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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 17, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

    Thinking Negative, voting positive

    Harry McGee

    The latest polls have all been trending towards Yes even though there is still a lot of volatility and a greater number of undecideds than you would expect at this stage of the campaign.

    My own guess (and it’s not a particularly brave one) is that the referendum will be carried, not overwhelmingly, but comfortably.

    Of course, an occurrence could happen that would upset the apple tart, to employ the Bertie-ism. We saw it with the highly persuasive letter from former attorneys-general before the Abbeylara referendum. We also saw Sean Gallagher implode on Frontline (though the handywork was not all his own!) and throw away an unassailable lead.

    One of the most frequent complaints from past referendums is that people voted No for reasons that had nothing to do with the constitutional amendment being proposed.

    In a bit of a twist to that theme, we will now have a situation where people will be voting Yes but nor for reasons that tally with the Government’s case, or that would be seen as any kind of endorsement of its stance.

    In a tweet last night, I chose a brutal bovine metaphor. It’s like been given a choice between sitting on an electric fence or getting a good few jolts from an electric cattle prod. In both senses we are being herded somewhere against our will.

    There is a core No vote which is drawn from the urban working class, the poor, and from those who are opposed to either the EU or current Government policies on ideological grounds.

    The composition of the Yes vote is more complicated. There are those who support it wholeheartedly, either on its own merits, or through party support. Then there are those who aren’t convinced at all but look at those fronting up the No side and think: too radical; too unreliable; too scary.

    The No side have (perhaps rightly) accused the Government of pulling off a sly one by linking the ESM to the treaty. But in reality there was always going to be a quid pro quo for the ESM. Nobody expected us to get it in exchange for nothing.

    That said, No campaigners have not convinced people that the country’s funding situation will be sound in the event of a rejection. Their assurances have not been convincing enough for too many people.

    I’ve noticed at the doors that most civil and public servants have said they are voting Yes, not because they support the treaty, but because of their fears of what might happen in the event of a No vote. They feel they have no choice and many resent it.

    Unlike Nice and Lisbon there has been far more engagement. Having said that, many many people on doorsteps have been saying that they find it hard to understand. That is not surprising. EU treaties are not exactly from the Ladybird school of readability. Concepts like structural debt and the difference between GDP and GNP leave a lot of people stumped.

    But people are engaged and have their antennae up. I was out with Dublin Central TD Paschal Donohoe last night and what was striking was that people are acutely aware of the context, of the big picture, if not all of the technical detail of the treaty. They are also aware of all those events and encounters that have the potential to sway people one way or the other. Enda Kenny’s refusal to appear on TV3 with Vincent Browne has been widely noted. As has Michael Noonan’s remarks about feta cheese. As has the antipathy expressed by some people at the appearance of controversial figures on the No side such as Declan Ganley and the UKIP’s Nigel Farnage.

    And people have been airing grievances about household charges, about Labour and Fine Gael reneging on promises, on politicians’ pay, on the bankers getting away with it.

    But what I found very significant is that after getting all of that off their chests, a surprising number of people have then concluded by saying they will probably, and reluctantly, vote Yes.

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