A pathetic situation

It’s a funny time in politics. I have written a couple of times in the past about why I would consider abstaining, or sympathise with those that do. That provoked some interesting discussion.

My degree was in Economics and Politics, and I found that the more I learned about politics, the more jaded with the system I became. Conversations with other people have suggested that I am far from alone in experiencing this. Indeed, it has been one of the central points of the previous discussions here, with James O’Malley offering a contribution that backs the theory up:

I think your experiences of becoming more apathetic with age – essentially more apathetic as you became better informed – are pretty similar for a lot of people. I’ve just finished a degree in International Relations, and as a consequence of learning what a horrible bleak mess the world is, I think we all became cynical about almost anything political.

Events since then have only made me more likely to become apathetic. The credit crunch underlined that what goes on in politics does not matter an iota as much as what happens in the real world of business. Politicians don’t have as much power over the economy as they like to make out, and any influence they do have is probably a negative one.

Now we have the expenses scandal, which in fairness is only surprising in terms of the scale of the problem, not the fact that it existed at all — most people took that as a given. It adds to the impression that the system is inherently rigged against individual voters.

Increasingly, when people ask me how I would vote if there were an election tomorrow, I say that I wouldn’t vote. Making a conscious decision not to vote is not the same as apathy. I still have opinions on issues just as much as I have ever done. But my stance does reflect a more jaded view of party politics.

Next week we will be asked to vote in the elections which people are almost certainly the most apathetic about — European Parliament elections. This will put to the test the idea that I wouldn’t vote. If I were to abstain on Thursday, it would be the first time I have ever turned down the opportunity to vote in a major election. Mind you, I have only had the vote for five years so I haven’t had that many opportunities to turn my nose up (although voters my age are the most likely to).

In the background of recent events, the political elites are now becoming aware of how intense the distrust of political types is among the wider public. As such, there are a number of ideas for how to reform the system floating around just now. As someone who takes an interest in constitutional issues, electoral reform and the like, I think it will be worth investigating them.

I find this an interesting situation. In the wake of a barrage of apathy-inducing news, and in the face of the most stupefyingly boring elections on the face of the planet, can I bring myself to vote? Or, more to the point, can I bring myself not to vote? Will feelings of civic duty trump the temptation to rationally abstain?

Increasingly, as Question Time is broadcast, I find that the conversation on Twitter is dominated by discussions about “#bbcqt“. I have not been able to bring myself to watch that programme for a couple of years. That was another thing that has got me thinking. I wrote:

Can’t work out if I want to totally give up on politics, or if now is a good time to get stuck in again. Everyone on Twitter talking [about] #bbcqt

I got one reply, from Chris Hawes: “Get stuck back in!”

So, is it time to get stuck back in? For the next week or so I am going to go on a voyage of discovery. Okay, that’s just a grand way of saying I’m going to write some posts about politics over the next few days. I will start over the weekend by writing some thoughts on the state of democracy, and looking into some of the ideas for reform.

Later on into next week I will write about the upcoming European elections, taking a look at each of the parties standing in Scotland. There will be an election literature review, and I will be asking questions such as, “Who on earth is this Duncan Robertson fellow and why is he suspiciously invisible on Google?”

Most importantly of all, I hope to find an answer to the big question: Will I vote, and if so who for?

The plans are vague because I haven’t written the posts yet, and I genuinely don’t know what the conclusions will be. My post about the democratic system is something I’ve been meaning to get off my chest for over a year now, but I’ve never managed to bring myself to actually write it. Now seems like a good time to do it.

By way of a taster, here is another of the catalysts to this series of posts. It’s a post by The Devil’s Kitchen: Democracy is not a given good. It comes pretty close to summing up my feelings, but you will learn more about that when I publish the next post.


  1. Duncan, it’s people your age that people my age are relying on to keep the checks and balances. It’s essential we have a younger generation who questions rather than so many of my generation who accepted so readily.

    I look forward to reading what you have to say in the coming days.

  2. DoctorVee

    I’m not suggesting you’re not in the know, but certainly have a lok at Frank Skinner’s piece in the Times.

