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Why electoral silence is shaping our political landscape

Anyone involved in the political process will have come across the common reaction: "I don't vote because it doesn't make any difference."

Indeed, the falling numbers for electoral participation suggest that attitude is becoming more common.

Some say it reflects a disenchantment with politicians in general, fuelled by a decade or more of 'sleaze' revelations and a political philosophy in all parties increasingly concerned with 'getting elected' rather than 'serving the people'.

It sometimes seems the antipathy is mutual - with politicians failing to inform the voters, and voters often confused as to political reality - like the young lad vox popped recently who complained bitterly that all politicians seemed to do was 'spend our money', as if that should not be part of their remit.

I would argue that the vote is something which was fought for and is a basic civil right, and that it should not be discarded lightly - no matter how disillusioned we may become with our political classes - but that can often be a difficult argument to win.

For many voters in Scotland, there is scant evidence that their vote does make a difference. For a century, Labour politicians and voters in Scotland have fought for principles of equality and social welfare, only to find themselves still living in one of the most unequal societies in the developed world, suffering from seemingly intractable health problems, and faced with a leadership moving ever closer to Tory values and the soothing of middle England's nerves when seeking election. One Nation Conservatives and Liberal federalists find themselves similarly sidelined by Westminster leaders whose 'peripheral' view in British terms is often blocked by the overheating south east. Those who vote SNP or Green are subject to policies ultimately restricted by Westminster's fiscal decisions.

It is tempting to state that you can't serve two masters, and, increasingly, the needs and wishes of Scottish voters seem out of sync with decisions made in the interests of the UK, or in pursuit of election to Westminster. Psephologically, you might suggest that this is reflected in the SNP majority in the Scottish Parliament - though, as I have noted, members and voters of all parties are ill served in this situation.

This week's European elections may, or may not, reflect a difference in political philosophy between Scotland and England, though recent turnouts would warn against making too much of the results as totems for national opinions. What is certain, however, is that, as long as the Union remains, people in Scotland will be voting for representatives as part of a delegation who will attempt to reflect what is best for the UK rather than Scotland. Farmers, fishermen and others will lose out on the benefits of European membership enjoyed by other countries who are in a position to vote on their own interests - or at least to make their individual voices heard and negotiate from what they have to offer.

Those who accept that being part of a UK delegation, for all its wavering commitment to European principles, gives Scotland enough influence to ensure its needs are met, will, naturally, vote against independence.

Others would rather that Scottish voters had a voice outwith this island, and a democratic opportunity to effect change within their own country.

Without this connection between how people vote and what actually happens, the electoral silence may well become deafening, and the importance of voting impossible to explain.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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