Contributed by Karen Partyka
On Thursday 18th September the Scottish people had the extraordinary opportunity to vote for or against independence. It was very interesting living in the country leading up to the day, things were much tighter than perhaps people could have hoped for. For me it was very inspiring seeing the pupils in my school who were eligible to vote throwing themselves into politics. Many that I spoke to had taken time to research the different options and thought carefully about their vote. They each took their vote seriously and felt they were making a difference in their country. Once they had made their decision they were passionate about their vote and got involved in the campaigning. Also in the school the younger pupils also were engaged. Even though they could not vote many had decided what they would have voted. There were many lively debates and discussions heard around the school, in the classrooms and in corridors.
But what struck me the most was how lucky I and the Scottish people were to have our democratic right to choose, to be able to go on the streets and campaign and engage with people and tell them what I had democratically chosen. There are many people in the world who do not have that right and in some cases do not have the freedom of speech.
I have a friend who told when he votes in his country, you go into the booth, mark your card with “your choice” then someone “checks” you have chosen the candidate that the government has decided will win then you put your card in the box. This is happening today! In these countries they would be arrested for campaigning for their candidate if it was not the chosen one. Today there are 5 communist countries where people do not have the democratic right to openly vote, there are also many more countries which have restrictions about freedom of speech and freedom of the press. According to the Press Freedom Index 2014 “the bottom three countries freedom of information is non-existent”. The Index lists 180 countries and Eritrea is 180th, North Korea 179th and Turkmenistan 178th. Other countries which have terrible records for free speech are Cuba and China and both these countries have the biggest prisons in the world for journalists according to the Press Freedom Index.
There are also countries where criticism of their religion or monarchy is illegal and people are imprisoned for committing these crimes.
All the information about lack of democracy and freedom of speech makes me realise that on Thursday 18th September 2014 along with 84% of the Scottish population we cast our vote in a democracy with no fear of imprisonment.