Elections: there’s a lot of it about…
So: there were elections this past week – you may have noticed, what with the Boris and Ken show, the fall of Merkozy and the ongoing Greek tragedy. For both of us it was our first election outside England, and having arrived just in time to register we duly drove down to Struan primary school to vote. I’ve never had to drive to vote before either, but such is island life. Skye [Eilean a’ Cheò – the misty isle] returns four councillors to the Highland council, which in turn covers from John O’Groats down to the Great Glen, and on to Fort William in the west and Nairn in the east, the geographically largest council in the UK. So we drive to vote. And if we had wanted to see the count, it’s a two and a half hour drive to Inverness.
We also have proportional representation: it is assumed that electors can count and put numbers in order of preference rather than just ‘making their mark’. So unlike down south in Daveland [London Assembly elections excepted] where you go into a booth and are presented with a child’s crayon and asked to draw an X, in the land of the free (well, free prescriptions anyway!) you go into a booth, are presented with a child’s crayon, and asked to write some numbers, all the while fending off small children who are fed up of surrendering their crayons in the name of democracy.
All this means that there is a refreshing amount of truly independent councillors as the main parties commonly field only one candidate each per ward. Also there are (or were) four main parties, which also helps the diversity. The net effect is that most councils are under ‘no overall control’ and there the outer isles are under ‘independent control’. It also means that as a recent incomer I have never been more clueless about who to vote for, with three independents on a list of seven candidates and hardly any election literature to be seen. But duty is duty and votes were duly cast. There was also the novelty of actually meeting a candidate as the SNP councillor came into the local cafe where we went after voting, on his tour of polling stations. The main event, however, was more ‘meet the neighbours’, as when we gave our address to the returning officer we were greeted with ‘Ah, you’re the new people at the Byre’ and a 15 minute conversation followed (which also shows how quiet it was!).
That said, the turnout was 41%, getting on for 10% higher than in England. As far as I remember the Scottish turnout is usually higher than in England. Thinking back to my previous existence, childhood immunisation coverage is higher in Scotland as well (both are also true of Northern Ireland where I lived as a child). Quite what this means we could discuss all night but I suspect it isn’t coincidence. I don’t think the Scots are any more or less cynical about politics (or anything else) than the English, and they are certainly free thinkers, but there may be a stronger sense of community and civic duty as part of the Scottish psyche. It’s no bad thing, anyway.
Currently listening to: Late Night Final– Richard Hawley [Standing at the Sky’s Edge is in the post. I’m a decadent materialist and still buy CDs rather than downloads!]