Why did over half a million registered voters not turn out in the Scottish #indyref?

scotland decidesAfter a passionate, heated and tightly-run two-year campaign, over 665,000 registered voters did not cast a vote in the Scottish independence referendum.

This represents over 15% of the 4 million Scottish people that registered to vote and is a number that could have changed the result to a ‘Yes’ victory.

The turnout of 84.5% sets a record in major UK elections beating the 83.9% in the 1950 General Election, and dwarfs the 62% average of the recent General Elections.

However, in a referendum campaign that was of such constitutional importance to not just Scotland, but to the entire United Kingdom, it is significant that so many registered voters did not turn out to vote.

The referendum presents a perfect case study of a close-run vote that commentators and pollsters said could go either way, and a campaign that has been at the forefront of media attention for the past two years. It is inconceivable to imagine that these voters ‘did not care’, ‘forgot about’ or were ‘apathetic’ to such an important question.

It has certainly been one of the most digitally engaging campaigns with millions of people taking part in the debate online on all kinds of social media platforms with tweets, statuses, videos, vines, and photos.

It is rare to have such engaging political campaigns, but we should build on this and ensure that everyone is able to have their voice counted in democratic decisions.

Do you think the introduction of an online voting option could help bridge that gap in future elections? We are keen to hear.

If you haven’t already, take our short one-minute survey on politics, social media, and online voting here and email us your thoughts on why over half a million didn’t vote to hello@webrootsdemocracy.org.

VIDEO: Should the UK get e-voting?

On Tuesday 9th of September, Sky News hosted an online debate about the potential for online voting (also known as e-voting) for the UK.

This was done as part of their Stand Up Be Counted campaign which aims to discuss political issues that matter to young people in the run up to the next General Election.

The debate was hosted by Sky’s Senior Political Correspondent, Jason Farrell and he was joined by Areeq Chowdhury from WebRoots Democracy, Emma Mulqueeny from the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy, and Marju Tamp from the National Youth Council in Estonia (where e-voting has been used since 2005).

Which Scottish #indyref campaign is leading on social media?

wetter togetherWith just over two weeks to go until Scotland decides it’s future in the Independence Referendum, WebRoots Democracy has analysed the social media followings of the two official campaigns who have been hitting social media hard with videos, statuses, twibbons and even ice-bucket challenges: Yes Scotland and Better Together.

This analysis is on the basis of Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ followers.

On Twitter and Facebook, the Yes Scotland campaign is the clear winner with 67% of the share on Twitter (67,766 followers), and 58% on Facebook (240,095 likes).  On Google+, Yes Scotland are edging it with 51.1% of the share (34,534 followers).

The Better Together campaign has 33,140 Twitter followers, 174,366 Facebook likes, and 33,031 Google+ followers.

There is no data currently available for the number of YouTube subscribers to Yes Scotland’s channel, however in the number of views, Better Together is leading with 1,036,668 views compared to the Yes campaign’s 600,333.  However, this may be in part due to Better Together’s ‘The woman who made up her mind‘ video which came under heavy criticism on social media.

Not including YouTube, the Yes Scotland campaign is winning on social media with 58.7% compared to Better Together’s 41.3%.

Away from the Scottish Independence debate, in terms of political parties’ social media presence, far-right party Britain First is still leading on Facebook and Twitter with a combined following of 413,418, followed by the Conservatives (376,951); Labour (334,103); UKIP (303,932); Liberal Democrats (171,332); BNP (170,746); and the Green Party (144,458).

The 10% turnout in the West Midlands PCC by-election represents an embarrassment to UK democracy

wm policeEarly reports from the West Midlands suggest that just over one in ten people voted in the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) by-election yesterday. The estimate is that turnout was 10.32% meaning that around 1.8million people (out of an electorate of 2million) did not vote for their new Commissioner.

The turnout in Coventry and Sandwell were in single digit figures.

PCCs are elected representatives who work to ensure that the police forces in England and Wales run effectively. There are no PCCs in London. The role of the PCC is to hold police forces to account and to be a public voice for policing.

The turnout in this election is one of the lowest in UK election history and is even lower than the original 12% obtained in November 2012. According to the Birmingham Mail, the turnout in some wards was as low as 1% with less than ten votes in student area, Selly Oak, put down to the vote being held during the summer break.

There are various reasons for why this turnout is so low including a lack of demand and awareness about PCCs and the fact that the vote was held just before a Bank Holiday weekend during the summer.

