Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-48)|
4 NOVEMBER 2003
Q40 Mr Weir: We have touched on this
question of turn-out, and there should be a concern about what
appears to be a trend of lowering turn-outs in each election,
particularly amongst younger people. Part of this is about coterminosity,
but I wonder what innovations you think would increase turn-out,
particularly amongst younger people.
Dr Barrie: I do not think gimmicks
are the answer. I do not think e-voting or things like that are
necessarily the answer. You have to make people see politics as
of relevance to them. You have to make them see that their vote
counts. Again, if you go to a properly proportional system like
STV, you can persuade people that their vote is more relevant
countrywide. I would be very suspicious, and I think we have a
unique triumvirate here agreeing. The three of us are all putting
in submissions to an Electoral Commission against the all-postal
pilot for the European elections for Scotland. There are all sorts
of reasons for that. If you look at the last English by-election,
in Lewisham, held under an all-postal ballot, the turn-out was
24%. In other words, the novelty is wearing off, and I do not
think any of these gimmicks are of any use. You must interest
people in the political process. Also, you should have the vote
Councillor McInnes: I agree with
the first part of Derek's answer. I do not think gimmicks work.
I think clarity is very important, that people can easily see
that they are electing a local representative. It falls upon all
of usand perhaps we are failing as political parties in
getting issues that are relevant, not just people feeling that
their vote counts but that we are dealing with issues that they
really care about and thereby encouraging them to make that effort
to walk to the polling station and vote. I do not think all-postal
ballots and e-voting would make a significant difference.
Mr Thoms: In terms of engaging
young people in politics in general, making it relevant is important,
but actually the Children and Young People's Unit and the Youth
Reporting Network produced a report last month that had very clear
messages to parliamentarians, to government and to the media about
how to engage with young people, about how to make them feel more
interested in politics, and therefore to make the determination
that they are going to vote. I think there should be greater choice
around how people can vote. I am in favour of looking at ways
that increase the accessibility of voting. A lot of the technological
side of how voting can be done needs to be changed. A lot of electoral
administration systems need to be changed. People should have
much more flexibility about where they can vote, and how they
can cast that vote. We are still very much in the dark ages in
terms of an electoral administration system. If people felt that
their vote actually counted, and they cast a vote to create an
additional member, to have that choice about who they eventually
they want to have as their member, or preferably to be single
transferable vote that they create a range of people to elect
from a constituency, that would engender far more interest in
turning out to vote because it will actually count.
Mrs Quinn: I am not absolutely
sure that the method of voting, whether it is e-voting, postal
or whatever, will encourage more young people to get involved.
It is more to do with engagement, it is more to do with issues,
it is more about them feeling that what is going on in their lives
is important, and I think a lot of it is down to us as political
parties to try and make sure that we engage as many young people
as we can in the political process. Also, it is down to elected
representatives and politicians to engage young people more in
what we do, but in doing so, treat them with respect and not do
gimmicky things because it is coolthose are the sort of
words my daughter uses at the moment.
Q41 Mr Sarwar: With this multi-ward
system for council elections, we are going to have one system
for electing our councillors, another system for electing Members
of the Scottish Parliament, a third system for Westminster and
a fourth system for the European Parliament. How is it going to
help? Do you not think it will confuse people more than before.
I have experienced during the Scottish Parliament election and
the council elections that there are a lot of confused people
who do not know how to vote. Do you think it will make it even
more difficult for people?
Councillor McInnes: Yes. I would
disagree with what Grant said. I do not think lots of young people
were keen to go and vote at the Scottish Parliamentary elections
because it had a proportional aspect in it. Fewer voted than voted
in the 2001 Westminster first past the post election. That is
because they felt it was relevant to them, and they felt more
engaged with Westminster perhaps, and the prime minister and who
the prime minister was. So I think it comes back to issues, and
I do not think that playing around with the voting method is actually
going to affect turn-out, other than making it more confusing
as to who you are going to elect and putting people off making
the effort to go and vote.
