My Evening Herald column from today’s (Thurs May 24th) edition:
With less than a week to go the referendum campaign seems more and more to be about less and less.
On the face of it, if you believe the posters, the choice is to Vote Yes to achieve stability or to Vote No to end austerity.
But do any of us really believe these claims? Regrettably, like previous EU referendums the debate has been conducted at the extremes, not the centre. It was the case in the Nice and Lisbon referendums, remember those “€1.84 Minimum Wage after Lisbon” posters?
Mercifully, we have been spared the malign input of Cóir and Youth Defence this time. The are no loss, especially as most of them wouldn’t know a treaty from a tea-bag (to rob a line I recently overheard)
But this absence of any significant ultra right involvement on the no side does highlight a curious undercurrent to the campaign, one, which I suspect, may be a factor in how some people decide how to vote next week.
While the slogans maybe about the EU and the Euro the referendum has morphed into a proxy battle on the future of left / right politics in Ireland.
From the start the battle front was drawn up along left versus right lines.
On the Yes side you had the right and centre right parties: FG, FF and Lab (more about them later), the employers’ and business organisations, the farmer’s groups and the more established/mainstream trade unions.
On the No side you had the socialist and hard left parties, People Before Profit, Joe Higgin’s Socialists, Sinn Féin, the more radical trade unions.
While the entrance of The Declan Ganley somewhat clouded the the Left/Right delineation, it hasn’t ruptured it.
The sight of him sharing No platforms with irredentist left firebrands is a joy to behold, especially when you consider that they agree on virtually nothing, including Europe. Most on the hard left are euro-sceptic while The Ganley is avowedly Euro-federalist.
While passing the Fiscal Treaty will herald no major day to day changes – mainly because it just restates the centre/centre right economic orthodoxy in place since 2008 – it will cement it into domestic law for the foreseeable future.
It is this that the left fears and opposes most.
Passing the Treaty would recalibrate the centre of the Irish political spectrum a few points to the right. It won’t be a seismic or noticeable shift, but it torpedoes the Left’s ambitions of shifting it the other way.
It doesn’t vanquish them, nor does it make them to tone the rhetoric down. If anything, it will do the opposite, but in their hearts they will know that their ambition to shift Ireland economically to the left has been reversed.
This explains why the campaign from Joe Higgins, Boyd Barrett and Sinn Féin has been so fierce. But not as fierce as when its over and they start to target each other.
I am not predicting that their poll rating drops are set to drop. They won’t. They will probably rise as voters use them to express their disapproval of government parties going pack on pre election pledges.
But the Irish electorate is sophisticated. It is overwhelmingly aspirational. This applies across all social classes and communities. They want their kids to do better than they did. That decides voting intentions more than anything.
In the meantime Sinn Féin will continue to do well at Labour’s expense, after all Gerry and Mary Lou are saying now what Éamon and Joan were saying two years ago.
It is Labour who will be the biggest casualty. Polls showing 40% of Labour supporters voting No could have longer term ramifications for the leadership. But whatever they may be, they can be so where near as damaging as Gilmore’s infamous “Frankfurt’s Way or Labour’s Way” slogan.
It may turn out to be the most devastating political slogan of recent times – devastating to its authors, that is.