I was chatting with my neighbour Jane today. She was telling me that some of the women in her work loathe and detest Boris Johnson – don’t we all – but that they’re not motivated to vote because they think that all politicians are crap. Sadly that’s quite a widespread sentiment amongst working class people in places like the East End of Glasgow where Jane and I live. This area has one of the lowest turnouts for elections anywhere in Scotland. People here are cynical and disenchanted. For generations they’ve seen all sorts of politicians make all sorts of promises. The politicians come and go, but the poverty and deprivation that blight the East End of Glasgow stay with us.
So a lot of people just don’t vote. Maybe they think that voting only encourages the politicians. But that’s not true. Not voting encourages them even more, or at least it encourages some of them. Not voting isn’t the equal opportunities plague on all your houses message that some people think it is. The fact is that certain political parties benefit more from people not turning out to vote than others do, because the decision not to vote isn’t spread evenly across the population as a whole. Certain groups within the larger population are less likely to vote than others, and when members of those groups decide that they’re not going to vote because they’re unhappy with the entire political system, they’re only assisting those parties which benefit from the system as it is.
If you’re of the cynical persuasion, you believe that all political parties are rubbish, just ask yourself one question. Why do you think that the Conservatives have been introducing measures which make it harder to vote? Over recent years the Conservatives have introduced measures which mean that you can only register to vote if you supply a National Insurance number, if you provide some form of recognised ID. It’s well known that such measures have the effect of decreasing the voter registration and turn out of working class people, young people, ethnic minorities and migrant communities, and people who depend on social security. All of these groups are those which are less likely to vote Tory.
The Conservatives are quite happy when working class people don’t vote. Boris Johnson doesn’t lose any sleep over working class people who don’t bother to vote. He’s delighted when working class people don’t bother to vote. Him and his Tory pals are quite happy to encourage working class people not to vote, which is precisely why the Conservatives have been at the forefront of introducing measures which make it more difficult to vote.
The reason is because it’s the Tories who benefit when working class people don’t vote. Their own supporters with their upper middle class comfortable privileges will get out and vote to defend those privileges. Middle class older people, richer people, and the comfortable middle classes in rural constituencies are the groups within the population who are most likely to vote. They’re the groups who are most likely to vote Tory, the groups who are most likely to vote against Scottish independence, the groups who will support Brexit. They’re going to vote anyway, because they’re not as disenchanted with a political system that benefits the Conservative party. They don’t share your cynicism, because they know that the existing political system works to their advantage.
Now it has to be said right away that just because you’re an older person with a good pension it doesn’t automatically mean that you’re a right wing Daily Mail reader who hates immigrants and Scottish independence in equal measure. There are many older people who are committed to social democratic politics, social inclusion, and Scottish self-determination. However it remains a statistical fact that the older you are and the better off you are, then it becomes more likely that you will be right wing rather than left wing, and that you will oppose rather than support independence. It also becomes more likely that you will be registered to vote and that you will actually vote.
When the young, the working class, and the poor don’t register to vote, then the effect is that the influence of those right wing voters who are more likely to vote becomes greater. It means that those right wing voters, those Tory supporting smug people who do very well out of the existing system, will find it more likely that there’s enough of them to ensure that they can get a Conservative MP who represents their interests. Because the left wing, the working class, the young, and the poor haven’t bothered to vote. If there is a constituency with 10,000 voters, 4000 of them comfortable well off right wing Tories, and the other 6000 are low paid working class people, or people who rely on social security, and all of them hate the Tories, the Tories are not going to win if everyone bothers to vote. But if half of the Tory haters don’t bother to vote, then the Tories are going to win 4000 to 3000. It’s simple arithmetic. Then everyone in that constituency will have a Tory MP imposing Tory policies.
If you lose yourself in a comforting cynicism, telling yourself that you’re opting for the clever choice by not bothering to vote at all – you’re only doing the Tories’ job for them. If you don’t vote for a party that’s going to allow Scotland to decide its own future, Boris Johnson is going to take that as a sign that you’re quite happy for him to decide it for you. If you don’t vote, it’s not just that you don’t count. It’s not interpreted as a sign that you are so fed up that the political system needs to change. Your silence is taken as a sign that you’re quite happy with the way things are. The only way to change a political system that you think is rubbish is to vote for a party that’s going to allow you to change it.
In Scotland, that means voting for a party that supports another independence referendum. I’ve said this before, but it is worth repeating. The real reason why we need independence is because all politicians and all political parties need to be held to account. We need independence because we need to keep politicians close to us, so that their arses are within kicking distance of our feet. We can do that in an independent Scotland.
The problems of Scotland have come about because we are ruled by politicians and political parties in Westminster who are remote from us and who we cannot hold to account. It doesn’t matter how Scotland votes, so they treat us with contempt. The solution to this problem is not to disengage and decide not to vote, to lose yourself in a comforting cynicism, because then you’re only making it less likely that things will ever change. You’re helping Boris Johnson to screw you over.
Vote, and make a difference. Vote, and tell Westminster that Scotland demands the right to decide its own future. Vote, because if you don’t Boris Johnson will take your silence as consent.
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