Fringe Box



Opinion: Scotland Can Teach Us A Lesson Before A Single Vote Is Counted

Published on: 15 Sep, 2014
Updated on: 17 Sep, 2014

ballot boxWe might be at the other end of the United Kingdom (at least it’s united as I write) but we do already have a lesson or two to learn from the Scottish Independence referendum – even before a single vote is counted.

Whatever we might feel about Scottish independence on thing is crystal clear is that the voters in Scotland feel they have a real say in their future, they feel involved, they are engaged to an unprecedented level and they feel their vote counts.

One of the main motivations in creating The Guildford Dragon NEWS was to encourage everyone, of all political shades or none, to have their say, to vote and to engage in local politics which affects our daily lives more, most of the time, than national or international affairs.

In Scotland it is now reported that voter registrations are at an all time high of 95 per cent.

Compare this with the paltry turnout figure at our local elections, sometimes less than 40 per cent.

Even in recent general elections national turnout has been declining. From 84 per cent in 1950 it fell to a nadir of just 59 per cent in 2001 before recovering to 65 per cent in 2010 when the very close election race created more interest.

In Western Europe only the Republic of Ireland, Spain and France have had lower average voter turnout since the Second World War.

Why is this? It seems that many voters have given up on the whole political system. Relatively few seats change hands and when they do it is normally in predictable marginals.

Most general elections are decided by a small number of floating voters in those marginals, their minds made up only by the level of dissatisfaction with the incumbent party.

They are not voting for something they are voting against. And they are not voting for the content of any party manifesto because, let’s face it, who has the time and inclination to read them?

At the local level it is even more dispiriting. The fate of local councillors might occasionally be affected by the perception of their individual performance but more often than not national party popularity is the key factor.

It is a well known saying that: “We get the government we deserve.” Collectively it’s true. If we keep on voting for the same old parties in the same old system it is unlikely that much can improve.

It is disillusionment with this tired anachronistic process that has driven much of discontent north of the border. They feel they are not properly represented at Westminster. They are right.

But however much they my think so, it is not a Scottish thing. None of us are properly represented because of the wretched first past the post system.

Actually the ones who suffered most in the 2010 general election in Scotland were the Tories. They won just a single Scottish seat although the party, as a whole, attracted 412,000 Scots votes. The SNP with just 80,000 more votes got five seats.

It is a great shame that so many voters in the UK at the last referendum we held on Proportional Representation could not see the malign influence our current system is having on our politics and our democracy. At the time, many seemed so determined to punish the Lib Dems for joining the Tories in a coalition that their judgement was coloured.

Consistently we are governed by politicians who can attract less than 40 per cent support, even of those who vote.

The Electoral Reform Society in their 2011 report said: “This year’s election results again provided ample evidence of a malaise afflicting local government. … local democracy in most parts of the country remains uncompetitive and uninspiring.

“…. It is not surprising that turnout levels are so low, when participation is so ineffectual.

“…. The revitalisation of Scottish local government over the past four years [using the Single Transferable Vote system] is an appropriate model for those seeking to enhance local democracy in England.”

We need councils and governments that represent the whole population of their areas proportionally, fairly and properly. Until we do we are likely to see continued disillusion and disengagement.

In 1999 voter turnout in our Guildford Borough Council elections fell to just 36.2 per cent, the lowest ever. The average 1999 – 2007 was 44.3 per cent (2011 fig unavailable).

The disillusion with national politics has reached such a stage in Scotland that, as we know, many want out altogether. Sadly for many of us, who feel the Union is a good thing, they might win the day. Whatever the outcome they have already been offered far more independence than they had.

Perhaps we should have a referendum on more independence for Guildford? A Guildford where we decide what is best for our borough. Why should we be dictated to by national policies on planning enforced by planning inspectors from Bristol who might know even less about Guildford than many Westminster MPs know about Scotland?

Our political system must change. Not only should proportional representation be reconsidered but politicians must show that they understand we want them to represent us, not decide for us as if we are children not capable of understanding.

Most politicians, national or local, despite their sometimes large egos, are not necessarily wiser than the rest of us. Over the years they have made that manifestly clear.

When it comes to controversial issues such as the Local Plan they must find out what most of their constituents want and vote accordingly.

There is no guarantee that a majority view is the right one but in a democracy it should be the one that counts. Anyway there is no guarantee that the view of politicians is right either. They must not be arrogant enough to think they always know best. They don’t.

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