Scotland 2014: Rock The Vote?

Rock The Vote Scotland?

Rock The Vote Scotland?

By Kate Higgins

It garnered a lot of unwarranted media coverage, both in the run up to the vote and on the result itself.

In a mock referendum for students, organised by the quaintly named Dialectic Society at Glasgow University, the nos had it.  62% or 1642 students voted to stay in the United Kingdom with 38% or 967 voting for independence.  What was most remarkable was the paltry turnout of 10%: only 10% cared enough to cast a vote.  That hasn’t stopped us all umming and awing and looking for signs of relevance to the real thing.

Somewhat predictably, Better Together seized on the result with glee, pointing out that it matters because Yes Scotland invested time in the campaign.  Why, the Depute First Minister even deigned to visit, ignoring the fact that as a former Glasgow university student and a current Glasgow MSP, she might have been expected to show some interest.  Damned that she did and she would have been damned if she didn’t.

I’m not sure Yes Scotland threw the kitchen sink at this one, as some have claimed, but it would be odd if the main protagonists ignored mock referenda like this.  What both sides will have to work out – because Better Together will take a few knocks on the road to 2014 eventually too – is how to gee up campaigns and ensure materials and messaging are reaching prospective voters without being seen to be all over such mock events like a rash.  That’s a tough one and maybe Yes Scotland has realised it needs to be less overt in its approach if only to avoid unnecessary negative commentary.  Of course, less overt should probably translate into building well organised, strong supporter bases in obvious places for such activity well before the event.

Some have also surmised that because Glasgow is a more working class university with more Scottish students than its ancient peers, the result would have – could have? – been more damaging for the yes camp if held elsewhere.  But the idea that Glasgow is a working class yooni is a relative concept:  more home-grown than Edinburgh or St Andrews certainly, but not nearly as populated by young people from less well-off areas than Dundee or even its near neighbours, Strathclyde and Glasgow Caley.  Nearly 87% of its student population might hail from state schools but I’d hedge a bet that many are from local authority top-performing schools, most of which are located in better off areas. And perhaps people who have the opportunity to make it in life within our current political and institutional structures are more likely to want things to stay as they are.  Why rock a boat which doesn’t need rocking?

However, until we have a mock poll involving all higher education establishments, we cannot really rely on one result from one university to tell us anything meaningful about how different demographic groups will actually vote, even within the student population.

Perhaps of greater interest is the turn-out.  People have thrown their arms up in horror, metaphorically, at how few students bothered to turn out and vote but is the low poll for the referendum representative of student apathy in political polls more generally or did they specifically reserve disdain for the great constitutional debate of our times?  Probably a mix of the two.

What it tells us is that many have yet to awaken to the charms of voting yes or no for independence.  While there is a veritable cottage industry of forums, seminars, events, debates and conferences on the constitution, in truth, it is operating in a parallel universe.  The issue and its consequences might be of significant interest to the chattering classes – and to political anoraks like me and thee, dear reader – but for most of the population, there is plenty time to get excited with the vote still some eighteen months hence.  This is not the dominant political issue of the day for ordinary folk, who are more likely to be concerned about more mundane matters like jobs, fuel bills and horsemeat.  The lack of interest displayed by Glasgow students is perhaps a microcosm of a wider indifference at large in the electorate.

But when put beside the recent IPSOS-Mori poll findings which showed a remarkable leap of faith among voters aged 18 to 24, then the failure of the Yes camp to win this one is possibly more startling.  That poll suggested that a firm majority of young voters would now vote yes, yet when put to the test among a significant body of voters in that age group – and most university students are aged between 18 and 24 – then they shied away.  And while Yes Scotland was quick to trumpet this shift as a sign of something more momentous happening, the Glasgow university result should sound a note of caution, for if it is to rely on the votes of young people to carry the day come autumn 2014, then it needs to actually get them to vote in the first place.  Giving an opinion for market research is apparently a much easier, more palatable option than getting out of your bed or out of the bar to physically cast a vote.

And all those traditionalists in the SNP – and there are plenty – who have resisted the march of technology on voting, preferring instead to adhere to the safe, manageable option of making people go in person to a specific place to cast a vote using a pencil and paper might come to rue such incomprehensible adherence to the good, old ways.

The opportunity to reform the voting system in time for the referendum might have passed us by, but there is still plenty that can and should be done to encourage more young people to participate.  Students, in particular, have always been a thorny voter group to reach.  Many are registered nowhere, some are registered both at university and at home, and many of them despite having the choice of where to vote, choose not to.  Over the years, many’s the time I’ve been on polling day knock-up and enquired about the third or fourth person in a household marked down as “one of ours” only to be told they are away at university.  All the parties could tell the same tale.