    I have already decided I won’t be voting, for various reasons as detailed in my post, but as for ‘getting cynical’ about it all? I figure it’s just facing the reality of how sh*t it all is when it could be so good, thus feeling fed up with it.

    I’ll keep an eye on what you say over the next few days/weeks and best of luck trying to find any light at the end of the murky tunnel.


  3. I can see the reasoning behind people choosing to not vote, but the problem is that not voting puts you in with everyone who just doesn’t bother. There needs to be a box to tick that says something like ‘none of these people are worth voting for’ to distinguish it 🙂

  4. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Political Dissuasion, Thanks for bringing the Frank Skinner article and your blog post to my attention. Both interesting reads.

    One of the things that changed my view on voting was the research I did for my dissertation. I discovered that you are more likely to be killed on the way to the polling booth than to cast the pivotal vote. Worse still, if the election is close enough that you do cast the pivotal vote, the election is in fact likely to be decided by an unaccountable judge rather than the voters (as we saw with the Bush / Gore contest).

    Sara, Hopefully I can distinguish myself from the non-voters who don’t care. Because the value of my vote is so infinitesimal, I can actually carry out my civic duty much more effectively by doing something else, such as perhaps blogging about issues rather than merely voting about them! A “none of the above” option wouldn’t do the trick because I would still be more likely to get killed on the way to ticking the box than for it to have any meaning. 🙂

    I will go into this stuff in further detail in the upcoming posts.

  5. if the election is close enough that you do cast the pivotal vote, the election is in fact likely to be decided by an unaccountable judge

    Where’d you get that from?

    I can only think of one election in one constituency where a judge had to get involved in the last 12 years, that was Winchester IIRC. There’ve been a couple of drawn straws for local elections, but no election to Westminster has been that close for ages.

    I’m in the process of trying to overcome my apathy. The expenses mess is I think the first chance we’ve had for genuine reform for ages, people know the system sucks now. That the Lib Dems have only sortof managed to make the running, and have managed to get themselves tainted in the “all the same” meme despite being overwhelmingly clean is really annoying.

    The big problem as you know is the safe seats—direct correlation to apathy and direct correlation to corruption.

  6. Hi Duncan.

    Im wondering if, like me, your apathy is perhaps to do with the fact its the Euro elections. The EU just seems so distant and the parliament is close to useless/pointless. What difference does a vote have for the future direction of the EU, id say none. The govts of the day (and the EU commission) dictate the direction of the EU and i cant see what difference it would make if the UK sent all Cons or all Labour, it doesnt matter who we send, but it matters who are govt is and what they want from the EU. The parties dont really even fight in the EU parliament for policy or anything, there certainly isnt any great political/ideological battles fought at EU level (or as far as i can tell, and if i cant then im doubtful the avg voter will). Issues concerning the EU is always framed within the countries domestic politics and if this remains the case its hard to see what the EU elections are really for. To me, its almost as if the EU parliament is tagged on to make it appear democratic.

    So the question, if the UK election was June 4, would you be more likely to vote?

  7. Interesting point about what the European Parliament is really there for. We certainly don’t get enough coverage about EU issues in the UK media, so in a lot of ways it may as well not exist. No wonder turnout is so low.

    If it was the UK General Election instead, I guess I probably would be more likely to vote, but everything I have mentioned about voting in the above comments still applies.

  8. Sorry to join in so late. I think that not to vote throws away the lives of people who fought, and died for the right for the ‘common man’ (and woman) to have a vote. The idea of ‘none of the above’ has been mooted by many. Sorry I don’t buy into it. You and say 19,00 people vote ‘none of the above’. The MP, MSP, MEP gets his friends, family and circle of people known to him/her to vote for him/her. Say 20 people. Would he/she then not win the election as the 20 people who voted, voted for him/her. Sort of like the ‘rotten borough’ situation. Especially as the MP, MSP, MEP would no doubt make all sorts of promises to get his/her ‘circle’ to vote for them. ‘Vote for me and get a knighthood’ etc. Please vote, vote wisely, vote carefully.