Mrs Quinn: In terms of turn-out,
there are two issues. There is a growing cynicism and disengagement
in politics and the political process, and we need to try and
find ways to change that. I have not seen evidence that actually
indicates that the method by which a person will vote is one of
the reasons why turn-out has decreased. We have seen over a number
of years that turn-out at elections is reducing, and it is no
just a Scotland issue; it is becoming worldwide.
Q42 Mr Duncan: Several of you have
pointed, quite rightly, to the fact that you have to come forward
with policies and issues that young people will engage with, but
would you agree that electoral systems are also an important part
of firing up turn-out? We talked earlier on about marginal constituencies
where people are fired up to make a decision, but in the Scottish
Parliament context, I wonder whether you agree with me that there
is a perceived view that the way that PR has been set up, however
we go through this electoral process, we are going to end up with
an executive of roughly the same composition as we have now. Importantly,
at constituency level, vis-a-vis EMs, very often you get a constituency
member being overturned by the first on the list of EMs, so effectively
constituents are faced with the same two personalities in a constituency
but they are still both elected, and many of them say to me, "What
was the point of going through that process anyway?"
Dr Barrie: Currently, three of
the first four were all elected. You have to go back to the system
which makes all MSPs equal, and that is the single transferable
vote. Going back to Mr Sarwar's question, I would simplify the
electoral system by having STV for everything. But do not misjudge
the voters; they are not quite as confused as you think. An awful
lot of people deliberately give their second vote to the greens,
because the greens campaign very strongly for that second vote,
and people saw it as a second preference and so voted green. I
would judge how people understand systems better after the London
elections this year, because they are going to have the list for
London and for Europe, they are going to have first past the post
for the Local Government Assembly constituency member, they are
going to have the additional member system for the top-up for
the LGA and they are going to have you vote one of two for the
Mayor of London, so four different systems all on the one day.
My view would be, if Londoners can cope with it, Scots can probably
cope with it as well.
Q43 Mr MacDougall: Nobody has mentioned
education yet, but is there a role for education? Can that be
beefed up in some way? Can that make a difference? The point has
been made, but I would not be under any illusion, because if you
compare the Westminster turn-out with the Scottish Parliament
turn-out, you ignore the reduction in the Scottish Parliament
turn-out from the referendum about whether to have a Scottish
Parliament and the enthusiasm there. I think there is a general
loss of confidence in the public, not just in Scotland, or indeed
in the UK, but in the world of politics, and it is how you restore
the importance of democracy in young people's minds at the same
time as we are trying to convince other countries why democracy
is important. It flies in the face of that if our figures are
going down and we are telling everybody else how wonderful it
is. Does education have a role in this process?
Mrs Quinn: Very much. My interest
in politics and the political process came through the Modern
Studies, which was one of the subjects I just loved; I could not
get enough information in relation to it. Children are being taught
more and more about environmental issues, which I was not taught
about. If through our education process we can try and have some
awareness raising and talk to young people about the importance
of the democratic process, I think that would be superb.
Q44 Mr Carmichael: If, as you all
seem to agree, the important thing is for politicians to fire
up the imagination of the electorate and go out there and grab
them and shake them and have their attention undivided, is it
possible, do you think, that we have wasted the last hour and
ten minutes? Have we contributed to that process?
Mr Thoms: If you change the electoral
system to allow more people to vote, and make their vote count
through the single transferable vote, then yes, you will change
the nature of it. The current systems, particularly for constituency
seats, which predominate in the Scottish Parliament as much as
in Westminster, leave it to the party chiefs. Look at marginal
seats. Increased turn-out is not just because their vote counts,
but because parties put resources into those seats, so there is
a dialogue taking place, people talking to you on the street.
Quite often people will say in that constituency they will receive
more contact from political parties than maybe an adjacent seat
would ever hear from a politician because it is not regarded as
winnable by any one other party. That is the system which we have
created in this country, and it is no wonder people feel distant
from the political process, that they do not feel they can influence
it in any way, and therefore their vote does not really matter.
