Or is it? I'm not sure...maybe...what do you think??

Thursday, 5 May 2011

X Marks The Spot - Make Your Vote For Voting

Its election day in the UK today.  Elections for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly are being held, plus local council elections in England.   But more importantly, a referendum for all of us on the future of our voting system - whether to keep the current First-Past-The-Post system for Westminster elections or move to the system of Alternative Vote.

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on the arguments for either side of this issue.  I'm sure you can read a much more accurate version of them on other, more serious and politically well-informed websites.

Personally I've struggled more than I thought I would in coming to a decision.

I always thought I would be a supporter of any reform of the voting system that offered a more accurate reflection of the nation's votes, rather than a ping-pong match between the two main parties.  But since I've been giving it some serious thought I've found myself having to give consideration to the arguments for keeping a system which delivers strong single governments, rather than the danger of a mish-mash of small parties brokering deals.  

Interestingly, my other half has always been very anti proportional representation (something to do with Nazi Germany apparently) but is finding himself becoming more reconciled to the idea.   So we have been travelling in opposite directions and find ourselves meeting, confusedly, in the middle.

The current coalition has dented my (perhaps idealistic) ideas on the benefits of parties working together in government.  But it is hard to close the door on the opportunity to reconsider the way we elect those who govern us.

My one real, definite, hope for today is that the voting public turn out in large numbers.   If the FPTP/AV argument has done one thing, I hope it has made a lot of us stop and think about how we vote, and why, and for whom, and what we think our elections should achieve.

Looking at the history of suffrage in the UK alone, it is sobering to think that it was only in 1918 - just less than 100 years ago - that the right to vote was expanded, with property restrictions for voting being lifted for men, and the first votes for women (though with property restrictions, and limited to those over 30 years old - full electoral equality wouldn't come for another 10 years).   

It had been less than 50 years previously the Ballot Act of 1872 had introduced elections by secret ballot.   Before that, our ancestors - should they be one of the lucky few eligible -  had to announce their votes in the prescence of the candidates themselves, bearing in mind the implications that may have for their day-to-day lives if they voted against their boss or landlord.  It must have taken a lot of bravery to consider risking the family home and livelihood for a political viewpoint.

(Incidentally, I love the fact that the first time a secret ballot election took place, as it was in Pontefract, the box was sealed with a liquorice stamp - proof that sweets have a place in all sorts of history!)

So, whatever your political views, if you are reading this today in the UK and you haven't yet been to vote, please go and do it!   This is our chance to show that we care about the privilege of suffrage, that we do want to have a say in how our country is run, that - whatever the media may suggest - we do care as much about who our MP is as we do about who wins the X Factor. 

There will be no need to prove how much property you own, no employer breathing down your neck, no gun battle to avoid on the way.   The only requirement is our own determination to make space in our busy lives to make a mark on a piece of paper. 

And let's face it, if I can get organised enough to go and make a decision, you can too...