THE BLOG

Social Media Is Revolutionising the Political and Democratic Process

18/09/2014 11:08 BST | Updated 17/11/2014 10:59 GMT

With the Yes and No camps almost neck and neck in the polls, the result of the vote on Scottish independence looks set to go right down to the wire.

If predictions turn out to be true, voter turnout today should be as high as 80%, a level general elections haven't achieved in decades. And what's galvanised the Scottish people like no other British political debate in recent memory, sparking a truly national debate, has been a grassroots approach to engaging with the electorate. Social media has played a crucial role in this for both campaigns.

The Scottish referendum has in fact offered a blueprint for how all political campaigns should be managed in future. For a British electorate increasingly disenchanted by the political system and still reeling from the fallout over the expenses scandal, social media offers the chance to start genuine and meaningful dialogue.

You only need to watch Prime Minister's Questions each week to get a sense of how closed the UK's political system is and how remote politicians have become. As members of the house shout each other down, ordinary people have no opportunity to engage with the debate.

Social media could play a huge part in bridging that gulf, if the lessons of the Scottish referendum are learned. The problem to date has been that too many of our politicians do the bare minimum when it comes to social. In other words, they set up a Twitter or Facebook profile and then have PR and social media teams update them with boring and meaningless content. David Cameron's embarrassing 'on-the-phone-to-Obama' selfie is just one example.

Why can't some of the questions put to the Prime Minister at PMQs each week come from ordinary members of the public, who send them via social media channels? One of the great successes of the Scottish Independence referendum is that large swathes of the electorate have been encouraged to add their voice to each campaign. You could argue the televised debates between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling were side shows, with the vast majority of conversations taking place between friends and family, particularly on social media.

If politicians are willing to embrace social, it has the potential to revolutionise the whole political process. In time there's no reason why we couldn't even register our vote via social media. We're already voting for the winners of various reality and talent shows on television, why can't we do the same with our local MP or councillor? Ensuring that each vote is genuine is not an insurmountable challenge.

The crisis of confidence in politics and the growing gap between the political establishment and ordinary voters is increasingly palpable. The debate over Scottish independence has shown that, in the age of social media when ordinary people have a growing voice, the closed-door political process will be out of place.

Politicians are going to have to be willing to build greater dialogue with the electorate - and I don't just mean appearing on Question Time every once in a while. The dialogue must be real and ongoing - social media will be crucial in making this a reality.