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Why Guernsey has ‘wow factor’

Readers' Letters | Published:

I AM a relative newcomer to Guernsey, so I can still see a wow factor that is generally taken for granted.

Seven constituencies, elections every four years, deputies you can get to know, five or six in your district.

This electoral system is not some kind of a joke from the history books. Its basic structure, deputies who you can get to know picked by districts, has endured a score of heated States’ debates, over four decades. The result is a simple, unprejudiced, capable and inclusive way to vote.

The head of political science at the London School of Economics called the Guernsey process ‘Athenian’ – speaking with me just a fortnight ago. The UK’s Electoral Reform Society admired it in their report to the States in 2007, and they still do – my colleague, Peter Pannett, and I checked in July.

Such praise does not come easy. Jersey invited the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to observe its general election in May, island-wide senators and all. With a 43% turnout, the CPA questioned whether the vote was ‘fully genuine’.

Our present electoral system connects the people to their deputies. That is a solid foundation. Yet some of us blame the foundations for what happens in the building above. They think the bedrock which underpins the States is responsible for the failings inside the States.

If the States has cumbersome processes, flip-flopping policies and silo thinking, these are down to poor government mechanisms, as Deputy Rob Prow noted on this page (‘The real issue is how to get the best out of our politicians’, 22 September).

Why would anyone falsely blame the electoral system for such weaknesses? And why are these falsehoods not being exposed in open debate?

To the first question, I say, people can make an honest mistake: ‘how we pick deputies’ is easily confused with ‘how we organise government’.

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To the second question, ‘why so little debate?’, the answer is more shocking. Let it B has offered presentations to many worthy bodies over the past two months. We have been regretfully declined. Options A or C may be unavailable, while D and E have no recognised spokesperson. So, no balance. Political correctness must be observed. B has been turned down by sixth-forms, old folks’ homes, the WI, online media, douzaines and even the BBC’s ‘What’s On’ list. Each has opted for safety over information. As if explaining why Guernsey is internationally admired could be dangerous.

Who knew, back in June, when options D and E failed to inspire a campaign group, that others would be silenced? Or that, if a recognised campaign group was incompetent (perish the thought), or saw their best chance in a low turnout (double perish that thought), discussion could be quashed? Probably only the Guernsey Press has shone in this referendum. And not everyone reads the Press.

Guernsey’s hope for the 21st century lies in defending our tremendous right of self-determination. A simple, unprejudiced, capable and inclusive way to vote is part of that. So long as voters turn out to vote, ‘the will of the people’ can hold back an over-mighty neighbour in times of trouble.

That the schools and the public service broadcaster have not been fully engaged when such an important life lesson needs saying is, well, a public disservice.

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Voters will only turn out for a system which matches their temperament. Island-wide campaigning does not do that in Guernsey. Even if we had all channels active, this referendum would be met with puzzlement. Guernsey people want to hear the arguments in person, not to be bombarded with posters or advertising. Yet island-wide hustings would need the States to loosen the purse strings and island-wide canvassing is impossible.

We are what we are: stubborn, ill-disciplined, some would even say fractious. Guernsey stubbornness is no flash in the pan. Victor Hugo knew it. The Plantagenet kings who granted us self-determination knew it. No population in Europe has dodged autocrats like we have. When a visitor steps off the boat or the plane in Guernsey and smells the freedom, it is no joke. It does not feel like this in Germany, or Japan, or America, or the UK, or even in Jersey. We have been at this stubbornness game longer than anywhere else on earth.

Our stubbornness requires a simple, unprejudiced, capable and inclusive electoral system like the one we have.

We should be proud of it. But who will tell our kids?

FERGUS DUNLOP,

Mont Saint Lodge,

St Saviour’s.

u Fergus Dunlop is the nominated official for the Let it B Campaign, supporting option B in the ballot on 10 October.

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