While potential  campaign advantage might prompt Yes Scotland to seek to plan and implement a voter registration and turn-out process by itself – and for Better Together to leave well alone – neither camp should be left to its own devices on this one.

Pete Ramand has already highlighted why a voter registration drive should be one of the pro-independence campaign’s priorities – and he’s bang on.  But actually the job should sit with the Electoral Commission.  Because this is a once in a generation poll, it needs to involve everyone and enable everyone to vote.  And if the referendum is treated like just another election, there is a big risk that young people – and others who traditionally do not register to vote, particularly poorer people – miss out.

We need a mass voter registration drive, co-ordinated and driven by the Electoral Commission, which is adequately financed.  In recent times, the electoral body has been given paltry amounts with which to engage voters:  that must be rectified.  Given that the power to hold and manage the referendum has been transferred to Holyrood, then the Scottish Parliament can provide additional funds for this purpose.  At the very least, it would put pressure on Westminster to match it.   Additionally, we need widespread voter engagement and education activity, with the Electoral Commission supporting charities and organisations which can reach the voter groups least likely to participate, to conduct it.  People need to be persuaded in this vote, above all others, why their vote matters and such activity would have the bonus of ingraining a voting habit in people and parts of society where previously there was none.

Why?  Because it is vital that all of Scotland takes part in this decision and that we all own the outcome.  Consequently, turnout at the referendum matters, almost as much as the reckoning does.  To achieve a high turnout and an engaged and informed electorate requires a non-partisan, mass participation and registration programme to persuade people of the necessity and desirability of voting, however they choose to do so.   Who knows, such an approach might even manage to double turnout at Glasgow university.



Categories: Participatory Democracy, Referendum on Independence

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21 replies

  1. Two points worth noting:-

    Although the turnout was low by national electoral standards, it was actually the highest turnout for any vote at the University of Glasgow for years.

    Although Glasgow may have a relatively high proportion of students from working class backgrounds, overall, students still tend to be people who believe they have prospects. This means that we can, on the basis of this vote, predict very little about the likely voting behaviour of the great mass of young people facing poverty in areas where the general perception is that there are few prospects. Although I wouldn’t like to guess which way they’ll turn, my suspicion is that it is this latter group who represent the key demographic where the youth vote is concerned.

  2. Mandatory voting is the correct answer. This is too important an issue to allow ignorance or apathy to hold sway.

    • Saying you hope my principles keep me warm in future years was a very foolish thing for you to say, Archie Hamilton. Just because you’re too lazy to do the hard work of getting folk out to vote voluntarily in our referendum doesn’t mean everybody else is. Furthermore, it was sheer IGNORANCE for you to assume that ignorance or apathy are the only reasons for not voting. I lived in London for over twelve years. During the 12+ years I lived in London, I never voted once. But I was neither ignorant nor apathetic. In fact, I was probably more politically active then than at any other time in my life. It’s just my politics didn’t take an electoral form.

      • I don’t wish to pesonalise this discussion it would serve absolutely no purpose but I will reply to the content of your comments:
        1. Nothing in my post gives you any basis to draw an accurate conclusion as to whether I am or am not too lazy to do the hard work that you speak of. That type of vitriol should be avoided.

        2. Nor I do assume that apathy and ignorance are the only reasons for not voting. You draw that conclusion for reasons best known to yourself. Your London experiences and their relevance to the Referendum issue are at best uncertain

      • Archie Hamilton did indeed mention, in a comment, “ignorance and apathy” as the only reasons why people don’t vote. That comment showed he was unaware of the positive reason why some people choose not to vote. Furthermore, Archie Hamilton’s unwarranted comment about “hope your principles keep you warm” personalised the discussion. And it is a fact that folk who want the state to make voting compulsory are, by definition, choosing an easier option than the hard work of encouraging voluntary electoral registration and encouraging folk to get out to vote in our referendum. Yes, voluntary registering and persuading the poor their vote can make a difference is hard work. And many of the supporters of Barak Obama in the USA are disappointed and do wonder why they bothered. Nevertheless, the fact that Obama has been elected twice proves that getting the poor and disfranchised to vote can work. And we do have the great advantage of being able to tell folk that they are NOT electing any slippery politician, or any political party, they are just saying yes or no to independence.

      • You appear to read into my comments a meaning which is neither contained within my words nor obvious by extension.
        There are many more reasons for non voting than ignorance and apathy as I am very well aware and despite your contention to the contrary, as you would very well know, if you had read my words properly, at no point I have suggested or indicated that these are the only reasons.

