Today is the second in a seven part series of guest contributions to this blog. Each day a different writer will give us an fresh perspective on Scotland’s Referendum on whether or not to become an independent country on September 18th. Today’s post is from a fantastically cultured, savvy and gifted friend who takes us behind the scenes. For most of us the actual voting experience will take a few seconds. For others…
Many thoughts have been shared about Referendum Day. Let me share with you how September 18th 2014 is shaping up for Ms A Clark who has elected to work in a polling place for the full sixteen hours the polls are open.
The long day ahead starts the night before, when she will be laying out clothes and checking all the bags are packed. Working from around 6.30am till 10.15pm, she’ll firstly make sure she has looked out comfortable shoes. Community centres and schools are notoriously draughty, better wear plenty of layers. Professional, but not too stuffy. And no colour that could be taken as an association to any of the political parties. Black it is.
The bags are packed with enough food and drink to last a whole day. A mug and jar of coffee. Juice and water. Fruit. Sandwiches. Something warm for tea. Biscuits. Once the polls have opened, polling staff cannot leave the premises for any reason, so provisions to cater for every dietary whim have to be carried in.
On the morning of the election, she will try to track down a newspaper from an early-opening corner shop, but other than that it will be a magazine to see her through any quiet moments. Were it a European election in a quiet part of town (typical turnout, 15%) she might pack a thick novel, but with an increase in the number of people registered to vote and an engaged electorate who seem motivated to vote, she expects it will be a busy day.
On the day itself, the roads are unexpectedly busy for 6am with caretakers and election staff heading to work. Crossing the threshold of the community centre, it will be the last time she sees daylight that day. Time to introduce herself to those with whom she will be working, particularly the person on her desk whose company she will be enjoying for the next sixteen hours.
Conversation will of necessity extend beyond the weather and last night’s tv. With the multiplicity of layers of government in Scotland, there is an election most years, and a different way of voting for each of the layers. She has covered them all.
• European elections – Party List system – one vote – one Scotland-wide constituency
• Westminster – first past the post – one vote – 59 Scottish constituencies.
• Holyrood – Additional Member System (first past the post, with top-up list) – two votes – 73 constituencies and eight regions across Scotland.
• Council elections – Single Transferable Vote – multiple votes for each multi-member ward across Scotland forming 32 local election areas.
In each election, there are invariably members of the public who come in to vote not really being sure of how to vote. In contrast, the referendum has the advantage of being much easier to explain: a single question and a “X” to be marked. However, given all the referendum coverage across tv, radio and newspapers she wonders if there will be anyone in the town who will come in to the polling place and not be aware of the question facing the country. And that, she reflects is what is exciting about this election and elections in general. The politicians, celebrities and journalists have spoken at length and in depth for month after month on the issues.
On September 18th, finally, it is time for the people to speak.