(you know the ‘clunk’ that happens when a record player stops playing and returns the arm to the rest position? That’s a bit like what Irish politics sounds like now, only more ominous)
[Friday, June 13th]
The Lisbon Treaty has been rejected in a referendum in Ireland, by a vote of 53.4% No, and 46.6% Yes, and on a turnout of 53.1% (reasonably high for an Irish referendum... and, um, not low enough for the government to do a 're-run' like they did the last time). My own constituency of Dun Laoghaire in Dublin county bucked the No trend, as it usually does on European referenda, and returned a Yes vote of 63.5% - the highest in the country. In total, only 10 out of 43 constituencies voted Yes, making this a seriously bad result for the government (and major political parties).
I bring you this news, partly to show I'm not immediately abandoning the issue because of an unfavourable result, and partly because the result means it now becomes even more important. Not only does it have a lot to say about the state of politics in Ireland - the blunt analysis is that rural and working-class voters voted No, and that middle-class urban voters voted Yes but in an insufficient degree to swing the result - but also for the progress of the European Union. Put it this way:
1. 862,000 voters (just over 1,600,000 if you include both sides; from ireland.com) have individually halted the ratification of a treaty for 495.5 million people (the total population of the 27 EU member states, according to Wikipedia.)
2. If that wasn't irrational enough, a large number, if not the majority, of those people have no tangible or constructive reason for voting No, and hence no points on which to 'renegotiate' the treaty, if that was even possible. That's not an entirely a criticism of the No side - I don't think this should really have been put to a referendum, at least not as the only country. The Yes campaign, in the most part at least, was willing to offer a constructive campaign - for a more effective, more efficient, more democratic Europe.
Instead we had commissioners, commissioners, abortion, neutrality and micro-chipping babies. Okay, so the last one was probably not a real No poster. But it sure fitted in well...
I feel an unhelpful rant coming on (as opposed to the preceding, well-constructed one) so I should stop now. I kind of want to come back and expand on a few points; my ire was originally meant to be directed at this Fox News report on the rejection - it's funny, because it's got most of its facts right, but slips in subtle anti-EU colour whenever it can; "the EU's power base of Brussels and other European capitals" makes it sound like an 'evil empire', while glossing over the whole 'political community' thing:
"Voters cited myriad fears over the rapid growth and ambitions of the EU. Anti-treaty groups from the far left and right mobilized "No" voters by claiming that the treaty would empower EU chiefs in Brussels, Belgium, to force Ireland to change core policies — including its low business tax rates, its military neutrality and its ban on abortion."
Here's it's description of the Dublin result in the constituency adjacent to mine: "In suburban south Dublin, a largely wealthy and highly educated district, the "Yes" camp triumphed with 63 percent of the vote. But a neighboring, scruffier district voted 65 percent "No."
While quoting Joe Higgins, no longer in fact "the sole Socialist Party member in the Irish parliament", as he was voted out over a year ago in the last general election, it gives the last word - or rather, curiously mixed metaphor - to a closet Socialist Worker's Party (SWP) member from my constituency (narrowly beaten from taking the final fifth seat, by the Green Party candidate, whom I voted for):
'"People felt a convincing case for the treaty had not been made, and they felt hectored and bullied into supporting it while the wool was being pulled over their eyes," said Richard Boyd Barrett, leader of a hard-left pressure group called People Before Profit.'
(You can read a much better international report from the NY Times here)
What next for Europe, and for Ireland?
[Saturday, June 14th]
Some interesting things coming out in the news this morning. For a start, there's a realisation that I probably shouldn't have been reading the Irish Times if I want to understand the No vote. On the blogosphere,
No Ordinary Fool reckons South County Dublin should secede from the rest of the No-voting country; (he's joking of course)
Unarocks reckons, of course, that it was the Micro Chips wot did it;
Head Rambles reckons yesterday was "a very good day for democracy" and "a quiet rebellion by the People of Ireland for being treated like fools".
In today's Irish Times, Richard Sinnott - a professor of political science in UCD whom I had as a lecturer during my first year there - has a very good analysis. He was the commentator who worked out the mainstream interpretation of the Nice I and Nice II votes (namely, that the number of No votes stayed the same, but the Yes vote increased dramatically with turnout, winning the second referendum). Using an Irish Times/MRBI poll that predicted accurately the result of this referendum, he attempts to tease out some of the demographics behind the No vote: (full article here)
"Among the myriad of individual reasons underlying the actions of individual voters, two overall categories stand out.
The first was a lack of confidence in people regarding the issues. Those who felt they had some understanding of the issues indicated an intention of voting Yes by a two-to-one ratio.
Among the very substantial proportion that didn’t know what the treaty was about, Yes voting fell to one in 10."
I think the last line of that is especially telling. Arguably, voters who felt they had insufficient knowledge of the issue at hand should have abstained - or spoilt their vote. The fact that so few did - spoiled votes making up, I believe, 0.3% of the total - indicates the success the No campaign had in convincing people that "if in doubt, vote no". A lack of knowledge, whether one can blame it on failings of the Yes campaign or even on the unworkability of a plebiscite of this nature, was fatal to the treaty
There were, however, further obvious divisions between the constituencies which supported and which opposed the treaties. On these, Sinnott remarks:
"substantial voting contrasts across the social spectrum… are particularly striking in a political system with almost no class differences between the main parties. However, it is also possible that social class differences in support for the Lisbon Treaty may reflect occupation-related differences in exposure to and vulnerability in the face of globalisation."
Sound advice for all dismayed Yes voters:
“There will be a temptation to blame the voters – a temptation that should be strongly resisted. Rather, the reasons (and emotions) that lie behind the No vote need to be determined, as well as the way in which the Yes campaign failed to persuade a large swathe of the electorate of the merits of the case for ratification."