Alex Robertson: Don’t miss out on your right to vote

A lot of people will potentially miss out on 7 May through not doing something that's actually incredibly simple. Picture: Stuart Cobley
A lot of people will potentially miss out on 7 May through not doing something that's actually incredibly simple. Picture: Stuart Cobley
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SORRY, but you’re not allowed to read this article. Hopefully that got your attention. It’s the same idea for our UK general election TV campaign where we show people stopped from doing things they assumed they could.

The ad uses the concept of “loss aversion” from behavioural economics. In certain situations we’re more likely to be motivated to take action if we think something is being taken away from us.

With voting you might think you’re able to vote, but unless you’re registered by 20 April you can’t. A lot of people will potentially miss out on 7 May through not doing something that’s actually incredibly simple. We want to make sure people know what they need to do.

Turnout at September’s Scottish independence referendum was 84.6 per cent. On every measure of participation the referendum exceeded anything we’d seen before. It had become socially acceptable to say you didn’t care about politics and weren’t going to vote. The referendum changed that, in Scotland at least.

Our research following the poll found that well over 90 per cent of those who cast their votes were satisfied with the process. This is particularly noteworthy given that our research also found that, excluding 16 and 17-year-olds, 7 per cent of people claimed to have voted for the first time.

We don’t want anyone who was so engaged at the referendum to find that they can’t vote now simply because they moved house and forgot to register at their new address. If you moved house in the last year there’s only a 40 per cent chance you’re registered to vote.

Tomorrow there will be just one week left to register at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. And it’s worth remembering how much easier it is now to register.

You used to have to fill out a paper form, sign it, put it in an envelope and post it off to your local Electoral Registration Officer. This all changed on 19 September after the referendum. You can now register online and it’s much easier.

What we at the Commission have been doing is part of a much wider effort to get people registered before the 20 April deadline. Local Electoral Registration Officers across Scotland and a range of public, private and voluntary sector organisations have been working hard on the ground to get people registered.

And there’s increasing evidence people have been responding. Well over a million online applications across Great Britain have been made in the past month alone.

Although there’s a lot of focus on the general election at the moment, attention will soon turn to next year’s Scottish Parliamentary elections where there are plans to lower the voting age to 16.

We don’t take a view on lowering the voting age. That’ll be for the Scottish Parliament to decide. What we’ll be focusing on is: making sure it’s done in a way that ensures 16 and 17-year-olds can participate fully; getting the legislation right and agreed early to allow proper planning for the canvass this autumn; making sure Electoral Registration Officers have robust plans in place to reach new voters; and working hard to boost awareness of the need to get registered.

For now, though, it’s a final push to 20 April. «