My understanding of political systems outside of the UK is poor, but I recently experienced another country’s day at the polls first hand, rather than via media coverage or fictional representations. With a lot of political activity which I’m missing out on at home, thanks to missing the referendum in Scotland, it was nice to be able to witness democracy in action where I was.
On 9 September, I was driving through Massachusetts as state senate elections took place. During the days beforehand, I noticed a lot of political posters urging voters to make sure they attended and, in many cases, who they should be voting for. There are fewer main parties in the US than there are in UK elections, but there seemed to be far more names flying around. On election day, it was great to see the posters backed up by physical presence: voters attending the booths, campaigners out on the streets and waving their banners. As is typical of the US versus the UK, it was all a lot more brash and in your face – the Brits are more reserved in their campaigning – but I loved the enthusiasm.
As I’ve mentioned before, I think there are far too many legal voters in democratic countries who don’t take their responsibility seriously, so I love seeing people get involved and doing their duty. Many people I know are reasonably politically-involved and take the opportunity to vote: I’ve seen plenty of chatter on Facebook and Twitter about the Scotland referendum (for those not from the UK, 18 September saw Scotland go to the polls and decide whether to remain part of the UK or become a completely independent country). Some of the debate has been less reasonable than others, but I would prefer to see people go out and vote against my own opinion than stay indoors and not vote at all.
The UK will hold a General Election next year, and my feeling is that the result this time will see us live under a fully Conservative government. This idea isn’t one which thrills me, but we’ll see how it goes. David Cameron is already campaigning on the (moronic) promise of allowing the UK to vote on whether or not we should continue our membership of the EU (something which will win votes with the xenophobes, but is probably being bandied about as just that – a vote-winner which he has no intent of following through on), whilst the Liberal Democrats are widely regarded as being dead in the water, and Labour are floundering under an uncharismatic leader.
In the same way that I enjoy Tweeting along with Eurovision and televised talent shows involving celebrities, I love the excitement of seeing the results trickle in as to who will run our country. The most upsetting thing remaining for me is that, although there are millions of others who enjoy the sparkly, fake tan covered televisual delights that I do, there are fewer who will participate in a governmental election. Perhaps if they all had to samba and sing more people would be interested? Or if the BBC’s General Election coverage and political broadcasts were written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, they’d get better viewing figures?
But back to the first point, perhaps as a way to convert those who don’t currently participate: think about what you’re missing. Where’s the tedium in being part of the decision? The cross you put in the box decides whether your roads get fixed, how much tax you pay and what it funds, and who will have a “real” job versus who will be slathering on the fake tan and glitter come next September. Decisions are made by those who turn up – try it next time, and I think you’ll be glad that you did.