Many will be disappointed by the news that thousands of people in staunchly pro-Union parts of Belfast have not registered to vote.
After more than a year of protests about the Union Flag, some hoped that years of falling turnout would be arrested, at least in unionist areas. Yet the revelation by this newspaper that many loyalist areas of Belfast have a much smaller proportion of their populations registered to vote than nationalist areas suggests that substantial numbers of people in those areas either do not care about the flying of the flag on Belfast City Hall or, more worryingly, have given up on politics changing such decisions.
There has been some improvement in voter registration, but much of this is due to a change in the rules which has kept more people on the register. All unionists parties have worked over the last year to turn the energy of the protests into votes and with the expectation of more pro-Union candidates at next year’s European election than every before, it is difficult to make the cynical old excuse that ‘they’re all the same’.
Electors in North Korea, who will soon go to the polls in an anti-democratic charade, know what those words really mean. And anyone who doubts the power of the ballot box to frighten politicians of all hues into a healthy fear of the people need only look at such totalitarian states for a terrifying example of what can happen where elections no longer matter.
If the voter registration figures show that some in traditionally unionist areas are disengaging completely from politics, it is dangerous, both for the public and for politicians. It leaves politicians without a substantial mandate for key decisions and leaves the public at the mercy of rulers they did not elect and whose policies may therefore disadvantage them.
The solution is cost-free and in the grasp of us all, whether unionist or nationalist, whether motivated mainly by the Union Flag, hospital waiting times or the state of the Province’s schools.
It’s not too late to claim your vote.