The Case for a Mass Voter Registration Drive

yes
Perhaps the most eye-catching statistic contained in the latest Ipsos MORI research, published in The Times yesterday, was the spike in support for independence among young people: 58 per cent of 18 – 24 year olds favour full Scottish autonomy, up from 27 per cent last October, while those in the lowest income brackets and poorest communities remain more likely to favour self-determination than those in the top income brackets.. This is not surprising. The young and the poor have borne the heaviest load in austerity Britain, and Westminster does not even pretend to offer a solution. Instead of jobs we are presented with the bedroom tax, instead of investment in public services we get Trident renewal. Not exactly the ‘positive’ image of Britain the No campaign was promising.But if the young and the working classes are key constituencies in the independence movement – the people who could tip the balance in favour of a Yes vote next year – then we have a problem, because they are also the people who are least likely to be registered to vote. This problem has an obvious solution: a mass voter registration drive.
When Jesse Jackson ran for the nomination of the Democratic Party in 1984 and 1988, the majority of his votes came from members of the public who were registered by his campaign team. This strategy has been repeated on a number of occasions. If you run a progressive campaign your electoral base inevitably resides in the most disenfranchised sections of society, those who have little or nothing to gain from the continuity of the status-quo. It is an unfortunate but inevitable truth that these are the people who also feel most alienated from the democratic process.
The next twenty months provides us with an opportunity and a challenge. We need to fight to involve everyone in the debate about Scotland’s social, political and economic future. Those currently lacking a voice live in our poorest communities. They study in our schools and colleges. Many have never voted before (many are too young to have had the chance). To convince them to vote, to get them out on the campaign trail themselves, the independence movement has to focus less on the debating chamber at Holyrood, more on the day care centre in Dalmarnock.
Ultimately, we are pushing at an open door. “Independence”, according to Patrick Harvie, is “an inherently radical concept.” He is right, and its transformative potential resonates with young people. But to translate that into votes will require serious organisation and serious planning. Only Yes Scotland has the resources to pull off a voter registration drive on the scale required, and in truth we are running short on time. The work required to register 14 and 15 year olds who will be 16 by next autumn is enormous. We have to knock on the door of every council house in every housing scheme in Scotland. We have to be prepared with appropriate legal advice for those who aren’t on the electoral register because it might bring the debt collectors one step closer. We have to get university students off campus and into communities. We have to find ways to convince people to join the campaign – not just vote – bringing their ideas and new approaches to the movement.

Comments (8)

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  1. sneekyboy says:

    It is not only sensible, but imperative that we convince the poor, disenfranchised and young to register to Vote.

    We will not get another chance in any of our lifetimes to create change to the way we are governed, an opportunity to protect our people from policies that do not serve them well, and in fact hurt the poor, disenfranchised and young.

    Every mailshot should contain instructions on registering to vote.

    Every canvasser should be similarly equipped

  2. Rebecca McKinlay says:

    The sooner we start this the better. The referendum campaign is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get people re-enfranchised.

  3. Dave Coull says:

    Yes there has to be a registration drive. But one of the main reasons why there has to be a registration drive isn’t even mentioned in this article. The reason is that people move, and, when they move, even if they were registered to vote at their old address, they are often not registered to vote at their new address.

    If you are retired and own your own home, then you have probably lived in the same place for a long time, and of course you’re on the electoral register, and you’re likely to vote. You are also more likely to be conservative, either with a small or a large C.

    If you have had to move house within the last couple of years, either because you couldn’t pay the mortgage, or because of rent problems, or whatever, you’re less likely to be conservative, and you’re more open to a message of radical change. Unfortunately, you are also far less likely to be on the electoral register.

    While the rise in support for independence in the 18 to 24 age group is very welcome, let’s not kid ourselves. That age group is in fact a very small percentage of the total electorate. Yes, we want them to get out and vote for independence. But we also want folk in their 30s, 40s, 50s, etc to get out and vote for independence. And there are far more poor and disfranchised people amongst these older groups than there are in the 18 to 24 age group.

    Just looking at my own family, there’s one in the 18/24 group who has moved within the last year or so. But there’s also 3 in their 30s who have had to move in the last year or so, because of mortgage or rent problems. I don’t think that is all that unusual. Now, my family will be registered and will be voting for independence. But there’s an awful lot of folk out there who we have to make sure are on the electoral register, and only a minority of them are in the 18/24 age group..

    We need to get them registered, and we need to stress to them the need to STAY registered – in case they move again between now and the Autumn of 2014!

  4. Totally agree with the need to address the “disenfranchised” issue but a wider issue should have been addressed before now. The No campaigners will sit tight and chunder on about maintaining the status quo to their advantage. There is a large section of the public, including the disenfranchised but covering other groups too, who can and should vote but for one reason or another won’t.
    Mandatory voting as is the way of things in Australia, I understand, should be considered.
    Personally, regardless of the issue, I take the view that if people don’t use their vote it is their own loss but I really don’t want to see a significant “don’t give a toss” grouping being used to colour the statistics and prevent progress on a matter as important as this referendum.

  5. Tuathair says:

    I agree voter registration is absolutely critical. I understand the 2008 Obama campaign registered many voters for the first time. Is anyone taking this monumental task on at national level? How do you go about it?

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