Polling cards for next month’s European Parliament election began falling through letterboxes on Bute this week.
With the political headlines in Scotland being dominated by September’s independence referendum, it’s no surprise that the European election on May 22 has fallen off the radar.
To be honest, though, no European election has ever really set pulses racing, except among the most dedicated political anoraks. But on Thursday, May 22, voters in Scotland - well, some of them at any rate - will go to the polls to choose the six people who will be the country’s Members of the European Parliament for at least a chunk of the next five years.
And Bute has more of a link to the poll than most, because island resident George Lyon, former farmer at Kildavannan near Ettrick Bay and the Scottish Parliament’s MSP for Argyll and Bute between 1999 and 2007, is seeking a second term as a Liberal Democrat MEP for Scotland.
Who wants to be Scotland’s MEPs?
Because the whole of Scotland is a single European constituency, that means everyone, from Lerwick to Lauderdale and Eriskay to Arbroath, will have the same ballot paper on May 22 and the same six MEPs after all the votes are counted.
So far this year, six parties have drawn up lists of the people they want voters in Scotland to elect on May 22 (the deadline for nominations is April 24, and the full list of candidates will be announced thereafter).
Remember, though, that we won’t be voting for any of these candidates, but for the parties they represent.
Five years ago, faced with 12 party lists and one independent candidate, Scotland’s votes resulted in two SNP candidates, Ian Hudghton and Alyn Smith, being elected, alongside two Labour (David Martin and Catherine Stihler), Struan Stevenson for the Conservatives and George Lyon for the Liberal Democrats. Five of the six are standing again this time; Mr Stevenson, an MEP since 1999, has announced he will not seek re-election.
The six party lists so far this time round are as follows:
Conservative: Ian Duncan, Belinda Don, Nosheena Mobarik, Jamie Gardiner, Iain McGill, Stuart Mcintyre.
Labour: David Martin, Catherine Stihler, Derek Munn, Katrina Murray, Asim Khan, Kirsty O’Brien.
Liberal Democrat: George Lyon, Christine Jardine, Lisa Strachan, Richard Brodie, Jade Holden, Euan Davidson.
SNP: Ian Hudghton, Alyn Smith, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, Stephen Gethins, Toni Giugliano, Chris Stephens.
Scottish Green: Maggie Chapman, Chas Booth, Alis Ballance, Alastair Whitelaw, Grace Murray, Steen Parish.
UKIP: David Coburn, Kevin Newton, Otto Inglis, Denise Baykal, Hugh Hatrick, Malcolm Mackay.
How does the voting system work?
When you go into the polling booth on May 22, you won’t be voting for Mr Lyon, or for any other single candidate. The way the European elections work in Britain means that you vote for a party, not a candidate - a bit like the vote for the ‘regional list’ MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, whose presence ensures that each party’s share of the Holyrood seats is, at least roughly, similar to their share of the vote.
And that does make the outcome of the vote fairer, at least in terms of the proportion of votes cast for each party. But with only six MSPs to be elected for Scotland, the way the seats are divvied up is never going to exactly match the way the voting goes.
You can only vote for one party or independent candidate, so when you go into the voting booth, put an X next to the party or person you want to vote for - you don’t rank the candidates 1, 2, 3 etc in order of preference.
Elections will be taking place throughout the EU next month, but because many countries hold elections at the weekend, unlike the UK, the winning candidates won’t be announced until the last polls have closed on Sunday, May 25.
Where does Scotland’s independence referendum fit in?
At this point, who knows? With the referendum campaign in full swing, but the vote not happening until September, all the major parties in Scotland are likely - in private, if not in public - to see the European vote as the clearest indicator yet of how the referendum might go.
In the longer run the situation is even less clear. An independent Scotland’s position within the EU is one of the major faultlines between the Yes and Better Together campaigns - the SNP says Scotland would negotiate the conditions of EU membership while still part of the UK, and wouldn’t leave the EU, but pro-Union campaigners say an independent Scotland would be an entirely new member state and its EU membership would have to be accepted by all the other existing members.
Another intriguing aspect to the debate is the Conservative party’s commitment to a referendum on EU membership - if the party wins the next UK general election, in May 2015. Polls regularly show support for EU membership is higher in Scotland than in other parts of the UK, but if Scotland votes No in September and the Conservatives win power at Westminster in 12 months’ time, this could be the last time Scotland goes to the polls to elect the country’s MEPs. If a UK-wide referendum does take place on EU membership, and Britain as a whole votes to leave, all the UK’s MEPs would, eventually, find themselves out of a job.
How do I cast my vote?
If you’re not sure whether you’re registered to vote, go to www.aboutmyvote.co.uk. If you’re not registered, and want to be, the deadline for the European election is Tuesday, May 6.
The deadline for applying for a postal vote is 5pm on Wednesday, May 7, and the deadline for applying for a proxy vote is 5pm on Wednesday, May 14.
Postal votes must be received by 10pm on polling day - which, remember, is Thursday, May 22. If you want to vote in person, your polling station will be open between 7am and 10pm on May 22.