Scotland, as you may well have heard, is due to hold a referendum on September 18th to settle the matter of Scottish independence for this generation. The idea of a peaceful parting of nations has stirred up an appropriately large share of news coverage. It’s a rather romantic idea, that the culmination of centuries of conflict, politics, and, indeed, union should be decided in a single day by the will of the people. It’s a close call, certainly, with numbers being split directly down the middle. To stick with the last vestiges of the empire, or to carve out its own path as an independent nation. This is the result of countless battles for independence, unfathomable man hours put into debate, legislation. This could be the biggest change of direction the nation has faced in three hundred years.
So it’s quite fair to say that the attention of the Scottish people has been stirred. With nearly 4.4 million people of voting age, Scotland, as of September 12th, had 4.28 million voters registered for the referendum. That’s a 98% voting rate. That’s nothing short of remarkable. This surely is the intent of democracy, right? After all, it was a system designed to truly express the will of the people, to ensure that every citizen voted for the collective good. To make sure we’re heard, to make sure that we truly get what we want, to provide happiness to the masses. The people are motivated; they are truly interested. Not a day goes by without a new Scottish independence headline crossing the news.
No one will be able to deny that the will of the people was heard on this momentous day. Yet we can’t help but wonder, why do we need a nation to split to get people to care? Why do we need to threaten to carve a union in half in order to get a 98% turnout? Granted, an election that occurs once every three centuries is more likely to grab attention than one that happens every four years, but does that mean we can simply forget maintenance?
Nearly every time a local mayor’s name hits the headlines these days, it’s in reference to a series of scandals. Constantly, I hear a slew of complaints. Protests, disbelief at the state of affairs. From students to seniors, shock is the overwhelming reaction to the problems felt in our local governments. Shock, shame, anger. Hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars hang in the balance. Yet is shock truly the proper reaction? It’s not as though these civil servants were elected yesterday. It’s not as though they stormed into office and set everything ablaze against our better knowledge. No, this was a long time coming.
In Brampton, for fourteen years – since the turn of the millennium – Mayor Susan Fennell has served in her office. We, the people, the city of Brampton chose her. We chose her to be our figurehead. We democratically selected her to lead us. This would suggest that Brampton, a city of 550,000 people, wanted her as mayor. Yet electoral results actually suggest something strongly to the contrary. There’s going to be a flood of numbers here, so please bear with me.
Of the 550,000 citizens residing in Brampton, in a democratic state, typically the majority would have their voices heard in the election. Right?
Of Brampton’s half-million citizens, only 260,000 were registered to vote. Within that 260,000, only 86,000 actually did. Let that sink in for a moment. 50% of our city was able to vote. 15% of our city actually did. Of that 15%, half voted for our current mayor. Susan Fennell was elected by 7.5% of the electorate. Think about that. How few residents of our city actually chose our current leader.
The appalling subject at hand shouldn’t be her assorted scandals, but how they were enabled. How her purported transgressions were able to incubate, how they were able to upset nearly every person reading the headlines. I can’t help but feel somewhat grateful for the accusations against her. Finally, people care. Finally, people are paying attention. Adverse publicity was needed to cause realisation. Democracy is not suited for the apathetic or the ignorant.
You should be involved; you should, at the very least, consider the proposed candidates’ platforms and vote for democracy to function. How can anyone who didn’t vote criticise the current state of affairs? The overwhelming odds say that you likely didn’t vote. You didn’t care. You, through your inaction, allowed this behaviour to happen without expecting any accountability.
How can people claim to uphold and protect freedom and prosperity if they do naught to connect with those who rule them? How can they sit idly by and moan about the state of affairs whilst doing nothing to influence it? How do people so easily rile themselves up to create a nation, to break away and create freedom, and then neglect it so?
Freedom isn’t free. We’ve all heard that platitude over the years. Yet why are we so eager to buy freedom with our troops’ lives and then disregard it as it succumbs to the tedium of time? Why is it easier for us to buy a “Support the Troops” sticker than it is to cast a ballot? Surely our ultimate right is self-governance. Is that not how we measure our freedoms? Establishing freedom is a means to an end. Building upon it, establishing a government that truly represents us as people, is the goal of those same freedoms. They shape the governments that keep the roads maintained, that keep us safe in bed at night, that keep the lights on, that keep the schools open. Is this not our lifeblood?
I pose to you a final question, one that has no easy answers. I want you to think about this; I want you to consider your place in our society.
Why does a referendum vote get a 98% registration when it comes time to create a nation, yet only 15% may actually vote when called upon to keep that same nation going?
Commentary by JP Wilbur