Ireland’s no campaign

Early reports are suggesting that the Irish have rejected the Lisbon Treaty on a lowish turnout of 40% – low turnouts help the No campaign because their supporters are generally more likely to vote. The leader of the Libertas group (one of the anti-treaty campaign organisations) is quoted in the London Times as saying:

The Irish people should never have been taken for granted. In their enormous wisdom they have taken on board the treaty, looked at the arguments and, it seems that we have returned the same result again that our fellow Europeans in France and the Netherlands have already sent to the unelected Brussels elite.

Leaving aside the claim that the EU is run by an unelected elite – see Wednesday’s post – this is decent summary of the pro-referendum case: the Irish people voted no because they really looked at the issues and made a rational decision. However, the argument that a single-issue referendum is really participative democracy at work has several holes.

Least serious is the low turnout. Although the 40% who did turn out were likely to be heavily skewed towards ‘no’ voters, it’s generally accepted that local elections in the UK are legitimate, and they have lower turnouts.

The claim for the ‘enormous wisdom’ of the Irish people should really be left to one side. Though I don’t doubt that the Irish people are generally wise and know what’s good for them, the vox pops from various media sources over the past few days have suggested that – though wise – they don’t understand what’s in the treaty.

The claim that goes to the heart of the matter is the claim that the Irish voters have ‘taken the treaty on board and looked at the arguments’. It’s a clever way of avoiding a statement that the Irish people have read the treaty, which I am sure is demonstrably untrue. They have, as you might expect, taken on board the arguments, as presented in the media and by the two campaigns, but what if – as the Yes campaign and some foreign media have been asserting – the arguments they have been taking on are false or exaggerated?

(As an aside, it’s worth noticing that the British Eurosceptic press, in the form of the Irish Sun, Irish Daily Mail, etc., have, according to Le Monde, about a fifth of the Irish newspaper market.)

It seems rather of a piece with media coverage on many controversial issues: two groups or people in a room arguing head-to-head over an issue. It doesn’t matter that one side has lots of evidence and the other little – such as with the MMR scare in the UK – everything is presented as 50:50. In fact, given the political tenor of the times, a 50:50 presentation is more like a 40:60 presentation, because the anti-establishment voice always gets the benefit of the doubt.

To put it another way, it’s rather like the American creationists who want schools to ‘teach the controversy’ about evolution: put lots of boring evidence up against a few emotional arguments, and rationalism doesn’t often win.


Published by Anthony Zacharzewski

Anthony Zacharzewski was one of the founders of Demsoc in 2006. Before starting work for Demsoc in 2010, he was a Whitehall civil servant and a local government officer.