The first shot in our long anticipated battle to define NOTA in the mainstream media has been fired by none other than the BBC’s Andrew Marr writing in the New Statesmen.
And so it begins. A calculated misrepresentation of what a true ‘None of the Above’ option would be, the deliberate association of it with ‘apathy’, ‘instability’ & ‘chaos’ – when in reality, NOTA has nothing to do with any of those things.
The bottom line is this: NOTA is a democratic pre-requisite. It is the ability to withhold consent at an election, consent being central to the concept of democracy but only measurable if it is possible to withhold it. NOTA is therefore an essential check and balance in any true democracy. To argue against it is to argue against democracy itself, once the concepts of democracy and consent are properly understood. For this reason, given that our leaders must always be seen to be pro-democracy (whether they really are or not), NOTA is achievable in the short to mid term – unlike most other touted reforms that are desirable but not central to the concept of democracy and so can be paid lip service to and ignored.
In the context of elections, the withholding of consent must be formal because voting (giving consent) is formal. Neither abstaining or ballot spoiling amount to formally withholding consent, as both can be construed as apathetic or anarchic wrecking options and neither affect the result in any way. An official NOTA option on the ballot paper, with formal consequences for the result if the majority choose it, is the only way to withhold consent formally at an election in a registered, meaningful way.
From there, the next question is: what would happen if NOTA ‘wins’? If implemented properly (unlike faux-NOTA in India and elsewhere), a NOTA ‘win’ must invalidate the result and trigger a new election. Most likely this would occur at constituency level, triggering by-elections. There is already a mechanism in place to deal with an MP dying, whereby a by-election has to be held within three months. Dealing with a NOTA ‘win’ might be as simple as evoking such a mechanism with the incumbent holding the fort in the meantime. In the event that NOTA came out on top nationally, there is no reason why the same principle could not apply.
At NOTA UK, we also have a proposal to avoid voter fatigue that involves lengthening the time period to between six months and a year with the second placed candidate taking office in the meantime purely on a caretaker basis. This would give the caretaker, who will still have polled well, an opportunity to prove themselves worthy of the job and it would also gives all other parties a chance to regroup and look at what went wrong. This proposal is just one possible solution to deal with the logistics of NOTA and is open to debate and adaptation. The important thing is that NOTA must be there, no matter what. It is democracy in action.
The purpose of NOTA is that it is not a wrecking option or something designed to cause instability. Nor does it in any way symbolise apathy. It is a way for the vast, currently voiceless army of politically aware but utterly disenfranchised voters to finally be heard. It is an essential check and balance that could trigger an organic cleaning up of politics as parties realise that they now have to appeal to many more voters, potential NOTA voters included (rather than just their core demographics) and actually mean it – or face permanent rejection at the ballot box. The upshot of this ought to be less and less people making use of the option over time as the parties adapt to the new landscape, giving people a reason to vote for them in the first place. Further democratic reform would also be that much more possible in a system with the principle of NOTA at its core.
The days of making do and voting for the ‘lesser of several evils’, that Andrew Marr is trying to suggest is as good as democracy gets in his article, are over. People have had enough. If true democracy is what the people want then that is what they shall have. The first step on that journey is to get an official NOTA option ‘with teeth’ on the ballot paper for all future UK elections.
Find out how you can support the cause and help us bring that about at www.notauk.org