Another referendum is upon us.
Readers may have noticed that my usual political commentary has been largely missing the past while. I admit to being somewhat burned out after the Presidential election last year and equal parts bored/depressed by everything that has followed on the Irish political scene.
But that will change in the next while as we gear into another vote on another EU treaty. For the moment and the coming weeks, my thoughts on this matter will not actually be about my own opinion on the treaty itself. That will come, but I want to hear some debate and read up more before committing myself to one view or the other. I do have a side I am leaning towards at the moment, but all will be revealed at a later time, and certainly not until an actual date for a vote is made.
For now, I’ll just discuss the political consequences and expected actions of either side in the coming debate and poll, with a focus on studying what parties are doing and commentary on their success (or failure in conveying their message and convincing voters).
Three things will motivate people for the coming referendum, three primary emotions and feelings. They are fear, anger and confusion.
People have a lot to be afraid about. They are afraid for their jobs or their prospects if unemployed. They are afraid for their future and their children’s future. They are afraid for their homes, their bills, their mortgages. They are afraid that things will continue to get worse and that the nation picking the wrong answer to the question before us will be the cause.
People have a lot to be angry about. They are angry about broken election promises. They are angry that things are not improving. They are angry at a toothless opposition and angry at Ireland’s political system as a whole. They are angry about taxes and charges. They are angry about what is going only, generally.
People have a lot to be confused about. They are confused about the most likely solution to the financial crisis. They are confused about the EU’s intentions towards us. They are confused about another EU Treaty whose wording is not designed for the layman. They are confused about possible outcomes and what they will lead to.
The “Yes” and ”No” sides of this debate will be trying to influence and pull at the electorate by manipulating these three emotions and feelings in their favour, by appealing to people in those terms. Rational debate and reasoned explanation will occur, but we all know how EU referendums campaigns will go. And the stakes are high here.
What will the “Yes” side be doing?
Fear: They will play on the idea of a catastrophic consequence to a “No” vote. Bank runs, ATMs out of cash, investor confidence in Ireland vanishing completely. They will point at Greece as an example that we should be afraid to follow. They will play to that fear of losing what we have and fear of losing the lifeline that the EU represents. Fear is the “Yes” sides primary angle to work with.
Anger: They may perhaps try and manipulate angry feelings towards the likes of Sinn Fein, but that will be slim pickings. The “Yes” side will be trying to calm passionate feelings, not inflame them.
Confusion: The “Yes” side will play on lack of awareness of European affairs to play up the fear aspect, turning any uncertainty on specific points or possible consequences into worst case scenarios. Confusion, mixed with worry, will be something the “Yes” side will try to create. It worked for Lisbon II.
What will the “No” side be doing?
Fear: They will play to the same fear as the Yes side, just on the opposite spectrum: more EU interference and power, austerity forever, more ineffectual solutions to a crisis that will engulf us. The Lisbon I tactics of widescale nonsense – conscription, mushroom cloud posters and minimum wage cuts – will not fly this time round of course, but some may attempt.
Anger: The big one. The “No” side will want to make people angry and angrier still, at the “Yes” side, the government and the EU, for being the architects of the crisis and the agents of its continuation. They will try and channel that anger into an emotion based voting decision, in their favour.
Confusion: The “No” side will play to the standard referendum tactic, which is the message that if you do not understand any aspect of the treaty, you should vote “No” just in case, to emphasis you’re dissatisfaction with how it has been promoted. Lisbon I had scores of this.
I pass no comment on the legitimacy or moral standard of these election tactics of course. We can say it is all despicable and scaremongering and not right, but that will not make it any less a reality. I suppose I can only warn you to look out for any side of the coming treaty divide trying to manipulate you through one of the stated emotions. Rationality is something that both sides will want to curtail.
If forced into making a proclamation, I would guess that this referendum will not receive a “Yes” vote. There are too many factors going in the “No” sides favour to be confident of a positive response from the Irish electorate.
Sometime next week I’ll go through the stance and probable behaviours of each party in the coming campaign season.