Like most contemporary UK citizens, I do not have much of a clue about the government, democracy, political theory or anything like that. Equally like them, I’m not going to let that stop me ranting on about a half baked opinion.
Today’s half baked opinion is about a bulletin I just saw on BBC New 24 concerning opposition to the AV referendum based on two arguments. Neither are new to me, but admittedly this is the first time I paid enough attention to them to think about them. The two are: 1) Putting the referendum on the same day as other elections may bias the result in the parts of those countries with elections, and 2) There should be a threshold in case there is not enough turnout, e.g. if the turnout is less than 40% then, even if the majority vote for electoral reform, it will not be passed.
They’re both ridiculous, except that the second one is slightly reasonable. Both are there to cater for the fact that people might not turn up, but if people don’t turn up to vote then it is their own bloody fault if something happens that they do not like. Decisions should be allowed to be made by those who turn up.
In the case of the first argument, even if the referendum is biased it shouldn’t have been- and it is the people who did not vote’s own fault that they did not exercise one of the few chances of direct democracy in this country (many of which will be winging about how the government do things without their direct say-so).
In the case of the second, there is a slight rationality behind it. If the turn out is 50% and the referendum is won in favour of AV by 51%, then it means that only 25.5% of the country voted for it. The argument suggests that, therefore, it be scrapped. This is still rubbish though, because we have to take it that the missing 50% didn’t care either way. They vetoed their vote, abdicated their power and turned a blind eye to their state. That is that.
It undermines democracy if the people who turn up’s choice is not taken into account because other people didn’t make a choice. However, it is useless actually argue with politicians about actual issues
and principles these days; the ‘political’ move has come to be the ‘tactical’ move with ulterior motive, rather than a genuine action to better the polis
. This move isn’t made because the proponents have a genuine convinction we need to account for the absent unwashed. It is because they don’t want AV and are trying to set up excuses to back out of it even if it wins fair and square.
Further, if we’re going to take a non-vote into account in anyway, it has to be as a abstained vote; as a vote that says: ‘I don’t care! Do whatever!’ Any other way of taking it would corrupt the ballot. Saying that someone who has voted ‘I don’t care!’ as ‘Maybe caring?’ (as we would if we put a fail-safe mechanism into the referendum) is like taking someone who votes Labour as ‘Maybe voting Tory?’ It makes a mockery of the whole thing.
Not only is this silly, but it sets an awful precedent. The fact that people are not ‘politically active’ is a silent crisis in this country and giving non-votes the power of ultimate veto in an election will just further silence that crisis. Not-voting becomes an institutionalised legitimate option, instead of deliberate not-acting. The incentive to act becomes less because they have the illusion that they have acted.