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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 May, 2005, 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK
Election questions which matter

By Brian Taylor
BBC Scotland political editor

I should probably have asked this question at the beginning rather than at the end of the election campaign.

But then I was always a fairly contrary sort of fellow.

So here goes. Study the following options and mark an X against ONE ONLY.

In a UK General Election, are you:

  • a) choosing a Prime Minister;
  • b) choosing the next Government;
  • c) indicating what you think of the last Government;
  • d) choosing a constituency member;
  • e) choosing a politician who'll make the choices you like;
  • f) lodging a protest;
  • g) expressing your general opinion of the world?

You should be careful not to make any other mark on the ballot paper because that will render your vote invalid.

Made your choice yet? Still swithering? Yes, I thought so.

The correct answer is, of course, all of the above.

Not an option open to you at the polling station - but, nonetheless, an accurate analytical description of the real electoral process.

You are taking part in the choice of a constituency member.

You may be lodging a protest. Or you may be saying: a curse on all of your houses

You have the option to study the offers from each of the parties - and pick one that chimes with the choices you'd make if you were in the Commons yourself.

You may be lodging a protest. Or you may be saying: a curse on all of your houses.

Which leaves three further options - each valid. You are taking part in a procedure which, indirectly through Commons arithmetic, will determine the next government.

That process will also, of course, determine the next prime minister.

Finally, you are casting a verdict on the last government.

Polling station
The time has come for swithering voters

Opposition parties generally want to say that the last lot were rotten: kick them out.

Incumbent governments defend their record - but also want to "move on", to stress that what matters is the programme lying ahead.

The issue of Iraq has added extra bite to that standing syllogism of politics.

Specifically, Labour wants to place the Iraq conflict in the past tense.

Tony Blair passionately defends his decision but wants voters to focus on other matters, such as the future handling of the economy, which he believes is sounder ground for his party.

Past and future

The Conservatives have had a problem: they backed the war.

Nonetheless, they have attempted to cast doubt upon the integrity of the PM, calling him a "liar".

The Liberal Democrats have deployed more circumspect language but have repeatedly called into question trust in Mr Blair.

The SNP have said that a leader who has lost credibility over the fundamental issue of war and peace cannot expect continuing support.

Should the past inform the future? Or should it be present promises, present plans?

The House of Commons
A reduced number of 59 Scottish MPs will return to Westminster

The answer again, of course, is both.

The people have not had a chance to express their views, electorally, on the conflict in Iraq.

There was a vote in the Commons but, naturally enough, no referendum.

This, if they choose to take it, is their chance to express an opinion, either positive or negative.

Equally, though, it is valid to say that policy on Iraq will not be altered by this election.

The past will not be changed. Depending on the outcome of the election, however, the future might be different.

You might find, for example, that you have lodged a protest over an issue of foreign and defence policy - which results in a different approach to economic policy; one you might not welcome.

Who said voting was an easy choice

Equally, again, it is valid to argue that - while past foreign policy will not be altered - a contrary verdict from the voters might forestall any future repetition.

Street canvass gossip suggests that it is the university-educated middle classes, A and B social groups, who express most disquiet about the war - or at least vocalise their general discontent with the government in terms that relate to the conflict.

Others remain more inclined to focus upon the economy or issues like pensions.

People are rightly swayed by a wide range of motivations from protest to political allegiance to personal interest.

But who said this was easy? Who said voting was an easy choice when you are not allowed to declare all - or none - of the above?

As ever, the choice is entirely in your hands. It matters, though. It really matters.



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