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Democracy in U.S. And Scotland
Democracy in the United States
Different countries with widely disparate forms of government all lay claim to being a democracy. Many European parliamentary-style governments, for example, call themselves democracies. In contrast, more centralized, presidential governments claim to be democracies as well.
What these forms of government have in common, however, are key basic ideals. Democracy is a form of government that is based on aggregative concepts of a "common good." This concept has its roots in philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau's "social contract theory," which states that a general will of the people gives rise to an unstated social contract. In a democratic form of government, decisions are made based on a "rationally identified common good" (Shapiro 2003: 3).
The United States has three main structures of government. The judiciary is tasked with interpreting and upholding the country's laws. The legislature, composed of the Lower House and the Senate, write the laws of the land. Finally, the executive branch is given the task of administering the country. This executive branch is headed by a duly elected president. While the president is not a member of the legislative branch, he or she has the power to veto the legislature's bills.
The electoral method of choosing leaders implies an interest in pursuing a "general will." Hence, the United States is a representative, presidential democracy. Rather than directly making decisions, the people elect a president and representatives in Congress during separate elections. However, there is a clear division of labor between the executive branch of the president and the legislature. Thus, the American president would not be able to dissolve the legislature at will.
Scottish history dates back to 1034, with the welding together of Scots, Britons, Picts and Angles into a single Scottish kingdom. Throughout the next centuries, however, Scotland would have to fend off constant attempts at invasion from attackers such as the William the Lion in 1165 and Edward I in 1290.
In 1297, William Wallace initiates the first Scottish rebellion against the English. By 1320, the Scots proclaim their independence in the Declaration of Abroath. The first Scottish parliament is convened in 1326, and England eventually recognizes Scotland's independence in 1328. Despite the recognition of independence, wars continued over the next centuries. By 1707, the Act of Union merges England and Scotland into the United Kingdom. (Lace 2001).
Today, Scotland remains an important member of the United Kingdom, although it maintains its own identity in its distinct economy and religious practices. Scotland's religious landscape is dominated by Presbyterianism, which is divided into the Church of Scotland and the Free Church. In addition to the Presbyterians, the Scottish Episcopal Church also has many adherents, particularly in the northeast (Lace 2001).
Though agricultural industries such as raising sheep and cattle remain an important cornerstone, much of the Scottish economy is dominated by heavy industries like mines and shipyards. Recognizing that global competition may soon render these industries obsolete, the Scottish government has tried to shift towards electronic and digital technology. With its growing popularity as a hub for electronics and computer firms in Europe, the Central Lowlands area has been dubbed as "Silicon Glen" (Lace 2001).
Comparison between United States and Scotland's government structures
Though they have the same general type of democratic representational governments, Scotland and the United States differ markedly in their history and forms of representation. As stated earlier, the United States is a presidential democracy, where a president is voted into office in elections separate from those for representatives in Congress.
This system has been fairly constant since its inception in 1776 (Brinkley 2000).
Scottish government structure
The Scottish government, on the other hand, is a fairly recent parliamentary democracy, having been convened only in 1999. For one hundred years before then, the task of running Scottish affairs was assigned to a British cabinet ministry that was headed by a secretary of state for Scotland. In addition, Scotland was also represented by members in the House of Commons, the British Parliament's lower house (Lace 2001).
In 1999, however, the Scottish people opted for devolution in a national referendum. As a result, the British Parliament "devolved" many of its traditional responsibilities to the new Scottish Parliament. The new body now took over many of the tasks formerly assigned to the secretary of state for Scotland. This includes education, local government, health matters and economic development. Though the national government still controls areas such as welfare, employment policies and the allocation of public monies, the Scottish Parliament also has an albeit limited authority to assess taxes (Public Information Services 2003).
The Scottish parliament is also composed of the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches.
Because of the differences in histories and the rules laid out during the union on Scotland and England, Scotland maintains its own legal system. As a result, the Scottish judiciary is separate from the rest of the United Kingdom. The High Court of Justiciary presides over criminal cases, while the Court of Session holds authority over civil arbitrations (Public Information Services 2003). In addition, Scotland is also divided into six sheriffdoms, each with its own sheriff courts that have authority to try civil cases and most petty criminal cases.
The relatively young Scottish Parliament currently has 129 members, who were elected via a system of proportional representation. The Scottish Parliament has the authority to pass legislation on all matters relating to Scotland, save for "reserved" matters like welfare and foreign policy. In addition to passing laws, the parliament can also conduct investigations into policy matters pertaining to Scottish affairs. The Scottish Executive is also accountable to the Parliament, and is monitored through a system of parliamentary committees.
In addition to their legislative duties, the Scottish Parliament also has another important task - the creation of the Scottish Executive. In Scotland, executive power rests in a cabinet of ministers who are called the Scottish Executive. Also, the executive is formed by the party that currently dominates the Scottish Parliament through a number of seats. The creation of the Scottish Executive is done through the initial step of appointing a first minister. The first minister is then charged with choosing the other Scottish ministers to head the different ministries. Instead of being directly accountable to the people, the executive answers to the Scottish Parliament (Public Information Services 2003).
Aside from the parliament, the Scottish government is also organized into efficient local government units. For purposes of local government, Scotland is divided into nine main regions. These regions are further subdivided into individual districts.
Similar to the national system of parliament, local governments are headed by regional and district councils. These council members are elected every four years. Though Scotland receives funds from the United Kingdom's central coffers, many of the local government projects are financed by a poll tax that is required from every adult. The regional districts are then charged with supervising the area's education system, police and fire protection, transportation and social work. On the district level, councils take charge of matters relating to housing, local libraries, recreation and sanitation (Lace 2001).
Comparison between United States and Scotland government
In the United States, power is vested largely in the executive branch, which is headed by a single president. This system is a more direct form of democracy than the parliament, since the president is voted into office by the citizens rather than their representatives.
In contrast, the legislative system holds much greater political sway in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament convenes the Executive Branch, and has the authority to dismiss the first minister from office. In the United States, Congress has the ability to impeach the president but could only do so in extraordinary circumstances.
The demarcation between the executive and legislative branches is thus more clearly delineated in a presidential rather than a parliamentary democracy. In the presidential democracy of the United States, the presidential elections are held separately from that of Congress. More significant, aside from their right to vote as American citizens, the members of Congress do not have any authority to appoint the country's chief executive.
Thus, while the majority party composition of Congress would have a great effect on the types of laws that are passed in session, party dominance in Congress does not necessarily translate to a corresponding dominance in the executive branch. It is possible and often the case that a president is elected into power even if he or she belongs to a political party that currently does not hold a majority of seats in Congress.
Under the parliamentary system of Scotland, however, power is vested squarely on the legislative branch. More specifically, this power rests on the party or parties that are dominant within the Scottish Parliament. Winning the majority of seats in Scottish Parliament thus assures a political party of both legislative as well as executive dominance.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods. Supporters of the presidential democracy argue that the separate elections assure a more effective…[continue]
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