Scare tactics of No camp was the greatest deceit

Thu, Jun 19, 2008, 01:00

Legally binding agreements do not lend themselves to loose, easy-to-understand language, writes David Adams

IF I were a citizen of the Republic, I would have voted in favour of the Lisbon Treaty. For two main reasons.

First, I am a strong supporter of the EU project.

Not only are the economic and social benefits immense, but, given the history of Europe, it is an essential bulwark against the destructive power of narrow nationalism.

Second, even if I were somewhat eurosceptic, there is still no way I would have aligned myself with the motley collection of malcontents, fanatics and hidden-agenda merchants at the forefront of the No campaign.

When extreme leftists and far rightists find common cause, it pays to be wary.

When they are joined by Old Testament-type religious fundamentalists, ourselves-alone nationalists, and foreign business and media interests thinly disguised as citizens lobby groups, it is time to run as fast as you can in the opposite direction.

Vote for the Lisbon Treaty?

If need be, I would have fought my way into a polling booth to vote in favour of whatever a crowd like that was opposing.

Each subdivision of the No camp had its own particular scare story to peddle.

These came together, mosaic-like, to give an overall picture of the supposed dystopian nightmare that lay on the other side of popular endorsement.

According to the No "analysis", the Lisbon Treaty allowed for the formation of a largely unaccountable European super state with direct access to untold military might, eager to throw its weight around on the world stage.

This new power hungry uber-Europe would court disaster by squaring up to existing or emerging economic and military heavyweights such as the USA, China, India and Russia.

Member states would have little say over their own domestic arrangements, never mind be in a position to put a brake on EU aggression.

There would be abortion on demand, climate change would be allowed go unchecked and, quite uniquely, workers and employers alike would suffer terribly.

The No camp stopped short of alleging that there were pending European edicts on compulsory homosexuality and the eating of newborn babies to counter population growth, but such claims would have fitted easily into the dark, post-Lisbon world they painted.

The greatest deceit of all was that a simple No majority would dispel this virtual Oceania, because Lisbon could easily be re-negotiated.

Most people found the treaty well nigh indecipherable, so were unable to ascertain for themselves that most of what they were being told was wildly exaggerated nonsense.

For the same reason, the advocates of a Yes vote could do no more than argue that the anti-treaty people were wrong.

The idea of sending a copy of the Lisbon Treaty to every household was commendably democratic, but nonetheless a complete waste of time, money and effort, not to mention paper.

As we in the North found with the Belfast Agreement (which is a relaxing bedtime read in comparison), most people will not even try to grapple with the complexities of a legalistic document.

They rely instead on politicians and "experts" to interpret it for them.

The larger and more intricate the proposition, the more scope there is for scaremongers to bombard the public with bleak predictions.

Thankfully, in our case all but a few decided that whatever lay on the other side of ratification must surely be better than the then existing state of perpetual conflict.

Most voters in the Republic took the opposite view.

For them the status quo appeared utopian compared to the virtually unchallengeable bleak alternative outlined by the No camp.

Although politicians are understandably reluctant to say so publicly for fear of appearing to portray the people as stupid, they know full well that the electorate is incapable of understanding complicated treaties and assessing their full implications.

This will continue to be a major problem in Ireland so long as there remains a constitutional imperative to put such things to referendum.

Legally binding agreements do not lend themselves to loose, easy-to-understand language, at least not if they are to remain as precise and watertight as is necessary.

Nor in a referendum can you merely distribute a simplified version.

That takes you into the realms of simply peddling your own interpretation, which defeats the purpose.

At present, there is no alternative to presenting the electorate with an unabridged proposition, and asking them to make an informed decision on something beyond their understanding. One wonders how long this can be allowed continue.

Perhaps the next referendum should be on necessary changes to the Irish Constitution to allow politicians do their jobs.

They are, after all, elected by the people to make decisions on their behalf.

What of democracy?

The arrogant subtext of the No campaign was that every political party bar one, and every locally-based European expert worthy of the name, along with most business and union leaders, had either failed to understand the Lisbon Treaty or were conspiring together to introduce something that would be to the lasting detriment of Ireland.

Their scare tactics succeeded simply because elected representatives were hamstrung by a lack of knowledge on the part of the people.

How did that enhance democracy?