Monday, 28 July 2014

The onus is on us all to raise voter turnout

Nothing About Us Without Us is For Us

In less than 3 months, the people of Scotland will take part in what is one of the most important democratic decisions that our nation will take during my lifetime. It is the decision about whether or not Scotland should become an independent country or remain a part of the union with the rest of the United Kingdom.

All the signs are that record numbers of people will turn out to vote. That, regardless of the outcome, is fantastic. So too are the record number of village, town and community hall meetings which are taking place the length and breadth of the land as we think about how to vote. And the campaigning which we are seeing on our streets every day is brilliant, even if occasionally it goes a little bit over the top. We must never forget that in other nations, and at other times, people have died for the right to exercise the choice that we will do freely on in September. Maybe, when our descendants look back on this period in our history, they will point to it as a time when popular democracy was re-ignited. When we discovered again that our voice, our opinion and our vote mattered. I hope so.

However, whilst it is exciting that so many people are involved in the debate, we need to recognise that thousands and thousands are still not. They are not only those who could vote but won’t – turned off by scandal or the sense that nothing changes. They are also those who, whilst eligible to vote, are not yet on the electoral register. They are frequently those who have the least in our society. There is still time for people to register to vote. Let’s all do our part to make sure that that happens. To make sure that no one who has the right to vote in September is not able to do so.

For the last 5 years I have been involved with Scotland’s Poverty Truth Commission. The Commission brings together 2 groups of people: some of Scotland’s senior leaders and some of Scotland’s very poorest and most marginalised citizens. Our understanding is simple: that Scotland will never be as great nation as we could be until those who struggle against poverty every day are seen as part of the solution rather than part of the problem. In our work we have adopted, from the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, one of the great slogans of that historic struggle. Nothing About Us Without Us is For Us.

20 years on, the TV images of people queuing to vote in South Africa’s first free and democratic elections still give me goose-bumps. It would be great if similar pictures could be transmitted around the world on the 18th September. As we turn out, in record numbers, to make our decision about what sort of future we want for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren, our friends and our neighbours.

Martin Johnstone

Martin is a Church of Scotland minister involved in a wide range of anti-poverty organisations. He is Secretary of Scotland’s Poverty Truth Commission. 

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