Report by Alexandra Wingate

Global Democracy Starts at Home

by Alexandra Wingate (16/09/11)

Unafraid to take on the big issues, the United National Association Edinburgh (UNAE) used yesterday’s UN Democracy Day to address the real and by no means impossible idea of global democracy. Taking place in the City Chambers, speaker Professor Jan Aart Scholte of the Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation at the University of Warwick gave a fascinating talk on the challenges of achieving such a complex issue.

At the forefront of promoting such discussions is the event’s organiser, UNAE’s Convenor for Democracy Working Group, Lishia Erza-Evans. A PhD candidate at Queen Margaret University, Erza-Evans sees Edinburgh as having an important role in such discussions. ‘Global people come to Edinburgh… We’ve just finished the International Festival so this is a very heterogeneous city. It’s about time we actually looked towards the outside as well, instead of people from the outside looking at us.’

It’s a view shared by Deputy Lord Provost, Councillor Rob Munn, who describes Edinburgh as ‘a city of great diversity’ and ‘the seat of learning’. ‘I’d like to think that Scotland is always open to ideas, and Edinburgh in particular. There’s this kind of idea that Scotland “invented the world”… If
you look around there are a number of new things happening in Scotland that start here as well.’

If new ideas are what global democracy needs, then there’s plenty of it here where the audience is overwhelmingly made up of young adults. Having grown up in an already very global world with open means of mass communication such as the Internet, it comes as no surprise that today’s youth are optimistic about global democracy.

Indeed, the face of politics amongst young people is changing as Councillor Munn explains, ‘As a mature student recently, I was aware that a lot of the students I was at university with were interested in issues. Maybe not the way I was back in the 1980s when I was a first a student; they didn’t translate that into political activity for a political party, but they translated that into activity for an issue’

According to Professor Scholte, this kind of solidarity is exactly what global democracy needs. ‘Let yourself engage in global politics not just as humanity, and not just as British, Scottish or whatever national citizen you might be, but think about engaging in local politics as your profession, or in relation to your faith, or in relation to your sexuality, or in relation to your gender and so on.’

Even with an open mind to the definition of democracy, one of the big issues standing in the way of global democracy is the extreme inequality in the distribution of wealth. ‘Building a global democracy and redistributing global resources have to go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other’ he explains.

And with money, inevitably comes power – and not just between states. The world is still recovering from the actions of privately owned banks who are ultimately not answerable to democratic accountability. Such large institutions have an impact globally, and yet they are not regulated globally. Professor Scholte describes the problem as ‘a challenge, but certainly we can’t have the situation that we do at the moment, which is that there is no public interest control over globally mobile companies on a global scale.’

Perhaps the answer lies in a global redistribution of taxes. Professor Scholte suggests that a levy of 0.001% on the $4 trillion a day going through the foreign exchange wholesale markets would mean ‘you could generate resources to address water shortages, access to essential medicines – all kinds of basic human welfares.’ As a simple and achievable solution, one has to wonder why such steps aren’t being taken.

But with all the questions and struggles ahead, the overwhelming focus is of optimism. ‘Someone in 1700 would have said, “A democratic state? Impossible!”’ he explains. ‘So likewise, when someone tells you today that global democracy is impossible, remember that people were saying that national democracy was unimaginable only a few hundred years ago. Things change, things are possible.

‘Just stop and think that democracy, people’s collective control of their destinies, is something that can happen in global spaces as well as within national states and local communities. And it can be real, and it can be direct, and it can be part of one’s direct personal life. Not something far far away, but something that is real and meaningful in one’s everyday life. It starts at home.’


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