What will we be voting about on May 31st? It is one of the toughest Treaty referendum questions to answer.
If you are to believe the thousands of posters that adorn our street lamps we are either voting yes to stability and jobs or voting no to austerity. A simple enough choice… or so you’d think? Unfortunately, as the campaign progresses, it is becoming clear that neither the Yes nor the No poster claims stands up to much scrutiny.
Do we really think we will suddenly achieve stability and more jobs if we vote yes? I suspect that even the most ardent of yes voters believes that to be case.
On the other hand does the most convinced no voter think that the austerity measures, including household and septic tank charges will disappear if 50% plus one of us votes no? I doubt it.
So what are we voting about?
The best answer I have heard so far has not come from a member of government, the ULA or Sinn Féin. It came, peculiarly enough, from a Euro bureaucrat, a former member of the board of the European Central Bank member. Not the type of person you would expect to speak with simplicity and clarity, yet he did.
Speaking on RTE Radio One’s This Week programme, Lorenzo Bini Smaghi described the decision before us with a cheque book analogy. After years of having separate current accounts, he explained, the Eurozone countries have decided to have one current account and one single chequebook between them for certain purposes.
The risk with this is that any individual country could abuse their access and stick others with the bill, so it is important to agree a set of strict and enforceable rules beforehand. These rules are set out in the Fiscal Treaty. If you want to be able to use the joint account, you need to agree the rules. Refuse to agree the rules and you won’t be allowed near the chequebook.
It is a simple and effective explanation.
What we are voting about is our relationship with the Eurozone countries. Do we want to continue and strengthen that relationship or do we want to weaken it. This does not mean that voting No is the same as being against the Europe, but the choice we are facing has become starker than we would like it to be.
Ok. So now that I have attempted to make the issue a little clearer and get behind the hype and hysteria printed on the posters let me now reverse the process and confuse it again.
While much of the debate has been about the EU and the Euro let me point to another level in the debate. Though it does not get mentioned so much, this referendum has become a proxy battle on the future of left versus right politics in Ireland.
Before The Declan Ganley entered the fray the battle lines had been drawn up along clear Left/Right lines.
On the Yes side you had the right/centre right parties (FG, FF and even Lab), the employers’ and business organisations, the farmer’s groups and the more conservative trade unions.
On the No side you had the radical and left parties, People Before Profit, Joe Higgins Socialists, Sinn Féin, the more radical trade unions.
A Yes result would recalibrate the centre of the Irish political spectrum several degrees to the right. While this would not vanquish the left, it would limit their scope and hem them in.
This could help explain why Sinn Féin has been so fierce in urging a No. A Yes vote would place a definite ceiling on their ambitions and make the centre/centre right economic approach the norm for at least the next decade.
This would leave the hard left /socialist factions with no influence, just sitting on the sideline spouting rhetoric – so, no change there.
The main casualty could be Irish Labour Party, no matter what the result. “Frankfurt’s Way or Labour’s Way” may turn out to be the most devastating political slogan of recent times – devastating to its authors, that is.