Doug Beattie is a UUP Candidate for Upper Bann
I want to ask you out on a date. There won’t be a fancy meal, no wine and no flowers – in fact on the face of it there will be nothing in the date for you but you will leave the date feeling good about yourself. This is a date with democracy and the Assembly election on 2nd March 2017.
Already I can sense that many people have stopped reading, they feel so disengaged with the whole process that the act of voting is as alien to them as flying first class on British Airways. However it is important to understand what is being asked of you, the electorate, the voter who decides the makeup of the Northern Ireland Assembly after the election because those who sit on the blue benches only do so because you put them there. A fact forgotten by many elected representatives once the count is completed.
The ability for you to vote has been hard won, by individuals like Emmeline Pankhurst who fought for women’s right to vote as equals to men. It may seem unbelievable now but up until 1928 only women over the age of 30 were allowed to vote while for men it was 21. Today everyone is viewed as equals with one person one vote and the courage taken to vote is not based out of fear but a courage to vote for the right reasons.
When women were finally allowed the vote in Afghanistan they turned out in their millions despite the fear of reprisals from the Taliban. Most were uneducated as education was not allowed for women in Afghanistan, some were beaten in the street as they made their way to the polling station, some abused as they made their way home. Outside polling stations women stood with inked fingers, the purple ink the sign they had voted, only for the Taliban carrying secateurs (pruning shears) to cut off the inked finger.
Of course we have had violence during elections here in Northern Ireland and at times both physical and passive intimidation but nothing on the scale that is suffered by many women throughout the world today. The biggest problem we have here is apathy, many people vote in their head but fail to leave their homes to make the short journey to a polling station to cast that very simple but very important vote. In doing so they leave elected politicians in charge of our country who don’t actually represent the whole country.
At the last election, the DUP received the most first preference votes, and as was their right, took up the position of the First Minister. Yet they fail to represent everyone living in Northern Ireland who desperately want change – and why should they. They are happy to play to their core vote knowing they will be the largest party and for them a low turnout will ensure they can do as they like. In not voting you are in effect voting for the policies of the DUP, if not the party itself, and the regressive direction it is taking Northern Ireland. A direction that means your children, even newborn babies today, will be paying for the failure of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) Scheme into adulthood and failing to vote means you cannot challenge that failing and you reward incompetency and arrogance.
In 2016 the country voted on two occasions, the Assembly election followed by the EU referendum – the former had a turnout of 54% while the latter had a turnout of approximately 63%. If in 2017 we had a turnout of 63% then we have a real chance of making a change in Northern Ireland politics. It will give the country the opportunity to tell all political parties, especially the two largest, the direction they would like Northern Ireland to travel in. Not just for the next five years but for the next twenty years.
So I want to ask you out on a date, a date with democracy. Put it in your diary, put a reminder on your fridge, tell your friends, your partner, your children – make the effort to leave your homes on the 2nd March and cast your vote. For you deserve better than what your politicians are delivering for you now, your children deserve a better future but if you don’t vote nothing is going to change.