In the last Scottish parliamentary election overall turnout was 50%; in the corresponding N.Irish Assembly election the figure was 54%.
The last time there was a referendum on the proposed separation of Quebec from the rest of Canada, the turn out was 93.52%.
P.J. O’Rourke’s book “Don’t vote! It only encourages the bastards” is a classic of an extended rant on the present dysfunctional state of US politics.
Among the many pieces I found myself initially chuckling at and then later nodding in agreement with was this one:
Last year, on a long car trip, I was listening to Rush Limbaugh shout. I usually agree with Rush Limbaugh; therefore I usually don’t listen to him. I listen to NPR: “World to end—poor and minorities hardest hit.” I like to argue with the radio.
Anyway, I couldn’t get NPR on the car radio, so I was listening to Rush Limbaugh shout about Wesley Clark, who had just entered the Democratic presidential-primary race. Was Clark a stalking horse for Hillary Clinton?! Was Clark a DNC-sponsored Howard Dean spoiler?! “He’s somebody’s sock puppet!” Limbaugh bellowed. I agreed; but a thought began to form.
Limbaugh wasn’t shouting at Clark, who I doubt tunes in to AM talk radio the way I tune in to NPR. And “Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop!” was not a call calculated to lure Democratic voters to the Bush camp.
Rush Limbaugh was shouting at me.
The obvious problem with that being that Limbaugh and O’Rourke are both shouting the same truths from the same hymn-sheet:
Arguing, in the sense of attempting to convince others, seems to have gone out of fashion with everyone. I’m reduced to arguing with the radio. The distaste for political argument certainly hasn’t made politics friendlier—or quieter, given the amount of shouting being done by people who think one thing at people who think the same thing.
Now, in UK politics and more specifically in the present debate over the future of our nation, talk-radio and its attendant shouting jocks have a negligible presence (note I didn’t say “effect” there) in comparison with the various Facebookers, Twitterers, bloggers and even the good old fashioned journalists.
I enjoy reading and nodding my head at the likes of Alex Massie, Alex Kane and indeed at all my fellow writers on Open Unionism. I reserve my most unapproving of scowls for the likes of Joan McAlpine, Jude Collins, Brian Feeney and Chris Donnelly.
But I would wager that not one of the above mentioned as managed to switch one voter from the nationalist to the pro-Union side or vice-versa.
For that matter how many of the 50% or so who no longer vote in N.Ireland and Scotland have been galvanised by the latest measured and logical piece from Messrs Massie and Kane to vote next time for the pro-Union cause? We are talking… not a very big chunk out of that apathetic 50%.
This is not to criticise any of the writers mentioned (even the Nat ones!); I am just reiterating O’Rourke’s central argument which is that in the modern communication age political “debate” consists of the converted generally speaking to the converted and, more importantly, to the already politically involved or, at least,politically aware.
Look again at those figures which I have quoted at the beginning of this piece.
When Quebec’s place in Canada was threatened then almost 95% of the population turned out to have their say and the pro-Union side won by the skin of its teeth. In the last parliamentary election in Quebec only 56% bothered to vote. Meaning that an extra 40% of the normal non-voting electorate turned out for the referendum.
If an extra 40% were to turn out for referendums on the future of N.Ireland and Scotland within the United Kingdom can you be certain that we too would win the day, hopefully by a little more than the “skin of our teeth”?
I personally am confident that we could but still, the question remains how best can we publicise and promote the pro-Union message to that increasingly apathetic potential electorate?
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