Not so long ago there was a school of thought that voting did not matter that much. Governments were much of a muchness whatever colour rosettes they wore and whoever was elected the world would carry on in much the same way. Unsurprisingly, that is not an argument much heard after a series of knife-edge General Elections and tightly balanced referenda on Scottish independence and Brexit.
We approach another series of elections in May when the results of voting for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), and for new governments in Scotland and Wales will again be critical, if not quite as seismic as some recent polls.
As our rural crime survey has revealed, policing in the countryside faces a fundamental challenge. Too many people in rural communities do not believe that their local police forces take rural crime seriously, this means that many crimes go unreported and if crimes are not reported, they do not exist in the crime statistics which decide the allocation of resources to police forces. This creates an obvious spiral of decline where under-resourced rural police forces struggle to meet the demands of their communities which only leads to even fewer crimes being reported. We lay out this problem and the research behind it in our Police and Crime Commissioner manifesto where we promote six policies to break the cycle that threatens to break the strong bond that has always existed between the police and rural communities. The role of Police and Crime Commissioner was created to address exactly this sort of fundamental strategic challenge so I would urge you to contact your PCC candidates through our e-lobby and press them all on the critical issue of rural crime.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, the SNP is seeking to form a new government. According to the polls it may have enough support to gain a majority, whilst the Conservatives and Labour battle for second place. The Greens will be hoping that the SNP fall short of a majority and that they hold the balance of power. Given the Greens’ policy agenda, that would be a concern for rural Scotland.
The SNP has published its manifesto which includes commitments on hunting and shooting. It says it: “Will legislate to close loopholes in the law protecting foxes and other wild mammals and remain committed to implementing the licensing of driven grouse shooting. We will implement the recommendations of the Deer Working Group and modernise deer management legislation.”
The SNP has been committed to legislating on all these issues for some time and whilst we would question the necessity and priority of at least some of the policy proposals, we do not believe hunting, shooting or wildlife management should be unduly threatened as long as any legislation is based on evidence and principle. The key question to MSPs of all parties will be whether they will commit to evidence-based legislation. The Scottish Countryside Alliance’s manifesto covers all these issues and Scottish voters can lobby their candidates.
The Welsh elections look less certain with the Conservatives challenging Labour for top spot in the polls and Plaid Cymru looking likely to play a significant role in the formation of the new government. Welsh Labour shares the ‘rural problem’ that has contributed so significantly to Labour’s recent General Election failures. The next few weeks of campaigning give it an opportunity to at least start to restate its priorities for rural Wales as nationally Labour has taken the first tentative steps in that direction by admitting that its approach has been wrong. That will require Welsh Labour to drop its habit of adopting knee-jerk rural policies which it thinks will appeal to its urban core. With Plaid Cymru’s strong focus on rural communities and the Conservatives’ continuing electoral success in Wales, the alternative is an urban/rural split opening up across Wales. Again we have published our Welsh manifesto and those of you in Wales can lobby constituency and list candidates through our e-lobby function.
Whether you are in England, Scotland or Wales, the most important message is to get out and vote, and to encourage family, friends and neighbours to get out too. We may sometimes be frustrated that the views of the urban majority can take precedence over those of us who live in the countryside, but we cannot complain if we have not registered our vote and ensured that our voices are heard.