The results of last week’s referendum on the issue of Scottish independence have made me question something. In an age where people are becoming increasingly disillusioned with politics and politicians, the referendum garnered an incredible turnout, a record breaking 84.5% of registered voters. Comparing this to the turnout of other recent votes, such as the 2010 general election (65.1%) or even the recent European parliamentary election earlier this year (34.2%), I couldn’t help but wonder:
What made this vote different?
Political agency is something we would all like to have more of. All too often people feel that they are just one voice in amongst millions, that they simply won’t be heard. These feelings of powerlessness have lead many to simply abandon the voting process, but this simply dooms them to always go unheard. It is a tragic failing of our current political apparatus that so many feel so neglected by those elected to power, and that more hasn’t been done to address this. At the same time, scandals and accusations of corruption, incompetence and cronyism erode our trust in our leaders and our government, all of which serves to fuel the ‘them and us’ divide between people and politicians.
The independence referendum, however, transcended mere politics. This was an issue of national identity and agency where the people of Scotland were given a simple but important choice to make, and the response was overwhelming. Social media platforms exploded with discussions and declarations of support while public demonstrations filled the streets of Scotland and, when it came time to vote, record numbers of people piled into the polling stations or posted in, determined that they would be heard. Such political fervour has rarely been seen in the country in years and, even in the wake of this event, the discussions and interest are continuing. So why is it that this referendum drew such interest?
While I do not dispute the need for an organised government, it seems that our current political system has become bogged down in fractious infighting and petty squabbling in the desperate pursuit of power, all at the expense of the people this government is supposed to serve. The referendum, meanwhile, placed the power of decision firmly in the hands of the people themselves and, given a true taste of political agency, they made good use of it. My question, therefore, is this; why not open up more issues as referendums? The people of Scotland have shown us that people do care about political issues. It has never been easier to access information and research issues of policy and people, but instead we still rely on an outdated system of unpopular, mistrusted representatives fighting our political battles in our stead. Why not fight those battles ourselves? Why continue to rely on those who have so spectacularly failed to represent our interests or inspire our confidence when we can represent our own interests by voting directly on the issues that matter to us? The route to a politically active society is to offer people the opportunity to have their voices heard and provide a political system that allows them to do so, without meddling middlemen who view us as little more than dumb supporters to be won over with empty promises. Give the people the opportunity to speak, and let those in power tremble at the true tyranny of the masses.