Whilst the PCC has a range of responsibilities such as appointing and dismissing Chief Constables, ensuring value for money, setting out the force’s strategy and priorities, and setting the force’s budget; an election where 90% of the electorate did not vote brings into question the legitimacy and mandate of such PCCs.

Ultimately, this is an election turnout that represents an embarrassment for UK democracy particularly in the wake of a 34% turnout in the Local and European Elections in May.

There is no silver bullet for such a democratic crisis; however a number of steps are needed to reform the system if elected representatives such as PCCs are to be held accountable.

Erdington MP, Jack Dromey called the election a ‘blow to democracy’ and many have questioned why this election was held in a summer month when many voters would be away on holiday or have childcare responsibilities.

Logistically, the accessibility of online voting has the potential to improve the dismally low turnouts of by-elections (which average 38.6% since 2010) that are often held outside of common election periods; however greater investment is needed to raise awareness of the role of PCCs and to boost the coverage of local by-elections as they occur.

Labour’s David Jamieson won the election and has been declared as the new West Midlands PCC.

Turnout broken down by area: Birmingham (10.26%), Coventry (9.54%), Dudley (11.4%), Sandwell (9.8%), Solihull (11.58%), Walsall (10.72%), Wolverhampton (10.19%).

Government figures confirm that the UK has become digitalised

tabletOfficial figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) this month have displayed the huge advances the UK has made in embracing the digital age.

The ONS have looked at how internet behaviour has changed over recent years, and the general picture is overwhelmingly that people in the UK are using the internet more and more.

The number of people using the internet on a daily basis has more than doubled in the past eight years with 37.6million logging on every day.  This figure is based on adults alone and totals 76% of the adult population, an increase of 41 percentage points from 2006.

Broken down by age, every age range has seen an increase in internet usage with the biggest jump being amongst the 55-64 age group.  In 2006, only 36% of this age group used the internet daily compared to 74% in 2014.  Over 65s have also seen a huge increase in internet usage with just 9% logging on daily compared to 42% now.  The highest usage is amongst 25-44 year olds with 86% going online every day, followed by 16-24 year olds with 79%.

The number of households with internet access has also vastly improved, increasing annually for the past sixteen years.

When internet-search giant Google was founded in 1998, only 9% of UK households had access to the internet, and in 2004 when Zuckerberg founded Facebook, only 49% had internet access.  Today, in the year that Google have started selling their wearable smart-spectacles, Google Glass, and the year that Facebook spent $19billion on instant-messaging app WhatsApp; 84% of UK households have internet access.

That’s not all that has changed though, as the statistics show that internet use ‘on the go’ has risen in recent years too.

Internet use on mobile phones has increased by 34 percentage points since 2010 with 58% of people using the web on their phones.  Broken down by age, almost 9 out of 10 young people use the internet on their phone with 87% doing so.  This compares with 11% of over 65s which is still an increase of 9 percentage points in the past four years.

When tablets and laptops are taken into account, the figures for ‘on the go’ usage increases further with 68% of people using the internet whilst out and about.  The highest usage is amongst people aged 16-24 with 96% followed by 90% of 25-34 year olds.

In addition to data on access, the ONS figures also offer an insight to how people are using the internet.

The number one usage of the internet was for sending and receiving emails with 75% of the population emailing.  This is followed by finding information on goods and services (73%), accessing online news (55%), and social networking (54%).  Also featured highly is online banking (53%) and playing or downloading games, images, film or music (44%).  23% of the population use the internet for selling goods and services.

By age group, the most notable figures are that 91% of 16-24 year olds use social networking, 73% of 25-34 year olds access news online and that 75% of 55-64 year olds use the internet for emailing and for finding out information on goods and services.

In addition to these common uses, 10% of the population use the internet for making appointments with their GP.

All of these activities have seen an increase over recent years, particularly reading the news online which has increased from 20% in 2007 to 55% in 2014, and also online banking which has increased from 30% in 2007 to 53% in 2014.

With regards to submitting sensitive data online (often an area of criticism for a potential online voting option), the ONS data confirms that the population is comfortable with submitting such data online and does so on a great scale.

In addition to the 53% of us banking online, the ONS figures show that almost three-quarters of the UK population (74%) have shopped online with 87% of those transactions involving the provision of credit or debit card details over the internet.  The goods bought vary from clothes (49%) to holiday accommodation (36%) and groceries (23%).

This year, 32% of the adult population have used the internet to complete and submit official forms.

