Election 2019: Who are the Scots who won’t vote?

Buchanan Street in GlasgowImage copyright
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About a third of the record four million people across Scotland who are registered to vote in next Thursday’s general election are not expected to do so.

Many simply won’t get round to voting this time, while others have never voted.

But with disillusionment with politics and politicians said to be on the rise, some say they no longer want to endorse what they claim is a broken system.

‘Politicians don’t understand the struggles of common people’

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Clair Ellis

Clair Ellis, from Armadale in West Lothian, has been unemployed, homeless and a single parent at different points in her life.

The 37-year-old says those experiences shaped her view that politics is a “circus” that does little to actually improve people’s lives – and that politicians with “lavish lifestyles” are out of touch with the struggles faced by many of their constituents.

Ms Ellis believes many promises the parties make before elections are little more than attempts to bribe voters, and that they will “hardly ever come to pass”.

And she argues that the failure to deliver Brexit more than three years after the referendum shows that the electorate have “no control” and that votes can be “overturned at the drop of a hat”.

For her, not voting has therefore become a deliberate choice, a political act in itself, rather than apathy.

Ms Ellis said: “I think the very act of voting now is only to give us the sense that we have some sort of control. In the end they all just do what they want.

“A lot of people say women died for our right [to vote]. I don’t doubt it – but they died in vain if you ask me.”

‘The parties are all as bad as each another’

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Getty Images

Image caption

A spoiled ballot paper from the 2016 Scottish Parliament election

Carly Frame, 32, has always voted in the past – although she says she has never been committed to a single party – but says she has already decided not to this time.

“I don’t think there’s a difference between any of the parties now, they’re all as bad as one another”, she insists.

“They don’t care about the public. No matter who you vote for it’s going to be wasted – particularly in Westminster under first-past-the-post.”

Her view of politics has also been soured by the Brexit process, which she believes has left politicians of all parties ignoring the day-to-day issues that are actually important to people, like the NHS and the environment.

And she believes politicians will “just keeping holding election or referendums” until they get the result they want.

Ms Frame, from Hamilton, says: “I feel my vote stands for nothing because I voted for Brexit and I voted [for Scotland] to remain in the UK.

“If either referendum result had gone different, I wouldn’t be out campaigning for a new referendum because it didn’t go my way. I’m sick of politicians trying to derail the results.”

Does it matter that people don’t vote?

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Rachael Farrington

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Rachael Farrington says change will never happen unless people turn out to vote

Recent research by the BBC showed that the number of non-voters was greater than the sitting MP’s majority in 551 out of the 650 constituencies at last election in 2017.

In other words, the result of the election could potentially have been very different indeed if everyone had turned up.

Of the 10 seats across the UK with the lowest turnouts, four were in Glasgow – including Glasgow North East, which was the lowest of all at just 53%.

And with many seats in Scotland won by a few hundred votes or less – and one by only two votes – the last time, it can genuinely be said that every vote could count on 12 December.

For Rachael Farrington, this suggests that the best way to bring about change is to turn up and vote – even if your preferred candidate has no realistic chance of winning.

She set up the Voting Counts campaign when she was at school after discovering that her friends didn’t plan to vote.

And she believes that voting for a candidate who doesn’t win will still put pressure on the winning candidate to take notice of your concerns, adding: “If you don’t have your voice heard someone else’s will be so don’t let other people make those decisions for you”.

Even if you can’t bring yourself to vote for any of the parties or candidates, she argues, it is better to spoil your ballot rather than stay at home because it will “show a difference between disaffection with the choice available and disinterest”.

So what can be done about it?

Willie Sullivan, of the Electoral Reform Society, agrees that many people don’t think the political system works for them, and have effectively decided to opt-out.

He says some non-voters believe that taking part in the election will give legitimacy to a political system they believe is broken.

Turnout at general elections has been lower in recent elections than it has been at any point since the end of World War Two.

UK General Election turnout

And Mr Sullivan believes big changes are needed if that trend is to be reversed – including more proportional electoral system, the replacement of the House of Lords with an elected second chamber and the decentralising of power away from Westminster.

He also says government policies are often specifically targeted at swing voters and marginal constituencies – which can lead parties to take their traditional heartlands for granted.

Mr Sullivan added: “This disengagement and alienation is about a lack of power. Non-voters are not going to endorse a system that perpetuates that.”

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