        Whether or not it is in an election it is a major political event for the nation and we need a large vote to make it conclusive. Our efforts need to be focused on a Yes vote – not on persuading people simply to vote. It is nothing to do with being lazy or taking the easy option – it is a matter of targeting our funding and talent to best result. Despite your evident belief that class is a major part of the voting process I don’t share your thinking.

  3. 38% for Independence is higher than in recent public opinion polls, and quite encouraging with eighteen months still to go to the referendum and before the campaigning has started in earnest.

    • Mandatory voting is certainly NOT the right answer. The right to vote is important, but so is the right not to vote. Every time that anybody has ever raised the idea of making voting compulsory, I have always said that not only would that guarantee me refusing to vote, not only would it guarantee me being prepared to go to jail for the right not to vote, it would also mean I would organise a campaign for the right not to vote. And if you think that couldn’t be done, I think you underestimate the number of dedicated anarchists in the population!

      The real answer is not compulsion, but registration and persuasion. All available evidence points to the fact of a clear CLASS divide on the issue of independence. While this is a generalisation, and obviously isn’t true of everybody, nevertheless, in general, the more well-to-do folk are, the more hostile they tend to be towards independence, and the harder it is to persuade them to change. By contrast, poorer folk tend to be FAR more likely to favour independence, or, if not convinced, far more likely to consider the case for independence.

      The main problem we have is getting folk to turn out and vote in the referendum.

      A large percentage of the working class doesn’t vote in elections. We need to point out to them that a referendum is NOT an election. In a referendum, no politician gets elected. In a referendum, no political party gets elected. In the referendum on independence, you’re not choosing a politician, and you’re not choosing a political party, you’re choosing to take more control over your own future.

      If you are well off, comfortably settled, and own your own home outright, then you’re virtually certain to vote. Unfortunately, you’re also far more likely to be conservative (with a small “c”) and cautious. If you’re poorer, and may have had to move home within the last couple of years, perhaps because of problems over mortgage or rent payment, you are far more likely to consider the need for radical change. However, there’s quite a high chance you’re not on the electoral register.

      So-called “opinion polls” are not polls at all, they are merely small “samples” which are alleged (by the professional fraudsters who run them) to be in some way “representative”. In selecting their samples, these professional fraudsters choose some folk, and reject others They call this “weighting”. They “weight” the sample they choose by how likely folk are to turn out and vote. So they choose more well off folk, and fewer poorer folk. In the American presidential elections, Obama won twice by “expanding the electorate”, that is, by his campaign team getting far more poorer folk registered to vote, and to turn out to vote, than the professional pollsters had been expecting.

      If we can get enough less-well-off folk registered to vote, and to turn out to vote, then we’ll have a clear majority for independence. The “Better Together” crowd can keep all the “conservative and cautious”, and they will still lose badly.

      So, the main things that need to be done are (1) ensure that the folk the pollsters tend to forget about are in fact on the electoral register, even if they have moved house recently; (2) ensure they STAY on the electoral register, even if they should move again before Autumn 2014, and (3) convince the working class that independence will certainly NOT be “business-as-usual”, so that they are inspired to actually turn out and vote.

      • Well I do hope your principles keep you warm in future years because unless a way is found to get a large number of people energised then “sit on their arse, couldn’t care less” punters are going to be used against change for a long time to come.

      • Dave, I don’t know what you mean by the right not to vote, bearing in mind the centuries of sacrifice and effort that went in to ensuring that we all have the right to vote in this country. If you are a ‘dedicated anarchist’, can’t stomach any of the candidates on offer or just hate the system, then at least make the effort to go along and spoil your paper. Otherwise you will just be categorised as somebody who just couldn’t care less, or even worse, a No vote, as many of us may recall from 1979.

  4. Nicola Sturgeon is a MEMBER of Glasgow University. It was a university lecturer who explained to me what being a member of a university meant. “The members are the graduates and the undergraduates. That’s all. As for the staff, unless we happen to be graduates of this university, we’re just the hired help.” So, as a member of the University of Glasgow, and as somebody who lives locally and represents a Glasgow constituency, she would have been heavily criticised if she had NOT supported the pro-independence students. She put in a wee bit of effort, enough not to be criticised for doing nothing, but not too much, and she downplayed in advance any wider significance for the result. In other words, she did the right thing.

