The goings on in Catalonia are fascinating - not in a good way - but as a real live demonstration of how democratic processes can be misused and as a consequence split societies causing significant adverse economic affects which result in real hardship for real people.

If you look at what has happened, a separatist leaning Government of a region of Spain has decided to hold a referendum on independence without the necessary authority to do so. The result which strongly favours separation actually reflects only the split in Catalan society because essentially only those in favour voted and the turnover was low, the apparent victory is not a democratically legitimate one. The central Government in Madrid has then grossly overplayed their hand and the Spanish police behaved like thugs.

We now have a political problem in Spain but what is also happening, which is less reported, is that economic activity is shifting out of the Catalan region into the rest of Spain. Head offices are moving, jobs are being lost and the regional economy is being damaged. There are far more extreme examples around the world where lousy politics ruins both economies and people’s lives - Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Venezuela - the list is long.

Loading article content

If we look at the UK and Scotland’s scorecard it’s a bit of a mixed picture. Thank goodness for the British police is the first thing which goes through my mind. The Scottish Independence referendum is generally a positive - legitimate question, thorough debate, excellent turnout, clear result. The only spoiler for the economy is that the losers keep looking for an excuse for an early re-run which really doesn’t help the ability to plan and make investments or the generation of wealth to pay for public services.

The real D minus though is Brexit. A rotten debate, a tiny majority for Leave and then a political shambles which is doing real economic harm and will continue to do so.

The blame for the shambles is being pinned on the decision to leave. Actually I think that’s not the reason at all. The reason for the mess is that we are so divided, by region, by political party, by age. A united UK would have a clear cut negotiating agenda, a Government with the backing of its people and a good chance of a sensible outcome. The real problem with Brexit is that it has been triggered when it is not the settled will of a significant majority of the people of the UK. A majority only marginally over 50% for a major constitutional change in a referendum is a disaster - it is a disaster for the UK, it would have been a disaster for Scotland.

The funny thing is that the corporate world has a well tried and effective way of dealing with similar issues. If 10% of shareholders decide that a matter should be put to all shareholders to decide then it must be. On routine matters such as the appointment and removal of directors if more than 50% of those voting vote a person in or out as a director then it happens - a bit like a General Election. If, however, the matter is a change to the Company’s Articles of Association - its constitution - then a 75% majority is required. This means that for a lasting and fundamental change to happen the backing of a substantial majority is needed.

Why can’t politicians do the same? Democracy thrives when it has the real backing of the people and when it protects minorities. A dictatorship of 50% plus one is a political and economic disaster.

Pinstripe is a senior member of Scotland's financial services community.