Fife election: Time to tackle voter apathy, but making it compulsory is wrong

Number crunching sits at the heart of every election count.

Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 4:42 pm

Votes won, the percentage swing, the number of seats secured.

One stat stood above all others from Friday’s election count.

More than 60% of people didn’t vote in a number of wards across Fife.

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Apathy was evident as Fifers went to the polls last week.

The disconnect between politics and the people is greater than ever - and, I fear, it will only get worse.

Less than 1000 votes could still get you elected to Fife Council.

Only Burntisland, Kinghorn and Western Kirkcaldy locally cracked the 50% turnout. The rest were in the middle 40s, with Lochgelly trailing well back on 35%.

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The first ballot box is opened at the Fife count

Where do we go from here?Should voting be made compulsory?That sits uneasy with me and many others.

Forcing people to do something they have no interest in feels like a recipe for chaos.

The recent census saw thousands simply not bother despite the fact failure to comply carries the threat of a £1000 and a criminal conviction which could impact directly on your employment prospects.

I suspect you could double the fine to £2000 and chuck in a jail sentence and it wouldn’t have much effect.

We have become lazy, self-centred and disinterested when it comes to our civic duty.

Yup, it’s an old fashioned concept in a world where everything is done online.

We will never convince those who can’t be bothered to actually be bothered, so if we carry on doing what we have always done, the danger is only a small cross-section of society decides who runs this region.

That cannot be healthy or right.

So maybe we need to re-invent the wheel.

The world has gone digital, while elections still revolve around wee pencils and bits of paper, and trips to community centres many have never ever set foot in.

Maybe we need to use supermarkets and petrol stations as polling stations, cafes rather than churches, and offer deals- free slice of cake when you vote?

If the people won’t come to the polling booths, take the polling booths to where the people are.

The rise in postal votes means fewer at polling stations too, so is there an opportunity to think out of the box to fill those ballot boxes?

But, elections are also rooted in tradition, Always on a Thursday, for example.

Why? Because the now outdated notion of Friday pay-packets would have led to more drunken voters which ruled out the weekend, while Sunday polls would have hit attendances at church.

None of these reasons hold true in 2022, but still l we cling to them as if they were handed down on tablets of stone.

Getting people re-engaged with politics- at local or national level - is a huge challenge, but one we must tackle.

To see so few votes cast in return for the hours and hours of work put in by many candidates was disheartening.

I know folk who pounded the streets every night, chapped doors and leafleted until they hit a wall. Not all of them succeeded.

Politics is a tough old calling and you don’t always get your rewards.

The council we get for the next five years could be very, very different to what went before.

That is down to the voters - and that includes those who simply didn’t bother.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Fife Free Press.