Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Expanding the Franchise

The BBC carries a couple of recent sort regarding extension of voting rights.

This one refers to European rulings to the effect that a blanket ban on human rights contravenes human rights. The idea of giving some people, serving minor sentences, the vote doesn't seem so terrible to me. Indeed, given that we only have General Elections every 4-5 years, one could say it's unfair that some people serving a two year sentence will get to vote while others won't, simply because of when the election happens to fall in relation to their sentence. Perhaps this consideration could guide a distinction between those that do and do not lose their voting rights - i.e. anyone serving four years or fewer should still get to vote. But this isn't something I've given much thought to.

This piece covers the debate around extending voting rights to those aged 16 or 17, as the SNP proposes for the Scottish Independence Referendum. It's interesting to hear (or read) arguments on both sides, but I think some deserve commenting on.

Grant Costello argues that we allow 16 year olds to make important decisions, such as getting married. This is true, but doesn't necessarily mean we should allow them to vote: we might think they should be allowed to make (potentially bad) decisions over their own lives, but aren't fit to be trusted with power over others. (He does mention starting families, but aside from non-identity type reasons to deny that this harms the child, we can presumably trust to natural parental inclinations here.)

Philip Cowley argues that those aged 16 or 17 can often only exercise rights, such as to get married, with parental permission. This is interesting, but not necessarily enough to support his position. We could say that these teenagers should be able to vote with parental permission then (and, without permission, from age 18). Or we could argue that electoral outcomes will depend on 16 and 17 year olds in conjunction with their elders.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Electoral Reform

A while back - over the summer in fact - I attended a People's Gathering in Edinburgh organised by the Electoral Reform Society. I found it a pretty eye-opening day. True those involved, being self-selected, weren't truly representative of the general population, but I was surprised to find so many people on the same page regarding various political matters. A report on the day has finally emerged here. (For the record, I was definitely one of those calling for a decline in political parties.)

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Alcohol Policy

I've been meaning to blog about this for a while. Apparently researchers have predicted that minimum pricing for alcohol could save lives. (Interestingly, one consequence of my delay is that I see the estimated figure was reduced from 50,000 to 11,500 on 28th September!)

These calculations are fraught with difficulty and I'm no social scientist, so I'm just going to accept these claims. What I find noticeable, however, is the seemingly implicit assumption that this would be a reason to introduce minimum pricing throughout the UK. It's not clear that this follows, even if the empirical predictions are correct.

I don't think the state should ban alcohol, even though it leads to deaths, so it's not clear that it should so restrict it either. (Certain restrictions, particularly regarding age, are, of course, appropriate.) For those interested, there's a forthcoming special issue of Contemporary Social Science on Alcohol, Public Policy and Social Science (see the call for papers here), in which I have a paper developing a Millian liberal view of minimum pricing. (I argue that Mill would be against it.)

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Surprising Political Facts

1) Scotland operates five different electoral systems. Details here.

2) The Prince of Wales can veto Westminster legislation, according to this article (which is chiefly concerned with his revenue).

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Disenfranchising Non-Taxpayers

It seems that the idea of disenfranchising those who don't pay tax has reared its head again. Of course, I should have lots to say about such a proposal, but (aside from anything else) I'm busy right now preparing for a PhD viva on Friday, so I'll confine myself to observing that Hayek was not the first nor, in my estimation, the most famous philosopher to propose something along these lines. As I mention in my comment on the afore-linked blog, J. S. Mill made similar proposals in his Considerations on Representative Government.