Friday, 1 June 2012

Protest votes and constructive campaigns

Yesterday I voiced my reluctant support for a Yes vote in the Irish referendum over on the Guardian's Comment is Free website. Vincent Browne, an Irish journalist and broadcaster, contributed to the argument for a No vote. Perhaps it's unfair of me to go on about the referendum after the polls have closed (we should see the result later today), but this part of Vincent's argument in particular stood out for me:

"[On voting No] I will do so in awareness of the risk there is involved were a majority to do as I will do, and in disagreement with many of the claims made by the no side in the campaign."

Unfortunately this line devalues the rest of the argument, since it seems to be made from the viewpoint that he hopes that there is a Yes vote to prevent the consequences of a No vote, while at the same time being free to issue a protest vote. (But then perhaps I've misread it and he simply wants to emphasise that he is aware of the consequences). Vincent goes on to outline that he is voting No: in protest against the government, in opposition against the EU elite, in opposition against the German elite, in opposition to the neo-liberal agenda, to express indignation at the disregard for the procedures and rules of the EU, to prevent the fiscal rules from being written into the constitution, and in solidarity with those in Europe who have not had the chance to vote on it in referendum. I'm at a lost as to how a No vote could practically advance a political agenda on these fronts.

Now, it must be stressed that we wrote our arguments separately and without knowing the main arguments that the other would use, so we weren't really responding to each other. In fact, Vincent's argument is an extract of a longer article over at here. By coincidence, it was written on Tuesday, the same day I came out in favour of a Yes vote. In the director's cut version of his argument, Vincent admits that there will be austerity in any case and that we may have to ratify the treaty for a bail-out in the future (if we vote No now, then we would need to vote Yes in the future to get a bail-out, which he thinks will probably be necessary), but he bases his position on the need for a different kind of society:

"We need to work towards a radically different society, where people have some real control over their lives; where inequalities of wealth, income, power, influence, social capital and cultural capital are radically narrowed; where patriarchy is subverted; where respect is accorded to everyone equally, regardless of status, class, sex, wealth or position; where protections for workers are buttressed, not dismembered by “labour market reforms”.

And to achieve that those of us who believe in this kind of society have to win arguments and minds through thoughtful debate, diligent and truthful analysis expressed in accessible forms, devoid of the familiar weary clichés and bombast."

I would be interested in that debate, and in what Vincent sees as the main steps to get there. And what would be the kind of Europe that would facilitate this? What kind of Eurozone would be a more equal, just and lasting project?

I ended up siding with the Yes side this time around because I couldn't see any viable political agenda that could be pushed forward by voting No. If there was a more focused campaign, not limited to a single referendum, but on demonstrating support in Ireland and elsewhere in the Eurozone for the type of Eurozone people want to see, then it could form an effective rival vision. If Vincent - or others - are interested in promoting a vision of or a campaign for a more equal and workable Eurozone, then I would be interested in joining and supporting that.

In any case, I would like to hear what kind of Eurozone Vincent would vote for.

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