Sunday, September 28, 2014

standing up to be counted

Well it has been a disappointing time for me in politics lately. Firstly the Scottish Referendum delivered a 'No' vote, quite possibly on the back of probably illegal and most definitely unethical last minute 'Devo Max' offers from the combined Westminster parties (there were to be no new offers from any side less than 28 days from the vote according to the Edinburgh Agreement - the Electoral Commission agrees that what happened was against the spirit if not the letter of the law. There's a petition here that sets out the full explanation. It isn't calling to question the referendum results but the cavalier attitude with which the law was disregarded).

Then to run salt into a wound a couple of days later we ended up with a third term Tory government in Aotearoa NZ despite some pretty grim revelations about their modus operandi. Yet in some ways it wasn't that much of a surprise; the Labour party has been in a mess for the last couple of years with in-fighting over leadership, and after putting his not inconsiderable money behind the left wing Internet-Mana alliance, Kim Dotcom didn't have the sense to leave the politics to the far more credible politicians he was funding. So basically the left was in a mess. The Greens hung in there but found themselves once again without a viable coalition partner to get into government. 

Things were not looking particularly bright, especially with Tony Abbott over the ditch running Australia into the ground and assorted Western powers deciding yet again to get involved with a conflict situation that no doubt will turn round and bite back later...

The one bright spot for me is the response in Scotland post-referendum of the 'Yes' campaigners. I know many No voters are feeling pretty fed up and are thinking 'we voted No, get over it and shut up', but really? After 307 very long years do you really think the pro-independence lobby is going to shut up a few days after coming so close to success??? Quite. And if the boot was on the other foot I doubt if they'd be keeping quiet either. The bright spot I mentioned was that apathy and despondency didn't kick in as it very well could've done - had they really 'come all that way for this' yet again? But the determination that saw the birth of the vigil on Carlton Hill in 1992 has been seen in action again but magnified a hundredfold as thousands, literally thousands, have joined the SNP and the Scottish Greens (who also campaigned for Yes) in the last ten days. I don't think either party has seen such numbers before, and last I heard the SNP have become larger than Scottish Labour and are on track to become the third largest political party in the UK, let alone Scotland! [Update: They already are! Over 40,000 new members in less than two weeks! Plus the Greens now have a waiting list to attend their next party conference :) ]The Westminster elections next year have suddenly become a lot more interesting than they have been for a long long time. 

Many of those joining up, according to reports, are those who were involved with non-partisan Yes campaign groups, like Commonweal and Radical Indy, who've not been members of any party before, a lot of others are disillusioned Scottish Labour members from both yes and no campaigns who feel let down by both their own leadership and that of the UK Labour Party as the promised goods of Devo-Max have (unsurprisingly, some might add) failed to materialise. Given that Scotland is a nation that has had crying into her beer down to a fine art in recent decades (but never into her whisky, that would spoil the taste!) this mass pro-active response and determination not to lie down quietly and be trampled on yet again is testimony to the power the referendum debate has had in mobilising and engaging the entire nation. No matter whether you were a yes, no or maybe until the day, it was a topic everyone seemed to have an opinion on and was more than happy to share it with friends, neighbours, the postie and just about anyone else in the street, and of course on Facebook.

Given that almost a million people who could've voted in our general election a week ago didn't bother, that level of engagement is mind blowing. How on earth could we replicate that here? What would it take to get up to 100% voter turnout at some polling stations? In Te Tai Tokerau electorate (the Māori seat for north of Auckland) there were 47 polling stations where fewer than 6 people voted! Okay so we actually had two weeks in which we could vote early and usually that was at separately counted polling stations, and there isn't necessarily much of Māori roll anyway in some of those areas, but even so. 

Having taken great delight in seeing yet more status updates on Facebook about friends of mine joining SNP/Greens, whether or not they agreed with every one of their policies but feeling that there was a principle at stake here, I realised that had I been there I'd be doing the same. So if there, why not here? 

So for the first time in my life I'm a member of a political party. Having studied psephology (voting behaviour) as part of A Level Sociology I've ended up being a tactical voter for the last 26yrs. It seemed the most effective way to use my vote, especially in a first past the post system. There were always some policies I wasn't comfortable having my name against, so keeping out the worst of options (where relevant) rather than voting for the best of a bad bunch seemed a fairly logical choice. On the odd occasion in the UK where I was in a safe seat I didn't mind the outcome of then I'd vote Green to show they did have support when so often they were written off as irrelevant, plus they got my party vote for the Scottish Parliament - quite possibly the only time in the UK someone I'd voted for had actually got in! 

In the two general elections I've been eligible to vote in here the Greens have got my party vote, and the constituency one has gone to whoever had the best chance of beating National (ie our Tory party)... which realistically wasn't anyone, but Labour came closest. Given the mess both Labour and Mana are in, it wasn't rocket science, or even much psephology, to figure out that if I was going to join a party now it had to be the Greens. I still don't agree with all of their policies, but at least now I get a chance to have a say in them. 

The more of us that pro-actively join in the debate, the more we'll be able to engage those who for whatever reason feel they have no voice or chose not to use it. As long as we don't put them off first that is anyway...

1 comment:

Martin said...

It's been fascinating and frustrating seeing the referendum from overseas. But yes, seeing it become more than a campaign, but rather a movement with objectives beyond the first staging post of independence has been immensely heartening.

One factor fuelling it is not just that it was a defeat, nor that it was a close one, but the means by which it was achieved. And that it was so cynically turned around to be all that us Yes supporters warned of so quickly.

What I find interesting though is that Sweden voted in the general election a couple of days after the referendum. And the turnout was 4% higher than the record set in Scotland. This is Normal For Sweden.

So how do we build that engagement? That level of civic participation?

Well, certainly it starts very early here. From the very start of school (age 7/8), there's an expectation to know about the system, and the parties. On election day (a Sunday), most families took kids with them to vote. And there's a general interest in what society should be. An awareness of sexism, homophobia, racism etc.

But as one friend put it: Sweden is like it is mostly because it's full of Swedes.