HeadLine: Why millions like Charlie turned their back on our historic poll
Daily Record, 08/05/1999, p8&9
by SHAUN MILNE
IT WAS the dawn of a new Scotland, the birth of the nation’s first
home-grown Parliament in 300 years.
But on the unforgiving streets of Shettleston in the east end of
Glasgow yesterday, very few people seemed to notice.
Fewer still cared if the polls were anything to go by, with 60 per
cent of the local electorate staying at home. It was the poorest
turnout in Glasgow by miles.
Those who did bother – all 40.34 per cent of them – voted Labour’s
Frank McAveety in as their first MSP.
The leader of Glasgow City Council was as pleased as punch, but the
low turnout begged the question: Why did so few people take part in
such a historic event?
On election night, politicians shrugged their shoulders.
Maybe it was apathy, they said, maybe it was the rain.
But many of the stay-at-home brigade gave a very different view – it
was their own silent protest.
It was a censure on the way the country has been governed in the past
and retaliation for the sheer frustration of waking up, election after
election, feeling that nothing has changed.
Puffing away at his last cigarette, Charlie Gall, 55, sat outside his
local bookies on Shettleston Road hoping for a winner.
Asked if he’d voted, he said: “Why vote – what’s the point? I’ve not
got a job, my health’s no good, all I can do is sit here and hope lady
luck shines on me one day.
“Who is there to vote for? Tell me one of them who has done anything
to help the people round here?
“McAveety got in and good luck to him, but he’s the council leader
and look at the state of this place.
“There’s rubbish in the streets because there’s no one left to clear
it up, you can’t get repairs done in your house because they can’t
afford it – they’re as bad as each other.
“I didn’t vote because I’m disgusted by them all. It’s all cuts, cuts, cuts. I’ll tell you another thing – it will get worse now there’s a Scottish Parliament.”
Political parties and pundits all had their own explanations for why
so many people didn’t vote.
But Peter Rossi, 38, a fire-fighter based at Parkhead Fire Station,
said: “I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I couldn’t vote for Labour for
the way they are treating us just now.
“There was no point voting for any of the others because people here
will never stop voting for Labour. You may as well paint the streets
“Out of 11 of us on duty last night, only four voted. There was apathy because people knew Labour would win anyway, but Labour have done nothing but try and cut things for the Brigade.
“The Tories threatened to do it but, to their credit, they never actually did. Labour are trying to do everything the Tories couldn’t so that is why we never voted.
“They are all trying to feather their own nests in the new Parliament
and enjoy the wages they will be earning.
“I really hoped the vote would be lower than what was required so it
would be void. That’s the only thing that could have given them a real
fright and got them to notice.”
Georgina Armette, 81, has voted in every election in Shettleston
since she was old enough – but not this time.
Her views on today’s breed of politician were sometimes too colourful
for a family newspaper.
She said: “They’re all asses, every single one of them.
“What do they do for the people of Scotland? Nothing, that’s what –
not a thing.
“How can you expect me to vote for a bunch of half-wits like that?
They stand up on TV in their flash suits with their smug smiles and
promise you the world, but at the end of the day they leave you with nothing.
“I thought about voting – it was such an important thing in our
history – but I thought what was the point? They’re as bad as each
“Look at that building over there, it’s the DSS. It’s the biggest and
busiest place around here. What kind of politicians do we have when the
biggest place in town is the dole office?
“I wanted to vote because I thought of all those who have fought and
died so I have the right. But there was no one to vote for.”
Confusion about the new voting system also played a part in the low
James Martin, 53, said: “I didn’t vote because I’m colour-blind. I
was worried I’d vote for the wrong people because of the
“I wanted to vote because it was the first Scottish Parliament but I
didn’t want to ask for help – I’d be embarrassed.
“There’s bound to be a lot of people in the same boat as me so I’m
not surprised it was a low turnout. Maybe it’s something they should
think about next time they are planning an election.”
Others simply couldn’t care less. Lorraine Docherty, 28, cuddled her
19-week-old son Lewis and shrugged her shoulders.
She said: “I’m not interested in all that, to be honest I don’t
really understand it.
“I leave it for folk who are interested. That way I can’t be blamed
when it all goes wrong, though I can’t grumble either. I’ve never voted
and I don’t think I ever will.”
With the lowest turnouts in traditional Labour inner-city strongholds, opponents were quick to claim yesterday that it was not the Parliament itself but rather Labour’s negative campaigning that turned the voters off.
An SNP spokesman said: “It is an established fact that people are
turned off by negative campaigning. Labour campaigned negatively
remorselessly and turned many of their own voters off.”
One Labour loyalist admitted that if the very people the Scottish
Parliament was set up to help could not be bothered to turn out to
vote, the political scene was in trouble.
Left-wingers claimed the low poll reflected the disillusionment felt
by many traditional supporters who thought the party had sold out under
One said: “This proves that the leadership has got to start taking
the left seriously and listen to what it is saying if it wants to
reclaim the votes of those who went elsewhere or decided not to vote at all.”
Bill Miller, professor of politics at Glasgow University, said: “It
certainly looks as if Scots do not think of the Scottish Parliament as
being as important in their political life as the Westminster Parliament.
“It means that in a dispute between Westminster and Holyrood,
Westminster can point out that the voters in Scotland gave them more
votes than they gave Holyrood and can claim to be more representative of the people of Scotland.
“In that sense, it defines the Parliament as being a subordinate
body. That flies in the face of the idea that this is anything like a
parliament for independence, even though it has a lot of independent powers.
“It supports the concept of devolution rather than independence. The
fact the SNP have frankly done rather badly in this election also
suggests that in no sense does this represent a step forward to independence from the devolution settlement. It reaffirms the devolution settlement.”
Canon Kenyon Wright, one of the powers behind the Scottish
Constitutional Convention, said: “The campaigning of the parties was
very negative and I found a lot of people complaining.
“A lot of hopes and vision that people had for the new Parliament
were becoming a bit dimmed.
“I don’t want to be too negative – we have to give the Parliament
every chance to prove that it can create a different kind of politics
and a different kind of democracy in Scotland.
“The jury is out.”