Bedroom tax a tool for mass disenfranchisement

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By Mark McNaught

How could Iain Duncan Smith possibly justify a policy so unspeakably barbaric as the ‘spare room subsidy’ which could potentially render hundreds of thousands homeless across the UK? How could Tory efforts to ‘de-toff’ and shed their image as the Dickensian ‘nasty party’ fail so miserably?

While the seeming purpose of the feral ‘skivers vs. strivers’ and ‘something for nothing culture’ focus-group-tested rhetoric parroted by Labour and Tories alike is to punish the poor for not having the opportunities to make a decent life for themselves, its effect is to potentially disenfranchise millions of voters.

Among other qualifications, to register to vote in the UK you need an address. By law, the electoral register is updated every year within each polling district, and is often based at the local council. Electors must annually fill in a canvass form with stiff penalties for any inaccurate information provided. Failure to pay the council tax or be in arrears on rent can result in removal from the register. However, it is unclear how rigorously each council adheres to these laws.

There are two registers maintained. The full version can be consulted by anyone who has access by law, including credit rating agencies and political parties. The ‘edited’ register for which electors must ‘opt out’ can be sold to anyone.

For those deep in debt wishing to register to vote, even if they have a residence and are in conformity with their council tax, doing so would disclose their address to debt collection agencies, who are at the top of their game in making poor people’s lives even more miserable.

The result is that anyone who is pushed further into debt, and made homeless through the bedroom tax, will be disenfranchised. Citizen participation through voting becomes a risk, rather than a right.

This is but one vivid example of how the UK has been engineered, especially since the Thatcher era, as a highly inegalitarian corporate plutocracy. The farcical first-past-the-post system, and the continued existence of the feudal Monarchy and House of ‘Lords’ renders any democratic influence minimal at best.

This is why all Scots, regardless of their position on independence, must make sure that they are properly registered in the referendum so that their vote counts. Scots will need to live through the current system for one more vote, and after ‘yes’ prevails can wipe the electoral slate clean, no longer being bound by any UK precedent.

Independence will offer Scots the opportunity to construct a real democracy, in which all citizens can truly participate. There can be national-level automatic registration for all citizens and legal residents over 16, which cannot be revoked, even for prisoners. Mandatory voting made easy on line or at the polls will dramatically increase the possibility of good policy outcomes.

The party candidate selection process could also be subject to universal suffrage, where all electors have the opportunity and obligation to vote in any party primary they wish, but only once. This would end the corrupt vote rigging so endemic to the process, of which numerous recent examples come to mind.

While the secret ballot has been a hallmark of democracy, it may be necessary to change this policy after independence to prevent corruption. While I understand why this has been a tradition, nothing can be kept secret in this day and age. All the political parties know how different constituencies vote, and the political PR firms probably have profiles on each voter indicating how they cast their ballot.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. There is no real secrecy in voting, so making the results public and verifiable online would provide for a completely transparent electoral system. Citizens must being able to verify that their vote was registered and correctly tallied, especially in close races. This would dramatically increase the confidence and the legitimacy of the government they voted for.

The poll tax, the bedroom tax, and other grubby attempts to disenfranchise voters will be unconstitutional.

Above all, this fundamental restructuring of the democratic process in Scotland will ensure that equality, liberty, and democracy will be real for Scots after independence, to be handed down to succeeding generations.

 

Advice on voting procedures and registering to vote is available from Citizens Advice