Truth and power: democracy in the UK is not in a very healthy state at present. What will happen after the May elections?

We are, after all, in election season. Despite concerns as to whether the Scottish Parliament election could properly be held at this time, and MSPs passing a special Act to cover a possible postponement if the COVID-19 situation remained too problematic, in a few weeks’ time we will have a new Parliament, and across the UK there will be similar tests of the political temperature.

So democracy lives on. But in what state of health? The outlook is not an encouraging one.

Nationally, the Prime Minister and Government stand accused of repeatedly dispensing with both truth and accountability. Further, the constitutional balance that protects the rule of law, and therefore democracy itself, is under serious threat from the proposals to restrict the effect of judicial review, proposals which depart from the conclusions of the recent independent review but which perhaps follow submissions from Government departments that the Government refuses to publish. Too much of the mainstream media is too close to the Government to want to hold it to account, and even the BBC is facing questions over the level of scrutiny it applies, and over the influence of political appointments at senior levels.

Meanwhile in Scotland, Holyrood hardly covered itself in glory with the politicised inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of the Salmond investigation and litigation –  around which the report did at least uncover some serious failings, accountability for which has to date been lacking. And our election appears at times to be fought on the basis of how to game the voting system – a system that was supposed to prevent an unrepresentative Government – to engineer a particular majority in the Parliament.

When the atmosphere of public debate increasingly contains a toxic element, with a common currency of online threats and abuse, especially (and all the more regrettably) if the target is female or from a minority ethnic group, you have to ask where it will all end.

Answers are not easy to find, nor will change be brought about quickly, or without a supporting swing in public opinion, which remains deeply divided. Those who wish to take a stand against present trends may face a long and difficult road. The reality of our “post-truth politics” – the label says it all – is that many people will believe only what they want to, however much contrary evidence is staring them in the face.

But we have to believe things can improve. The alternative is likely to be a continuing decline that will go on eating away at the fabric of society. It would be a start if the outcome of the coming election is a proper reflection of the balance of opinion – and the new Government recognises, and acts on, its responsibility to show a lead.

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