A Lesson on Democracy from Scotland

19th Sep, 2014

Last night the people of Scotland took to the polls to decide on the future of an independent Scotland. And since around 5am this morning we know that the people of Scotland have rejected independence with the No Campaign winning at 55%. Now this may not actually come as a surprise to many of us. And let’s be honest – most of us, at least down here in England, did not think that Alex Salmond’s plan of Scotland becoming a separate country would succeed.  And many commentators have given their thoughts on this matter throughout the last few weeks, but in this blog I want to step away from the pros and cons of an independent Scotland and focus on something remarkable that has been put in motion as a result of the Scotland debate.

Over the last few years, if not even decades, we have witnessed a sharp decline in political engagement across most age groups which can only be described as political apathy. Thinking back to last May, only just over a third of all Britons casted a vote for the European Parliament Election, and just 44% of all 18-24 year olds voted in the last general election.  For comparison, an astonishing 3,619,915 million people voted last night – making the turnout 84.5%.

But it’s not all about the numbers. What we have seen throughout the last few months in Scotland, and the rest of the UK for that matter, was proactive engagement with the Scottish referendum. There was a real debate and everyone was eager to contribute or share an opinion. What we have seen far too often is the general public not taking interest in political matters because its outcome feels distant to most people, and is not believed to have an impact on their lives.

But with something as big and important as the future of one’s home nation, many first time voters (which for the first time in any major UK ballot included 16 and 17 year olds) and those who have stayed away from making use of their electoral right have taken to the polls. These first time voters are also more likely to vote in future elections, as research by the IPPR has shown that voting is habitual and if one fails to vote the first time around, they are much less likely to pick up the habit as they get older.

And is this not what democracy is about? People making an informed decision on a subject matter they are eager to contribute to the outcome to? What we have seen here is also reflected in our latest TGF data, which suggests that for over a quarter (28%) of all UK respondents ‘giving people more say in important government decisions’ is important to them. Therefore, one can see there is a true appetite for political engagement and the Scottish referendum has shown that each vote does have a count. Hopefully, putting an end to our current electoral paradox of wanting more say, yet feeling it has no voice.

Now, onto the devolution of the UK…


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