You are probably not registered to vote. Last year the government changed the registration process to ‘a voting system fit for the 21st century’ so that rather than one person registering everyone in their household to vote, each person has to register themselves individually.
This is perfectly fine if you are a pensioner settled in a bungalow or a couple with a young family likely to be in the same household for years because your voting details haven’t changed. These people are part of the 80% that the government have moved from the old Electoral Register to the new one meaning that they will automatically be registered to vote in upcoming elections. Students are most likely to be part of the 20%: the group of people who have changed address since the last election and therefore need to register to vote again individually for the General Election in May.
This equates to roughly ten million people, many of whom are students who at the start of the year would have got a letter, likely lost in amongst the takeaway menus, old bills and catalogues which come with a new semester, reminding them that they will need to register again. As a result a high proportion of students haven’t registered to vote yet and are ultimately disenfranchised from the election later on this year. This is concerning as there has rarely been a more important time for young people to make their votes count.
Our current government has wreaked havoc with young people’s welfare and opportunities. This time five years ago tuition fees were a third of what they are now, Educational Maintenance Allowance allowed less well-off students to have equal access to books and materials and the suggestion to cut housing benefit for under twenty-five year-olds would have been dismissed as ridiculous.
This is why it is important to vote. If young people turned out to vote in high numbers they would collectively have immense influence over election results and therefore it would be unwise for governments to enact such harmful policies for fear that they would get voted out. In fact, to take politics at its most cynical, it would give them an interest in creating policies which appeal to young voters in order to get their support, with your vote acting as highly valued currency. We can see this in action right now with pensioners who regularly turn out to vote having their issues valued over other groups: a block vote so vital to an election win that it is casually referred to as the ‘Grey Vote’ and held in reverence.
It is not as if our generation are apathetic. This government has attracted a near-constant stream of vocal criticism from students with protests over tuition fees, zero-hour contracts and austerity cuts punctuating the political debate since 2010. The passion is there, the want to engage in the national debate is there, it is now time to translate this into simple and effective action at the ballot box.
In Glasgow, in particular students, could have a massive effect on who is elected on May 7th. Our University alone has a population of over twenty-three thousand students concentrated in a few constituencies surrounding the campus. Polls have suggested that these constituencies with a high student population in Glasgow can be treated as marginals in the run up to the General Election meaning that every vote really will count.
So go do it. The new system’s redeeming feature is that if you have internet access it’s quick and easy to register through ‘gov.uk’. Whether you lean left or right or aren’t even considering voting, make the opportunity available to you now and register to vote in May.