Thursday, 5 May 2011

Pride and prejudice at the polling stations

So it's votin' day here in Northern Ireland, with three exciting polls in which to have your say: the election to the NI Assembly, the local Council election and, of course, the infamous Referendum about the Alternative Vote. Exciting. Or not.

You may have been able to tell from the Yorkshireman's recent post that he is a bit of a liberal soul and that he's not fond of what has come to be known as tribal politics here in Northern Ireland. And you know what? He's not alone.

I was born, bred and indeed currently live in quite a staunchly unionist area of North Belfast. Many of the folks around here are all about hanging up their flags for the Twelfth celebrations and the only dilemma they seem to have about voting is which party ending in "UP" to choose as their first choice. I am... not among them.

Living in this area and seeing people so blindly follow the herd has only led me to question why. Why do people select who they want to oversee their constituency or council ward based on prejudice founded decades ago instead of what they're offering right here, right now?

Personally I want to move forward. I want the best person for the job to get the job, not the person who shouts the loudest about something I don't consider to be significant. I only wish that the others in my area were starting to move on too and think along the same lines but it doesn't seem to be the case.

This morning, bleary-eyed, the Yorkshireman and I rocked up to our polling station to do our bit for democracy. Before we even got to the door, some women started trying to push DUP propaganda at us. I said "no thanks" and walked on, but one of them just shouted after me, "but you need it for the order!" Excuse me?! Not only do you assume I will be voting DUP, but you also feel the need to dictate to me in which order to vote for the DUP candidates? Wrong crowd, lady!

Already somewhat irked by this, I was waiting for the Yorkshireman to finish his voting when an elderly man, seemingly a little bewildered by the whole process, approached the ladies responsible for checking you off the list and checking your ID at their little table. It seems he had already been in that morning but had forgotten his ID and had just returned with it. The ladies asked him if he wanted to vote in "all 3". The man clearly had no idea what they meant, so they explained about the different polls he could vote in that day. The poor wee man was clearly overwhelmed and so simply waved the DUP ladies' propaganda at the women in the hope this would explain his intentions (so much for voting being confidential, eh?). Inevitably they explained to him which of the elections those specific candidates were running in and tried to explain further about the other two votes he could cast. He didn't seem interested - he was there to cast his vote for the DUP candidates in the order he had been told to and that was pretty much that... what a good little sheep.

It saddened me that people like this, who don't even know what or who they are voting for other than a party, mean that our country is essentially stuck in the past and doesn't seem to be moving forward at all. In recent years I have been given some hope that things were changing, for example the election of Naomi Long (of the non-sectarian Alliance Party) firstly as Lord Mayor of Belfast in 2009 and then as an MP in Westminster in 2010 (beating Peter Robinson, the leader of the DUP and indeed First Minister himself). However little scenes like with the old man this morning reinforce that Northern Ireland as a whole, and in particular little stronghold communities like ours, have a long, long way to go before the past can actually become the past.

In the meantime I'm proud to do my bit. I will show up and vote for change by refusing to lend my vote to anyone from a unionist or nationalist party. Quite frankly I just don't care about that issue. I want my political leaders to enhance and enrich our little country. I want them to fight for better quality public services. I want them to increase the quality and availability of education for people of all ages. I want them to decrease the poverty divide. I want them to encourage people off benefits and into empowering jobs. I want them to fight anti-social behaviour. I want them to lead by example in moving towards the future. I don't care whether they think we should be part of the UK or a united Ireland, unless the issue happens to come up for some reason (although I think the South might be a little too preoccupied with rebuilding their economy at the moment to worry about the folks up North), in which case I want them to use common sense and all the resources and advice available to them to make the best decision for our country's wellbeing.

Some might argue that I'm being naive but I would say that I'm being optimistic and forward-thinking. I would much rather be that than stubborn, closed-minded and insular.

So, as 10pm approaches and the polling stations are getting ready to close, I wonder what the immediate future holds for my area. I imagine the DUP will have yet another storming victory, but I can at least hope that with each passing election their hold will lessen. Perhaps by the time my grandchildren are casting their votes there might actually be some competition and the candidates will actually be selected based on their perceived ability to run the country well. Until then, only time will tell if my fellow liberals (there must be some of us out there surely?) and I have managed to make any difference whatsoever.

No comments:

Post a Comment