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by Kate Shannon
28 April 2015
Kate Shannon: The idea of not voting flies in the face of democracy

Kate Shannon: The idea of not voting flies in the face of democracy

Before each election, I start thinking about what it means to vote. This is usually prompted by listening to friends, acquaintances or even people interviewed on television who claim, with a pride I find incomprehensible, that they’ve never voted and they won’t be voting in the upcoming election.

I generally find myself launching into a well-used lecture about the benefits of voting and the perils of disenfranchisement, amid much eye rolling from the intended recipient of the speech. 

The gist of it is this: everyone should vote. To this day I haven’t heard a decent argument in favour of staying at home on polling day. I understand many people feel their vote doesn’t count and that no matter who they choose, the same politicians (perhaps with a different coloured rosette) remain in charge but surely this should reinforce the need for everyone to head to the polling station?

To this day I haven’t heard a decent argument in favour of staying at home on polling day

Until the early 1880s, only one in five men in the UK were entitled to vote and while by the end of the 19th century most men could vote, it wasn’t until the Representation of the People Act in February 1918 that women (over 30) were granted the same privilege. The idea of not voting flies in the face of democracy, for hundreds of years ordinary people were barred from having their say on how their lives were governed and I would hate for things to revert back to those dark days.

The well-documented struggle for women’s suffrage in particular has always had a strong impact on me. As a small child, my mother drummed into me that people died so I could vote, an idea which remains important to me to this day. Women are still underrepresented in our political spheres and while marking an X in a polling booth does not automatically lead to standing for office, it can help elect politicians who actually represent the people in their constituencies.

Last year’s independence referendum was a momentous occasion in terms of voter turnout, 84.5 per cent of the population of Scotland had their say. In the days after 18 September, it was widely acknowledged among those on both sides of the argument that if this increased participation could carry over to May’s general election, Scotland would be a richer place.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, general election turnout has declined in Scotland. The figures between 1900 and 1997 were usually around 70 or 80 per cent – compare that to 2010 when the figure was 63.8 per cent. 

Let’s hope the referendum has had a positive effect and on 8 May, in the midst of the celebrations, commiserations and political wrangling, democracy is the true winner.

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