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Count Us Out

Abstentionism is not accorded the attention and analysis it deserves.

Sunday, October 8, 2023
10 mins


Some of the people who happen to live in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West constituency may be wondering what they did in past lives to deserve the endless parade of girning opportunists they’ve been forced to endure these past weeks.

But it will all be over soon, the post-mortem will be conducted on live television, then the camera crews and celebrities will seek attention elsewhere.

We have nothing to say about the SNP and Labour candidates. We won’t even name them.

Colette Walker of the Independence Scotland Party is attracting the support of women’s rights groups as well as prominent members of Alba (who decided not to stand a candidate) and is making no secret of the fact that she will not take up her seat in Westminster if she wins, preferring to stay in the area, dealing with constituents concerns directly. 

She outlines her position in Iain Lawson’s blog, here: BREAKING THE GRAVY TRAIN – YOURS FOR SCOTLAND (wordpress.com)

The principle of the position is clear but when the dust has settled and the political caravan has finally left town, Ruglonians will have a Labour representative in the House of Commons. The most recent odds we are aware of quoted the SNP at 8-1 to win and Labour at 1-20, which means you would have to stake £20 on their victory in order to recoup £21. The Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties are nowhere, at 100-1. 

The main ideological basis for abstentionism is a belief that the political system is corrupt or illegitimate, and that voting is therefore a pointless or even harmful act. Some abstentionists believe that all politicians are essentially the same, or that the system is rigged in favor of certain groups or interests. They may also believe that voting is a form of consent to a system that they reject. But even if the turnout in R & HW is as low as some have predicted, spoiled ballots in themselves are not an accurate reflection of how many voters are so scunnered with the system generally - or the circumstances of the R&HW election specifically - that they cannot bring themselves to cast a positive endorsement for one of the ‘favourites’. 

If Colette Walker’s stance does nothing else, it focuses attention on the grave state of Scottish politics right now and the embarrassing inadequacies of a creaking electoral system yet to develop a foolproof method of registering voters’ wishes. For every vote cast for Colette, how many no-shows represent actual abstentionist intent? We will never know for sure. 

This is 2023 - it is well-nigh impossible to access a public service or complete a financial transaction without negotiating multiple layers of personal identification and verification via laptops and mobile phones, but when it comes to deciding the future of our country, or who will represent us in a UK parliament that approximately half of us don’t even want, we are herded into boxes to mark ‘X’ on wee pieces of paper, using pencil. We are not even permitted the dignity of using our own signatures. The lingering suspicions over shenanigans emanating from the 2014 referendum further undermine trust and one has only to look at the looming US presidential primaries, where vote-tampering has become an accepted element in deciding outcomes, to understand why abstentionism should be given the attention and respect it merits.

As always, the main players are not visible on the streets but their shadows are cast across the whole event. Sturgeon, Sarwar, Salmond, Starmer, Sunak. Making sense of how the vote breaks down will occupy psephologists over the coming weekend and beyond but the metropolitan focus will shift elsewhere, leaving the residents of Rutherglen and Hamilton West with an MP who was voted for by a grotesquely small percentage of the eligible electorate.

So we wish Colette Walker and her supporters well and hope that the ISP, as well as SALVO, WomenWon’tWheesht and the many other groups who have endorsed her, draw positives from the whole unseemly business. If something good is to come of a ballot which only ever happened because a perfectly capable and conscientious MP was used as a scapegoat by charlatans, we hope it will be a surge in awareness of what’s happening away from the camera crews and staged debates i.e. the constitutional arguments which are mushrooming in quantity and quality.

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