Ca­tri­ona Ste­wart

Why your election vote re­ally does count

Evening Times - - FRONT PAGE - Ca­tri­ona Ste­wart

TO­DAY is the last day for reg­is­ter­ing to vote.

Are you reg­is­tered? Do you care?

It can feel quite dif­fi­cult to find the en­ergy to bother about an election when it is the third gen­eral election in three years and when, for us in Scot­land, we’ve also had two ref­er­en­dums in five years plus our Scottish Par­lia­men­tary elec­tions.

But think what a priv­i­lege it is to feel worn out by too much democ­racy.

Hong Kong was lit­er­ally on fire as the back­drop to its lo­cal elec­tions last week, so at least we’ve avoided ri­ots among our cur­rent political mess.

Though that’s re­ally damn­ing with faint praise.

Vot­ers there queued for up to an hour to cast their bal­lots.

When polls closed on Sun­day, more than 71 per cent of the elec­torate had voted – or, more than three mil­lion peo­ple, nearly half of Hong Kong’s pop­u­la­tion.

Many were vot­ing for the first time.

The turnout was de­scribed as a pow­er­ful re­buke to the gov­ern­ment.

An hour long queue? That’s ded­i­ca­tion.

There has been much spec­u­la­tion that voter turnout will be lower at this election be­cause it is be­ing held in win­ter and the elec­torate will find it harder to get up the en­ergy to go out and per­form their civic duty. What a de­press­ing in­dict­ment of vot­ers.

More likely, if turnout is low, that it is be­cause vot­ers feel a sense of ap­a­thy at just what their vote is worth.

They feel a sense of ex­haus­tion at the re­lent­less gum-bump­ing over Brexit.

And they feel their vote doesn’t count any­way, in a first-past-the­p­ost sys­tem.

Tribal, par­ti­san pol­i­tics – vot­ing for the same party you’ve al­ways voted for, or that your fam­ily votes for – is not go­ing to cut it this time round.

Vot­ers feel let down by all three main sides. The Con­ser­va­tives are headed by the UK’s least pop­u­lar Prime Min­is­ter of all time. Plenty of staunch Labour vot­ers feel they can’t trust Jeremy Cor­byn to ad­e­quately deal with the grow­ing scan­dal around an­ti­Semitism in his party.

The LibDems have Jo Swin­son, a party leader with a West­min­ster vot­ing record the elec­torate will not for­give, head­ing a party that backed the Tories on poli­cies vot­ers will not for­get.

When there’s no party per­suad­ing you it is trust­wor­thy, no politi­cian re­spond­ing with­out slo­ga­neer­ing to nu­anced con­cerns, then what do you do? You likely give up your demo­cratic right and pre­tend the whole thing isn’t hap­pen­ing. Es­pe­cially when, as just one of tens of thousands of peo­ple in your con­stituency, you can feel pow­er­less. Look­ing at a break­down of the ar­eas with the largest pro­por­tion of non-vot­ers in the 2017 Gen­eral Election, of the top 10, four were in Glas­gow. Glas­gow North East was first with 47 per cent, then Glas­gow East at 45 per cent; and Glas­gow South East and Glas­gow Cen­tral both had 43 per cent.

For those who don’t turn out be­cause they think their vote just doesn’t mat­ter, they’re wrong.

Ac­cord­ing to fig­ures shared by the BBC, the num­ber of non-vot­ers was greater than the ma­jor­ity of MPs who were voted in dur­ing the last election in 551 out of 650 con­stituen­cies.

That means that in more than 80 per cent of seats, if non-vot­ers had turned out the re­sults of the last election might have been quite dif­fer­ent.

In some seats the MP won by fewer than 100 votes – but in each of those be­tween 12,000 and 30,000 elec­tors didn’t take to the bal­lot box to cast their vote.

But if all of those un­used bal­lots had been added up and counted to­wards a sin­gle separate party, that party would have won more than 140 seats in the House of Com­mons.

Young vot­ers, in par­tic­u­lar, are ex­pected to have a big im­pact in this election.

The 2017 snap gen­eral election was noted for its “youthquake” – the num­ber of young vot­ers who turned out and made a no­tice­able dif­fer­ence to the re­sults.

Heart­en­ingly, 1.35 mil­lion un­der-35-year-olds reg­is­tered to vote dur­ing the first two weeks of this cam­paign.

That sits around twice the rate of 2017.

Look at the prob­lems the coun­try is cur­rently fac­ing, if you can put aside Brexit for a mo­ment: the cli­mate emer­gency, the hous­ing cri­sis, cuts to the NHS in Eng­land that ef­fect Scot­land too, an in­se­cure job mar­ket, sub-par pub­lic trans­port.

It’s not easy – two weeks to go and I still have no idea who I’m go­ing to vote for – but it’s vi­tal to be in­volved.

Given how un­pre­dictable pol­i­tics has been, it feels all to play for.

In Glas­gow, in par­tic­u­lar, we’ve been hit badly by aus­ter­ity and cruel Tory poli­cies.

If you want some­thing new, your vote might be the one to make the dif­fer­ence.

What to do when there’s no per­sua­sive party?

Pic­ture: Colin Mearns

Vot­ers and ac­tivists out­side the polling sta­tion at Notre Dame Pri­mary School at the 2015 elec­tions

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