July 10, 2014 : Jenny Bloomfield

Government must try harder on voter participation

How could a consultation about improving voter participation have got it so wrong?

Today I submitted SCVO’s response to the Consultation on Scotland’s Electoral Future: delivering improvements in participation and administration.

With turnout at less than 50% in recent elections, and far lower in deprived than affluent areas, I’m really pleased the Scottish Government is looking into this issue.

And the debate in the Scottish Parliament in June was pretty good, with a recognition from a number of MSPs that Scottish representative democracy – the kind where we go to the ballot box and cast our vote – just isn’t working for whole swathes of people who live in Scotland.

So I was feeling hopeful when I sat down to look at the consultation documents. Unfortunately, those hopes were soon dashed.

For some reason I can’t fathom, only one question out of twelve focusses on why people are turned off from politics. Considering that the consultation begins: “This consultation is part of the continuing process to make voting more meaningful for Scotland’s people and communities,” this is absurd.

Let’s be honest, unless people are given a reason to vote, it really doesn’t matter how streamlined the system is, they still aren’t going to.

I really am quite taken aback about how little attention engaging voters, building trust in politicians (which the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey shows is again declining), and improving the range of people who stand are given in this consultation.

I know that part of the consultation is meant to be on technical details, but surely this should be about improving participation too.

It’s a massive disappointment to see such an important issue pushed to one side to deal with relatively more straight forward ones. How names are ordered on the ballot paper, rules around eligibility for standing as a candidate, questions about the Electoral Management Board – of course all of this matters but encouraging more people to vote in the first place matter much more in my book.

 

 

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Jenny Bloomfield