Perhaps, for first time in my life, I will spoil my vote

Fri, May 25, 2012, 01:00

YES VOTERS, like Tolstoy’s happy families, are essentially alike (if not quite happy), while each No and Don’t Know represents a unique form of unhappiness.

On second thoughts, most Yes votes will probably be just as negative as most Nos, being based on nothing more positive than terror of the future.

All I know for certain, less than a week from polling day, is that I will be voting Not Yes.

Not Yes is not the same as No, but neither is it a halfway-house between a positive and a negative. It is really a different kind of Yes.

For once, the conventional platitude that those who “don’t vote don’t count” becomes transparent in its spuriousness. Not to vote is to vote Not Yes, while avoiding voting No. Or perhaps, for the first time in my life, I will spoil my vote, but in a special, calculated way – by writing “Not Yes” across it.

But who will notice or care? It is not that No is for me the wrong answer, but that I know it will be misinterpreted as a vote for Sinn Féin or some other cynical entity with even less chance of having to implement the consequences of what emerges and deal with what happens next. A No will sound like the inarticulate speech of the unknowing, the unthinking and the beyond caring, whereas a Not Yes could be a way of making a precise point.

This referendum, then, when you start to really think about it, is far more complex than a black or white choice between Yes and No.

There are umpteen shades of grey, but there has been minimal space for any of this complexity in a debate characterised by two opposing forms of condescension. On the one hand there has been the condescension of what might broadly be termed “the establishment”, insisting that there is no rational answer but Yes; on the other, the condescension of those who urge us to vote No in the hope of feathering their political nests with the meagre, ragged down of our disillusion.  The real question in this referendum is rather different from the one on the voting papers, or being discussed in the referendum debates.

The real question is the unwritten plea being issued to the electorate by the current generation of politicians-in-power.

It goes something like this: “Since we have no possibility of continuing to run the Irish State other than on the take-it-or-leave-it basis currently laid down by our, eh, partners – and set out unambiguously in this ‘stability pact’ –  do we have your unconditional agreement to do anything we consider necessary to keep the money coming? Yes or No?” Thus, in this campaign, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have finally given voice to their ideological interchangeability. The worst nightmare of this generation of politicians would be to wake up one morning and have to face the prospect of organising Ireland’s affairs outside of the embrace of the dependency that has sustained it for so long.

This, really, is the meaning in this context of “stability”.

The very least I can do, then, is vote Not Yes to this implicit demand, by way of issuing an unequivocal rejection of the backdrop circumstance that the governance of Ireland has – incrementally over the course of 40 years – been transferred from our own flawed competencies into the embrace of a new and probably terminal enslavement. This is too noble an answer to be handed to Sinn Féin as an endorsement of its vacuous negativity and cynicism.

Much as I might wish, it is probably impossible to deliver the kind of No that would carry the conviction of independence, national dignity and self-respect. These qualities are long lost to us. To really say No – rather than tearing our jackets off and shouting to bystanders to hold us back or we’ll have to be dug out of the Germans – would require a guiding idea and this is even more remote from the capacities of the parties advocating a No than from the imaginations of those pleading with us to vote Yes.

My Not Yes, then – however I finally decide to express it – will be intended as a complex commentary on the failure of the Irish State.

It will, in its clear-headed if potentially futile way, be a judgment on the past half-century of Irish public life – an era when a generation of Irish politicians became so reliant on selling off the family furniture that they were enabled to retire from serious consideration of how Ireland might make its own way in the world. And risibly, they were enabled by the accompanying chorus of ignorant media approval to call this “progress”.

Ultimately, my Not Yes will be an annunciation of my certainty that, one Monday morning in the not-too-distant future, we shall have to climb out of bed and begin reconstructing our country from the ground up.

This day will dawn whether we vote Yes or No. But a Not Yes will at least have the benefit of conveying a little more readiness. A Not Yes to the “stability” compact will be a Yes to the inevitability of starting over.

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