These are the results that happen all the time and nothing really
Q45 Mr Weir: I agree with what Derek
said about gimmicks. It does occur to me there is also a question
of choice, and we should not say we have to fire up the electorate
because we have all to some extent failed to do so. Should we
not be looking at different choices and offering a range of voting
options to try and increase the turn-out, whether it is all postal
or all e-voting or whatever, but give a range of choices to people
how they vote to encourage them to vote?
Councillor McInnes: I think we
have moved forward a great deal in postal voting, for example,
and I think the fact that it is now very easy to get an absent
vote is a good thing and something a lot more Scots are using
than have ever done before. It is something all the parties have
tapped into and been flexible enough to use and to encourage people
to get absent votes. That is a good example, but the choice is
still there and I think choice is always good. That is why we
have very serious concerns about the European elections, because
it is removing choice. A lot of people carry out their civic duty
by going to vote, that is something that is very important to
them, and it is part of the democracy in this country.
David Hamilton: I was wondering about
the European elections. Is it not by a voting system which you
are espousing? I know it is not STV, but it is also a system where
people vote for the slate and they vote for the party. It lacks
individuals. That to me is a major issue which has been reported
by at least three of the parties sitting there. It disconnects.
Mr Carmichael: That is nonsense.
Q46 David Hamilton: The position
surely must be that we must find a mechanism which can be agreed
to by all, and that system should be based on the fact that there
is a constituency link or a ward link with the electorate, because
it is the electorate we are talking about. My question is this:
should we have compulsory voting? Do you agree with that?
Dr Barrie: I do not agree with
compulsory voting at all. If you were to introduce it, you would
have to do what the late David Penhaligon said: you would have
to put "none of the bastards" at the bottom as a choice.
Mr Thoms: The European elections
are not conducted by single transferable vote. It is multi-member,
first past the post. It is true that if you have compulsory voting,
you should have the option "none of the above". Things
like that should be at least piloted and tested. Part of this
discussion should be looking more at what the Government has been
looking at, which I welcome; it is looking at how to change our
electoral systems. We keep talking about turn-out because that
is the hot topic of the day, without actually focusing on what
we are doing to change the infrastructure for how elections are
carried out in this country. If we made changes there, we might
have more people coming out. It takes a bit of effort and it takes
resources, and at the moment it is just not happening.
Mrs Quinn: I think there should
be a choice in terms of how people vote, though I disagree with
individuals here in relation to the European election. Without
being contentious, look at the number of people that vote on a
Saturday night for Pop Idol; all they have to do is pick up the
phone. It is one system and a lot of people use that to vote.
If it is the case that people are not coming out to vote, we need
to find a way to get them engaged and involved.
Q47 Chairman: What about compulsory
Mrs Quinn: I do not think so.
Councillor McInnes: No.
Dr Barrie: Can I add a point on
the European system? What is wrong with it is that it is a closed
list and it is the parties who decide the order on it. A system
that would be much better is an open list, where the voters not
only picked the party but they picked the people within their
own partylet them choose between, let us say, a euro-sceptic
conservative and a euro-phobic conservative, if there is any such
Q48 Mr Lyons: Going back to the issue
of engaging with young people, how serious are you about extending
the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds? Where do you stand on that?
Dr Barrie: If you are old enough
to fight for your country and old enough to marry, then you are
old enough to vote.
Councillor McInnes: It is not
something we have really considered.
Mr Thoms: We are totally committed
to reducing the voting age to 16, and also to reducing the age
of people standing as candidates. Turn-out is not just about young
people; the middle aged group 45-54 was the biggest drop in turn-out
in this election in Scotland.
Mrs Quinn: We do not have a view
at the moment about the reduction in the voting age.
Chairman: Can I thank you very much,
ladies and gentlemen, for your full and frank answers today. If
there is anything you wish to add, please feel free to do so now.
Thank you for your attendance, and your evidence will be very
helpful to us when we come to compile our report.