Co-operation and Federation: Parnell on Politics and Co-ops
Edgar Parnell writes on federalism in government and in co-ops:
“Scotland’s referendum decision to remain within the United Kingdom has sparked a widespread debate about the division of powers between the different levels of government within the British Isles, which is the same underlying issue that fuels the ongoing debate about membership of the European Union. Such a debate should not just become a squabble about which group of career politicians and executives should exercise which powers on the behalf citizens but should address the basic issue of the true nature of federalism.
Effective federalism lies at the very heart of both representational democracy and of cooperative enterprise. The cooperative principle of ‘cooperation between cooperatives’ entreats cooperators to work together not only as individuals but, in order to reap even greater benefits from cooperation requires their cooperatives to work together. In practice this means the formation and operation of effective federal organizations. Federals provide the most efficient way of balancing the need to secure economies of scale with the need for effective member-control.
Just as both individual citizens and cooperative members alike delegate powers and functions to their representatives, their organizations in turn delegate functions to second and higher-level organizations acting on their behalf. However, ultimate power must always rest with the individuals that are at the base of the pyramid – powers are delegated upwards and not from the top downwards. Human nature being what it is, those acting with delegated power often seek to exercise power over the people they have been elected or appointed to serve. Those ultimately controlling federals of all forms need to accept several key concepts if they are to work successfully, including:
Subsidiarity, which implies upward delegation
The clear divisions of powers and functions between primary and federal organizations
Complete transparency of dealings between all levels
Dual loyalty, which means being loyal to both their primary organization and their federal, and
Having a zero tolerance of empire-builders and self-serving separatists.
If cooperatives are to prosper and serve the people that really need them, dynamic federals are indispensable. Within the UK we need to see the emergence of strong regional federal cooperatives that can provide those services that are needed by a wide range of forms and types of cooperatives. We also need regional cooperative development trusts to mobilise finance and support for new co-ops. The potential contribution that cooperatives could make to regional socio-economic development is just waiting to be unleashed, especially within the framework of a reinvented federal United Kingdom.
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