So that is a lot of data (that is easy to become lost in) which supports the fact that the country has entered the digital age and has become digitalised.  More and more of us are using the internet than ever before and millions of us are shopping, banking, reading and socialising online.  However, whilst it is clear that an internet revolution has taken place, this data further outlines the stagnation in our democratic process in which our method of voting remains much like it was 142 years ago, as a pencil and paper activity, behind a curtain in a building that most people will rarely visit otherwise throughout the year.

Perhaps, in a decade from now we will be examining the year on year increase in online voting numbers.


Access the Office for National Statistics ‘Internet Access – Households and Individuals 2014′ statistical bulletin here.

UK lags behind Nauru, Tonga, Beliz, and Kiribati in voter turnouts

As the sporting world watches the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow to see which country will climb to the top of the medals table, WebRoots has created another medals table based on (you guessed it) election turnouts.

Rwanda tops the table with a 98.8% turnout in their last election, followed by Nauru, Australia, Singapore and Malta.

At the bottom of the table are Mozambique (44.44%), Tanzania (39.39%), and Nigeria (28.66%).

The UK is 30th in the table (65.77%), just behind India but slightly ahead of Barbados.

See the full table below:

Commonwealth Election Turnouts - Table

Click on the image to view it in a larger size.

We need the final “one-click” to ensure young people can help run the country

By Chloe Smith MP.


The majority of today’s 18-24 year olds are not voting.  Only 44% turned out in 2010 and, since then, at worst, 88% expressed that they don’t plan to vote.  There is evidence to suggest this situation is more extreme than it has been for previous generations of young citizens, and that Britain’s problem is worse than elsewhere in Europe and the US.

2015’s first time voters have “a considerable aversion to formal, professional politics”[1] – but they are interested in political affairs and are doing different activities including some outstanding community projects.  They want confidence in what politics is for.  Meanwhile, politicians need to gain young voters’ trust, communicate effectively and deliver results in policy.

So what are the right things to do, in policy?  Focus on the economy, education and the major intergenerational issues.  And take a radical look from the consumer’s perspective in order to understand and communicate.

2015’s first-timers have already been asked what the single most important issue is to them[2].  Nearly a third of the 1,000-strong sample in 2011 said to prioritise the various parts of education (including 18% naming higher education tuition fees).  The same number is concerned about employment and finance.  A very broad set of other issues were named at very small percentages of support.

Like other generations, the young have different views based on needs, political instincts, geography and financial situation. I’m a member of Generation Y and also a liberal Conservative – I don’t believe in labelling people any which way.  But if you look at the research there are some common perspectives, like trust, fair help, information and honesty.  I believe passionately that the Conservative Party can be the home for Generation Y because we hold the principles of the small state, responsible economics, freedom, enterprise and social liberalism.  Those principles matter for this generation as they have always mattered – and we can have them through our vote, our action and our leadership.

I also believe that an important reform is in the very way that we vote.  It is an extremely unusual thing for Generation Y not to be able to do something online.  We shop, we bank, we date, we chat, we organise with ease.  However, we register and vote entirely on paper.  Not only is this alien to young people, and indeed to anyone who appreciates the capability of the internet, but it is also ineffective for those who wish to market their product.  As politicians we communicate online with people all the time but we lack the final “one-click” to clinch the deal when the time comes.  Of course there are security and cost considerations, but those pertain to paper voting too.  This is too obvious an area for reform to ignore if politicians are to think and act anything like the new generation which will grow to dominate.

Generation Y’s community campaigning is practical, relevant, goal-oriented and flexible.  Politics can and does work like that too – but it’s no cake-walk to persuade my generation to give traditional politics attention.  Generation Y demands less hierarchy, less open-ended commitment, less party line than any traditional party has been used to.  Politics has to adapt.  We have to help new-style campaigners get results in their communities; have to help online activists articulate a vision for how things should be, and make that vision happen.  We have to help young people run the country.

Chloe Smith is a Conservative Party politician and the Member of Parliament for Norwich North.


[1] Matt Henn and Nick Foard, ‘Young People, Political Participation and Trust in Britain’, Parliamentary Affairs (2012) 65, 47-67

[2] Matt Henn and Nick Foard, ‘Young People, Political Participation and Trust in Britain’, Parliamentary Affairs (2012) 65, 47-67.  It’s worth noting a statistical point here.  In typical large scale polls where you might expect a thousand or two of adults in a sample, there are rarely enough people in any given age bracket of that sample to be statistically significant.  Relatively few studies take the time to go in depth into an age bracket’s interests, so this work by Henn and Foard is rare and helpful.  The annual survey of youth brands tells us a bit more about the cohort too – Voxburner, collates data on the brands that young people want to work for or buy from.