Tuesday, September 20, 2016


Soon the state (really territory) election is going to take place, and consequently there are now all manner of posters around us. Given that Australia has a very nearly two party system it is no surprise that most of them are for Labor or the Liberals. On my way to work there are, however, also a few with a rather odd colour scheme asking the reader to vote Independent.

This reminds me of when I was younger, back in Germany. There were (and are) parties like the Social Democrats (~Labor), the Christian Democratic Union (conservative), the Liberals, the Greens, the Left. And then at the local level we always had groups that would call themselves something on the lines of Unabhängige Wählergemeinschaft, or in other words Independents.

What I have never understood and still find hard to grasp is what independent is supposed to mean in this context.

As far as I can tell there are only three possible meanings.

First, independent from all the other parties that have names without "independent" in them. But that would be rather silly. I am sure I am not communicating any revolutionary insight when I say that e.g. the Liberals are independent from Labor, and vice versa, and the same for most parties. We divide both sides of the equation by the same number and nothing changes. This meaning of independent is consequently empty.

Second, it could mean independent from that terrible evil, special interest groups. The idea being that all the other parties with real names are tied to selfish or ideological splitters, and only the Independents are nobly above it all, unideologically putting the interests of the common man on the street first. But again I see a little snag. The people who consider themselves the common man on the street are one of those special interest groups.

And in my eyes the idea that a party in a democracy is not supposed to work for a special interest is completely incoherent. Representing interest groups is the whole point of political parties, and finding a compromise between multiple special interests is the whole point of democratic politics. The alternative is tyranny.

In summary, the first option for the meaning of independent appears to be empty and the second appears to be nonsensical.

After some thought I only recently came up with a third idea. It would actually make sense to call one's party independent if the other parties were all puppets of some truly illegitimate outside influence, like a foreign power meddling in a weaker nation's internal politics. I think, however, that that is clearly not what the Independent parties mentioned above have in mind.

Ultimately I suspect that the name is chosen because people think it sounds nice. But it just doesn't tell me anything, especially when the information content of the poster on my way to work is limited to "vote independent", without any details on what they want to achieve.

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