Having read this piece on Wales Home, I thought this was an issue worth flagging up here.  Should voting in the UK be compulsory?

Unlike Marcus Warner, the author of the Welsh piece, I’ve always been instinctively against compulsory voting. At heart, I’m a liberal. I think the state should be as small as possible, that it is a necessary evil, and it should only force the public to act in ways which are congruent with Mill’s ‘Harm Principle’ – that is to say, we cannot harm others. Other than that, I think we should be left to get on with our lives by ourselves.

But compulsory voting is an interesting idea for me, because it raises another classic liberal idea, that of participation in democracy. Rousseau believed that only in the act of voting were citizens truly free and that subsequently we became prisoners to what those whom we trusted to act in our interests decided. In essence, compulsory voting would be ‘forcing people to be free’. And I’m not convinced we should be forced into this.

There are other reasons to be sceptical too – if forced to vote, you can ‘sell’ it to the highest bidder (less in monetary terms than policy terms, though I wouldn’t rule out the former), a new brand of ‘consensus politics’ to make sure you connect with everyone and the fact that people are abstaining for a reason, a lack of engagement with politics, is not really addressed by forcing participation in elections. Also, if we were to do this, we should be doing it because it is right – and that compulsory voting wins over these arguments – and not simply because we fear ever-decreasing turnouts diminishing the legitimacy of our institutions.

In truth, I don’t know. The latter point is one that hits home in my mind, despite my scepticism. If our political institutions lack legitimacy (and you can see that in the Welsh Assembly, with legitimacy only just recovering from the 7,000 votes separating victory from defeat in the 1997 referendum) then the public engagement with those institutions suffers – and they further lose legitimacy. It’s a vicious circle, and one which deserves some kind of action.

Is compulsory voting the answer? In this round of constitutional reform, the answer appears to be no. But should it be? I don’t know seems like such a cop-out answer. And yet, that’s what I appear to be saying.  I do recognise that a low turnout in elections lends itself to questions about the legitimacy of those elected – and indeed, in the institutions themselves.  But if we are “forced to be free” (and I’m using that in not quite the way Rousseau did, though if his assertion that we are only truly free when electing our representatives is correct, then it follows) then the legitimacy that we are bestowing upon those who represent us appears to be artificial and manufactured at best.

In short, compulsory voting doesn’t solve the problem in re-engaging the public with politics, nor does it re-instil a sense of belief in the political structures, a belief which had been waning even before The Telegraph went to town on those whose expenses were not quite proper. Compulsory voting would serve only to draw back into a political process those who had lost faith in politics, those who remained unconvinced by the system they were forced to be a part of.

That paragraph seems to finally put me on one side of the debate. Compulsory voting would not do what was intended of it, therefore why should we adopt it? I almost feel daft, having raised the concept and now knocked it down.  Does anyone think it worthwhile discussing the idea?