionately as that of independence and adherence to traditional national boundaries. (The Green Party movement and the socialist/labour movement to me seem to be most statist and most globalist - the globalistest, if you like.)
So, returning to the NE assembly, I think that if there are decisions which can be usefully taken at a regional level, a regional assembly is required to take those decisions. However, the case that there are sufficiently many decisions that can be more usefully taken at a regional level than at a local level or a national level to make the regional assembly the best option has yet to be proven.
Neither "Yes" nor "No" campaign have particularly convincing web sites, in my view, but you can see the "yes" campaign site here, the official "no" campaign site here and another "no" campaign site here heavily associated with Metric Martyr Maverick and blogger Neil Herron. All the arguments are fairly woolly in my view and the "Yes" campaign seems to rely on appeals to pride and a number of celebrity supporters. Unfortunately both sides' supporters are regional at best; the figurehead for the yes campaign was Brendan Foster, a runner who set the 3,000m world record twice in the 1970s and won the UK's only athletics medal in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. He has a strong Geordie (Newcastle-on-Tyne) accent which makes him sound like a cross between the "Come to Kenya" singer and comedian Vic Reeves' club artist. He's not exactly credible.
Quite a degree of the discussion concerns the powers, or otherwise, that any such assembly would be allowed to have. For instance, there is not a hint of tax-raising or tax-lowering powers, though theoretically there could be some interaction between the regional budget and the councils' budget which might affect local council taxes. The argument is that a relatively powerless assembly has very little in its favour; indeed, the appeal by the "Yes" campaign that a bare-bones assembly is a "Christmas tree" on which to hang powers in the style of baubles. Surely this is an appeal to motherhood-and-apple-pie politics of sentiment? Certainly the "No" campaign seem to be doing a far stronger job at rebuttal than the "Yes" campaign, though frankly neither side's positive points look particularly strong. The "Yes" campaign do win on quality of talking heads, for what little it's worth, including our fierce local Mayor.
It's a sign that Dad, not normally a strong political animal, has been privately ranting here at home about the election and opining that he wishes he had been selected by TV for a man-in-the-street vox populi interview so that he could rant at great length on TV. It's interesting that this ballot is being organised purely postally, after the use of the same technique in our neck of the European elections to get a relatively strong turnout. There are a small number of ballot boxes as well for people who haven't posted their vote in time; I had to use one for my Eurovote and will be using one for my referendum vote as well.
Perhaps it's worth thinking about the likely consequences of the election of an assembly and how it would be likely to be constituted. It may well be along the lines of the London assembly: partly directly elected, partly top-up to ensure proportionality. The No campaign, in their single flimsy pamphlet, claim that the Tees Valley area would only get 3 representatives with 22 from elsewhere; assuming the Tees Valley area has a population of about 660,000 and the NE region at large about 2.5 million (based on an electorate of 1.9 million) this would be condign with a 50-50 split between directly-elected and top-up. As a second system, it is not unreasonable to expect the local assembly being used to give the main parliament of the day a bloody nose, regardless of colour.
Nevertheless, one would expect the Labour party to be almost always the largest body and quite possibly with a small absolute majority during a national Conservative administration. The Conservatives and Lib Dems should both pick up a few, with the Greens hoping for two seats in a good assembly and the Far Left would hope to be able to unite far enough to pick up one. (Especially if they could give Arthur Scargill a fond farewell.) One would also expect the UKIP to be represented, not because this has anything to do with Europe, but UKIP might well try to act as anti-assembly wreckers, much as with the European Parliament. This shift in political emphasis would suit my tastes, which is another reason for me to vote in favour.
It's interesting to think about what differences a NE assembly might be able to make, whether they might be able to go as far as changing local law. It's interesting to compare the sizes of differences in laws between European countries with the sizes of differences in laws between US states. It is known that there is significant "drug tourism" in Amsterdam - people who visit simply, or largely, to visit the legal cannabis cafes there. I also strongly suspect there is significant sex tourism to Nevada, simply so that people can visit the legal brothels in the ten counties around (but famously excluding!) Las Vegas. One wonders whether we might ever get to a situation in England where a small number of regions permit hunting and hunting fans from other regions travel into the permissive minority region where hunting is legal? After all, it is not unknown for Big Game hunters to go on safari to Africa, so perhaps there might be Little Game hunters in a poor, rural region some day. Like us. (Or Yorkshire.)
It's also very interesting to think about the more general case: to what extent it is wise for small states with widely different beliefs to be governed by a single government? Is it more important to have a strong government or a government that represents your state's views accurately? There is a pronounced split in British politics (and, I think, most countries' politics) between two hard bases. Sometimes I wonder whether it wouldn't be better to have two governments, or split the country into two, each half of the country being governed by a different administration, so that the north of the country has a government that is naturally (say) 70-30 red and the south of the country has a government that is naturally (say) 70-30 blue.
I'm sure that there are strong reasons why this is a bad idea and the benefits that would be gained this way would not outweigh the penalties of a stagnant, uncontested government. On the other hand, I suspect that there would still be internal debates, much as there is internal debate within the broad church of each party - it's just a case that each half of the country would be able to take more for granted as the will of the people and the divisions would be over much smaller issues. Now the North and the South would take different things for granted and either half might take great distress at the differences between the two. The question is: is living next to a neighbour who disapproves of some of your policies worse than living in a union with a neighbour which may force some disagreeable policies on you?
I fear there isn't a good general answer to that and the practical case-by-case-basis answers depend on the issues involved and the strengths of feeling with which they are held; some differences of opinion are just so egregious that they may be worth waging war over, others can be accepted. The general issue seems to be one of whether it's acceptable to inflict your views on another state, even when they may have seceded from you just to escape your views. I'll take this no further before I say something rash and uninformed on a couple of specific conflicts in the past, but it's an interesting general point.
I think the "No" campaign have made a stronger campaign, have more convincing arguments and are more likely to win than the "Yes" campaign. That said, I am going to go against my better judgment and vote an uncertain and hesitant "Yes" on vague, confused princple. However, much as I - and many of my comrades - have attempted to meddle with the US democratic process and influence you all to vote Democrat, I invite you all to convince me one way or the other on this strictly domestic affair!