I always vote. I consider it a civic duty, although I probably wouldn’t go so far as to advocate making it compulsory, as it is in Australia or Peru. After all, countries such as Belarus and Burma can achieve a 100% turnout, or higher, without making voting a legal requirement.
In truth, my political views are so unpopular that I doubt if I’ve ever voted for a winning candidate. In Northern Ireland in particular, where voting is most often conducted in accordance with the imaginary stamp on the voter’s forehead (“Catholic” or “Protestant”), my refusal to play that game generally aligns me with the candidate who gets 1% or so.
And I have always voted according to policies, not by allegiance. When I was a student in Scotland, I can remember voting for a Scottish National Party candidate on one occasion, and for a Liberal on another, simply because their election promises seemed to make sense to me. I had no sense that because I more usually voted Labour, then I should be “loyal”.
Actually, I did muse at the time of the recent huge student protests against tripling of university fees: how many of those students had bothered to vote in the General Election which delivered us a cuts-crazed government? (I have a great deal of sympathy for those who did vote and voted Liberal Democrat. We expect politicians to be untrustworthy and self-serving, but the scale of the betrayal by the LibDems is astonishing.)
In Northern Ireland, the four largest parties depend for their very existence on sectarian divisions, and are understandably reluctant to address them. Oh, you’ll get fine words upon occasion, but no action. No-one has ever mentioned a 50-50 recruitment policy for candidates, for example. None of the parties supports fully de-sectarianised education.
To look at it one way, I’m simply not the target market for their votes, so there’s only one suitable response: Fuck ’em, to be blunt. I will not lend even a 10th-preference to any one of them. (If you’re not from round these parts and that confuses you, we vote by ranking a selection of candidates in order. A voting system which David Cameron calls “undemocratic”. Ask him how he got to be head of his party.)
I’m left with the explicitly non-sectarian parties: Greens, Alliance, various shades of Socialist or Leftist. Except, I’m not. There are twelve candidates seeking six Assembly seats in my constituency, and ruling out the four sectarian parties, only the candidates from Alliance are possibles, two of them, so that’s my one and two marks already decided. I disagree with the party on many issues — they’re much too reactionary bourgeois for me — but I’m much rather have them elected than any of the others. (Just for completeness, I’ll mention that as well as Alliance and the four large sectarian parties, there are candidates from the rabidly sectarian TUV and the xenophobic UKIP. Neither will make any kind of mark in the election.)
It’s of little concern to me that one of the Alliance candidates is a recent refugee from de-selection by another party. His current job doesn’t bother me either. So what if he’s a Freddie Mercury impersonator? Flash, ah-ah, Saviour of the Universe!