  5. Three members of my own family have moved house within the last year or so. That’s one in the 18-24 age group, and two in their late 30s. My guess is that probably reflects what is happening in the population as a whole, that younger folk on the move are actually outnumbered about two to one by folk a bit older who have to move. In one case, there was a move from (heavily mortgaged) “home ownership” to renting. In another case, there was a move because of not being able to afford the rent. So don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s only younger folk on the move, don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s only younger folk who won’t be on the electoral register. Also, don’t make the mistake of leaving it up to the Electoral Commission or some other official body. Nobody is going to do this for us. We are going to have to ensure that folk are on the Electoral Register. In Dundee, the local council has provided campaigners with loads of voter registration forms. The same thing can be done elsewhere. And voluntary registration of poorer folks works. Just ask Barak Obama.

  6. “That hasn’t stopped us all umming and awing and looking for signs of relevance to the real thing” – speak for yourself. I never expected this mockery-referendum to prove anything.

    Glasgow a “more working class university”? Well, I suppose you could maybe say its a bit more working class than Oxford, or Cambridge, but, apart from that its ridiculous to describe Glasgow University as working class. The reality is, the vast majority of working class youth in Scotland are not at Glasgow University.

    There is only one poll that matters. The one in our referendum in Autumn 2014. And that’s more than a year and a half away.

    Never mind mockery-referendums. They don’t matter. Put your energies into seeking to ensure that the poor and the working class are (1) registered to vote, and (2) motivated to vote.

  7. No, it’s not up to the Electoral Commission to make sure that everybody is registered to vote. If Obama’s supporter in the USA had taken that attitude, we would have President Romney. Or maybe it would have been a case of re-electing President McCain.

  8. yeah as Jennie points out above the turnout was very high – much higher than anyone expected, and higher than SRC elections which use online voting so are, in theory, much easier to vote in. People joined long queues to vote in the indy referendum. Loads of students – postgrads etc – aren’t even at the uni on a daily basis too so much less likely to vote.

    Other than that, this article is pretty spot on: http://radicalindependence.org/index.php/lessons-from-guindyref/

  9. Kate –
    Are you a ‘member’ of GU?
    If so, how would you have voted?

  10. If the Yes campaign gets 38% of the Glaswegian middle class in the real thing, it’ll storm the vote as a whole

  11. “Middenheap” says “Dave, I don’t know what you mean by the right not to vote” – then you must be helluva thick. It means the right not to vote. There have been totalitarian systems in which voting was compulsory. Generally speaking, systems in which voting is compulsory do tend to be systems in which freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of organising, etc etc, are not encouraged. That’s because the desire to FORCE everybody to vote is in itself totalitarian.

    Now, so far as our referendum is concerned, I have made it crystal clear that I think we should have a mass registration drive, in order to seek to get everybody (voluntarily) onto the electoral register; and that I think we should do everything possible to seek to get everybody (voluntarily) to turn out to vote. That does involves some hard work, so I can understand some lazy folk preferring that the state should make voting compulsory. But we can’t base an independent Scotland on the totalitarian measure of compulsory voting.

    “bearing in mind the centuries of sacrifice and effort that went in to ensuring that we all have the right to vote in this country” – the thing that our ancestors fought for was the right to vote. They did NOT fight to be compelled to vote!

    Stop being lazy. Stop expecting the state to do it for you. If you want a massive vote for independence in next year’s referendum, get a batch of registration forms from your local council, get out there ensuring that folk are on the electoral register, tell folk that independence will NOT mean business as usual, and give them reasons why they SHOULD vote.

  12. “People have thrown their arms up in horror, metaphorically, at how few students bothered to turn out and vote but is the low poll for the referendum representative of student apathy in political polls more generally or”
    Answer YES, although the one here for the Referendum was the highest turn out in a long time.

    “did they specifically reserve disdain for the great constitutional debate of our times? Probably a mix of the two.”
    DEFINITELY NOT. See my last answer.

    And in real Independence Referenda the turn out is ALWAYS high. Scotland’s last two Referenda even though only for Devolution 1979 and 1997 64% and 61%, Quebec Independence in 1995 94%,(in Independence polls since 1850s Quebec turn out has never been less than 65% and is usually over 75%) South Sudan 2011 99.5%. I could go on…..

  13. Dave Coul,
    Spot on with all that you say. May I pick your brains? Would you know if there is a way to register a person to vote at a ‘proxy” address, such as the headquarters of the YES campaign in Hope Street?

    I am concerned that many of the very people we need to register to vote are purposely not registering in order to stay off the electoral register and so under the radar of Bailiffs, credit ref agencies and debt collectors etc.. I speak from my own past experience in this matter.

    I believe a sympathetic ear and a well thought out solution to this problem (and others) may help both registration of the vulnerable and encourage their participation in the YES campaigns drive for real societal change. Practical solutions to real problems to me should be the anchor of a strong community voter registration campaign. Any Ideas would be great to hear. Thanks

  14. Sorry Dave, I left an L off the end of your name there. Ooops.

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