On Election Day

In just under three hours, the polls close. In about 20 hours, we’ll know the results.

I voted this morning before I went to work – I usually do. I share Dawn Foster’s love of voting:

I’ve always woken early on polling day, taken my card to the school, church hall or scout hut that’s been commandeered for the day, and purposefully put my cross or numbers next to my preferred candidate. The stiff ceremony of those five minutes never dulls: knowing that the mark you make with the pencil provided is your physical mark on our democracy is uniquely pleasurable. Then there’s the slight anti-climax you feel once you’ve posted your slip into the ballot box, tempered by wondering how those walking in as you leave will vote.

I wrote about my predictions for Leith Ward. I was grateful to several locals who thanked me for my report on the Newington/Southside hustings.

And I thought about why we are all so unenthused about this election. During the anti-SPUC pro-choice demo last Saturday, while standing around Lothian Road defending a woman’s right to choose, we talked about the upcoming elections – a bunch of politically-minded, engaged, informed, and responsible people – and found that we were all feeling an entire lack of enthusiasm about the candidates we had to vote for and the expected results no matter who we voted for. None of us except myself were actively hoping for any one person’s success today, and my own quixotic support for an Independent in another ward is admittedly out of character for me – tribal Lefty since before I could vote.

I hope Gordon Murdie breaks the barrier against independents and wins a seat. Not just because of the statutory repairs scandal which drove him to stand for election, but also because of the situation Kenneth Roy describes in the Scottish Review:

Next there is the cynicism of the whole exercise – not my cynicism; their cynicism. There are 30 seats on South Ayrshire Council and only 44 candidates competing for them. The chances of being elected are too high; the odds need to be longer for the cause of democracy to be properly served. But then I looked at the reasons for this shortage of would-be cooncillors and discovered that no party is putting up enough candidates to gain overall control. The SNP have 14, two short of a majority, the Tories 12, Labour (disgracefully) only nine, the Lib Dems two, and there are seven Independents.

No one is playing to win. Everyone is content to settle for a colourless end-of-season draw.

Edinburgh may look better than South Ayrshire as Kenneth Roy describes it, with 127 candidates standing for 58 seats. But ward by ward (and I have looked at all of them, and at the results for all of them in 2007, when I was compiling this post and the sub-posts for each ward) you can peel away the candidates who really don’t stand a chance (and often, really know they don’t, and don’t bother to campaign) and find that whether there are three seats or four, the odds are good for any candidate who’s pledged to one of the five main parties – and very bad for any candidate who’s not.

In Southside / Newington there are eight candidates standing for four seats.

But this in Edinburgh, and three of the candidates ought according to conventional electoral wisdom stand not a chance – the Anti-Cuts party and the Liberal party, neither of which can evidently afford to fund their candidates or provide any other support, not even a webpage, and we know from 2007 that Independents just don’t win council seats in Edinburgh.

Gordon Murdie is an intelligent, capable, committed man who would make a good councillor and who’s got a skillset and experience that I think would make him a useful councillor for Edinburgh. If he just wanted to be a councillor, I think his most sensible strategy would have been to join the SNP. He might well have got a seat – but I doubt I would have cared. It’s precisely because he’s standing for something he believes in and I think has the capacity to get done, that I find I want him to win.

We don’t know yet how low the turnout’s going to be. I think it could be down to 25%. The fewer people who vote, the easier the career councillors have it – join a party, pick a ward, divide up the seats between them in a game of musical chairs, and settle down for the next five years.

Richard Darlington suggests revisiting the idea of making voting compulsory – at least for voters for whom it’s the first election for which they’re eligible. (And once a person has voted once, they are more likely to do it again…)

Calls for compulsory voting are commonly met with the objection that it is a citizen’s right to choose not to vote. But first-time voters should be compelled only to turn out and should have a ‘none of the above’ option, much like the ‘re-open nominations’ option common place in student union ballots.

It’s time to take another look at compulsory voting and first-time voters are the best place to start.

I like the idea of a “None of the Above” option – which ought, if enough people ticked it, force another election a month later, where none of the candidates who stood the first time could stand again.

I like the idea of smaller wards, more hustings, more candidates standing, more women standing, more choice.

Democracy. Seventy percent of us are disgusted with the performance of Edinburgh council over the past five years. But how many incumbents are going to be re-elected today – and how many of us will even bother to vote?

Love and Garbage writes:

The lack of engagement by candidates and parties is met with an apparent astonishment at low turnouts, and a lack of engagement from constituents. Some blame the media – not concentrating on the real issues. But that won’t wash. Well, if you are not given any respect as a voter – to set out a case, to say “hello” never mind to try to persuade you to vote, is it little wonder if prospective voters do not respect candidates enough to turn up to vote?

Democracy.

And one final thought:

If you are considering voting tactically, you are required by law to shout “You sunk my battleship!” at the top of your voice while in the booth.

Leave the pencil behind. This isn’t fucking Argos.

Fold your ballot paper (An origami swan makes your vote count double) and place it in the ballot box along with any loose change you may have.

Run to the pub and reflect on what you have done. Practice the phrase “It’s not my fault. I didn’t vote for them.”

Finally, if you ask yourself the question “What would Nick Clegg do?” rip your ballot paper up and return it to a grown up stating “I’m too stupid to be allowed this important responsibility”.

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