Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
On May 6th, we go to vote again. For those of us in Scotland, the election will decide which MSPs represent our constituencies in the Scottish Parliament. This election has so far been perceived as an important one regarding independence – another large majority in the SNP’s favour will send a powerful message for the state of the union. And so, as the increasingly unwelcome leaflets from awkward looking candidates clog up the letter box, the eternal question is asked again: who are you voting for?
There is something strange in this question because every time it is asked, there is always an expected answer: Tory or SNP (or Labour, if you live in England). If you name any other party,you often get an askance look. When I have suggested that I may vote for a minor party that will certainly not win, the reactions have ranged from condescending smiles to outright scorn. No no, I’m told, you’ve got to vote tactically.
When it comes to elections, tactical voting is the accepted method. Voting for anything else other than the most popular parties is a waste of time; it achieves nothing. Worse, it is irresponsible -it makes it slightly more likely that a party you definitively disagree with may get elected, those whose policies make for a worse society. This is the way the system is, and you’re stupid if you don’t play the game properly. Therefore, you are obliged to vote tactically.
However, tactical voting is not a given.
The central issue with tactical voting is that it perpetuates voting being a futile and cynical gesture of democracy. Elections remain a pull and shove contest between the two dominant parties, and so any genuine will for change is drowned out and turned into mass apathy. People tactically voting by habit rather than belief does not change anything. Nor does it really seem to work. For those who voted tactically for Labour in the last general election achieved as much as those who voted for the Green Party – the Tories still won. Likewise in Scotland: Labour was strong until many stopped voting tactically, changing the political scenery from red to yellow.
Of course, through voting for a minor party, the voter does not expect it to win automatically. Yet that does not equate to them willing electoral defeat, or spoiling their ballot. Voting for a party you genuinely agree with rejects and protests the policies on offer, but it does not reject the democratic process entirely. Rather it maintains the Party’s continued existence, in turn maintaining the possibility for an alternative politics. This keeps alive the possibility for genuine change. With this, one affirms their own opinions while refusing the way things currently are, not needing to sell one’s vote to someone only marginally better than the alternative. A vote in good faith, rather than a vote for the lesser of two evils, reconfigures democracy away from being a game lost in advance.
This has been a rough gloss at replying to a well-established political method, and while I doubt it will greatly change anyone’s mind, it points to non-tactical voters as appearing less out of touch. Idealistic, perhaps, but for understandable reasons.