Jim Carroll

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So, have you had a good referendum?

It has been the Vicky Pollard of referendum campaigns. When you have eminent columnists advocating “not yes” and “no, but” options, the Little Britain character’s “yeah but no but yeah” keeps coming to mind. Or, to keep it with UK …

Wed, May 30, 2012, 09:06

   

It has been the Vicky Pollard of referendum campaigns. When you have eminent columnists advocating “not yes” and “no, but” options, the Little Britain character’s “yeah but no but yeah” keeps coming to mind. Or, to keep it with UK comedy, you could always go with Lauren Cooper’s “am I bovvered?”

That’s the big question: are you bovvered? Are you bovvered enough to go down to your local polling station tomorrow and put an X beside the box with yes or no? Judging by the number of “don’t know” voters in even recent opinion polls, there are still a lot of Lauren Coopers and Vicky Pollards out there, even at this very late stage. You do know there’s a referendum tomorrow, right? Lots of posters up on lamp-posts about, lots of discussion and debate on all the usual media channels, Silvio Ganley back in the game.

The other big question is do you know what the hell you’re voting for or against? It has been the most confusing, odd-headed and downright contrary referendum campaign I can remember. Leaving aside the fact that it’s a campaign where both yes and no sides are populated by characters you’d leave the house to avoid who have been waffling non-stop since this thing began, every single argument seems designed to draw our attention in a totally different direction and towards a completely different issue to what we thought the discussion was about.

If this treaty is not directly about jobs, growth and foreign investment, as I’ve heard again and again during this campaign, it’s also not directly about household charges, septic tank charges or the common agriculture policy, to name three causes thrown into the mix by those advocating a no vote. Having sat down and read the damn thing at the weekend, I’m still none the wiser. I’ve come across record contracts which are far clearer about how they’re going to rip you off. But I do know there is no mention of “jobs” or “septic tanks” in there. If you don’t believe me, do a simple search and find. No mention either of feta cheese, but I think we knew that already. No mention of a second vote either, in fairness.

Like all referendums, this has become about political opportunity and the big winners here, no matter what’s the result, are Sinn Fein. They’ve used the referendum campaign to up their profile, consolidate their position as the main opposition party (in opinion poll terms, if not political representation yet) and get on the airwaves at every chance. Thankfully, they’ve used the campaign to get a couple of different voices out there repping their position – less Gerry Adams is a good thing for both the Irish electorate and the party, though it’s a bad thing for the yes campaign.

It’s interesting to note too that Sinn Fein have kept their distance from the rest of the no campaigners, more evidence of the referendum as political expediency. That said, I’m sure Sinn Fein will be looking at those huge double-sized “vote no” posters with Angela Merkel’s gob on them which have appeared all over Dublin in recent weeks and thinking “hmmm, double-sized posters”. Expect Sinn Fein to be in like Flynn all over the country when the local elections swing around.

The yes side were always going to be on a sticky wicket with this one and not just because they didn’t think of the double-sized posters wheeze. It’s 15 months since the general election which evicted Fianna Fail and the Green Party and brought in Fine Gael and the Labour Party. But the electorate, a body with short-term memories, are not happy with what’s going on since the switch. There is no point in harping on about the problems being caused on the last government’s watch or the need for cutbacks and austerity to correct these wrongs. As far as a large swathe of the electorate are concerned, they were promised change in 2011 when they voted for Fine Gael and Labour candidates and, well, they didn’t get that change. A no vote in the referendum is a chance to stick it to The New Men In the Pinstriped Suits.

Sure, anyway, won’t there be a second referendum if we say no to this? Richard Bruton may have corrected his gaffe on The Last Word, but the cat was out of the bag. The idea of putting something like this on the long finger is something which appeals to the Irish character and, given our history when it comes to re-running referendums until we eventually get the right answer, you can be sure that some yes votes have become no votes based on this rationale in the last few weeks.

But there won’t be a second referendum until the first one is out of the way and that’s tomorrow’s fun and games. Expect a low turnout, expect a much closer result than the polls are suggesting and expect many people – politicians, pundits and punters on both sides – to quietly breath a sigh of relief when the cap can be put on this vexatious campaign. Well, until the next time.

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