Anyone who has been out and about interviewing during this election campaign will know that as pertinent a question as “Who are you planning to vote for?” has been “Are you planning to vote at all?”.

In the streets of Glasgow, I’ve heard the same phrases repeated over and over: “What’s the point?; “I don’t believe a word they say”; “Nothing is going to change”.

Nor do people seem particularly well-informed on policy. This is not some kind of media bubble snobbery. I have covered elections where the majority of those I stopped could critique each party’s manifesto and explain their own electoral choices.

But this time it feels like large chunks of the population have switched off. And who can blame them?

Years of austerity and political stasis, followed by weeks of TV debate white noise, have left us all exhausted.

As food prices rise and incomes fall, many people are too busy firefighting to apply themselves to promises they don’t expect to be fulfilled, being made in a political arena they no longer trust.

Yet, it is when things are at their worst that voting matters most.


Even if you feel you can’t slip a cigarette paper between the parties’ policies, even if the leaders’ principles feel compromised and their visions lacklustre, it’s important to exercise your democratic right, to participate in the decision-making process, so you have a stake in the outcome – so you can say, with some justification: “We deserve better than this.”

Perhaps this lack of participation is what certain parties want. Every single feature of this year’s election – from the timing to the boundary changes to the requirement for photographic ID – seems designed to make the act of voting more difficult.

Photographic ID was supposedly introduced to fix electoral fraud, a problem that doesn’t seem to exist.

At the last General Election, police investigated just 164 alleged cases (out of 47 million votes cast) and there was only one conviction – of someone who grabbed a ballot box to prevent others from voting.


X marks the rot

One of the few joys of the first-past-the-post system used to be its simplicity: pitch up to your polling station any time between 7am and 10pm, give your name and address to the polling station staff, and put your X in your chosen box.

It was straightforward, open and inclusive. Now, you must produce an official document such as a passport, driver’s licence, bus pass or Young Scot card – exactly the kind of document the UK’s most marginalised are least likely to possess.

Those without any form of photo ID were eligible for a free Voter Authority Certificate, but that required digital access, the uploading of a photograph, the capacity to meet a deadline, and the motivation to bother (you could also apply by post, but you’d have needed a printer, and the same arguments apply).

It’s exactly the kind of administrative task the UK’s most marginalised are least likely to navigate.

There has also been a lack of communication over the boundary changes.

Some of the most politically savvy people I know were unaware East Pollokshields had moved from Glasgow Central to Glasgow South West.

SUBSCRIBE: Choose how you want to enjoy The Herald with access online and our new app

In Hamilton, I have heard of householders who only discovered their Labour candidate was no longer Michael Shanks when they received their polling cards.

Nothing stands to rekindle your faith in democracy like being shunted into another constituency without your knowledge.

Yet, when it comes to a disregard for voters, this lack of communication has nothing on the timing of the election: slap, bang in the middle of the first week of the Scottish school holidays.

Some sneered when John Swinney called Rishi Sunak’s failure to take those holidays into account “the latest act of disrespect to the country.” They pointed out that those heading off would be eligible for postal votes.

But even before the system went into meltdown, this was likely to reduce participation.

Applying for a postal vote may be straightforward for the computer literate, but it’s still one more chore at a time when families have so much else going on (nursery graduations, end-of-term exams, proms, sorting out accommodation for those going off to university).



Foregone conclusion?

IT’S easy to see how those jaded by recent political experience might allow it to slip off the bottom of their to-do lists. That’s before you take into account all the sixth formers, the voting virgins off to Malaga or Zante, their minds on more thrilling eventualities than an election whose outcome – the polls won’t stop telling us – is a foregone conclusion.

In any case, thousands of those who did apply for postal votes before the deadline had not received them by the time they were due to leave (and the deadline for applying for proxy votes had already passed).

The reasons for this are opaque: the Electoral Management Board (EMB) for Scotland is laying some of the blame on the Royal Mail, which denies having any problems. But they are likely to be rooted in the timing and capacity issues.

The proportion of people opting for a postal vote has increased steadily in Scotland over the last two decades, reaching 25% this year.

This rise is due to the pandemic, and to political parties encouraging it (because it increases turnout).

The fact there is no requirement for photo ID may have furthered intensified demand on top of the school holidays clash.


All of this is playing out at a time when cuts have left councils’ electoral registration offices (and no doubt the Royal Mail) under-resourced. Some of those staff who remain will likely have booked annual leave to attend the Euros. “It should be noted that the legal and logistical timetable for this election is very tight, exacerbated in Scotland by the holiday period,” Malcolm Burr, convener of the EMB for Scotland said.

Over the weekend, Edinburgh City Council set up an emergency facility where people could reapply, receive their postal vote immediately, and fill it out and submit it on the spot.

But this still required photo ID and was of no use to those already away from home.

Anyone who applied for a postal vote because they didn’t have photo ID was also out of luck because the deadline to apply for a VAC had expired, too.



Democracy denied

WHATEVER caused this debacle, it means many Scots will be stripped of their democratic right. Some of them will live in marginal constituencies where a few votes either way could alter the result. Such disenfranchisement may also allow the Tories to put a Trumpian spin on the scale of their defeat.

“There is a need for a major review of capacity and systems after the election,” Burr said.

But if the turnout is unprecedentedly low – as now seems possible – the subsequent inquest ought to examine not only the failure to get postal votes out on time, but the more insidious disenfranchisement of the marginalised through the imposition of administrative and psychological hurdles.

It should take in the decision to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, which, for all its flaws, prevented snap elections being held at the whim of a fickle, self-serving Prime Minister with no regard for the populace.

It might even pose the question: why, if the requirement for photo ID was meant to crack down on electoral fraud, people have been encouraged to switch to postal votes (a system more susceptible to malfunction and abuse)?

At a time when so many are apathetic about politics, everything possible should be done to rebuild confidence, and to make it as easy as possible to take part.

Instead, what we have seen is nothing less than a form of voter suppression – an incremental attempt to exclude the already-disaffected from a “democracy” that has failed them.