Before the conventional wisdom sets in stone, a few thoughts on the referendum campaign. First, win or lose, this looks to have been a good campaign for the left of the ‘no’ side. The profile of key Sinn Fein and ULA spokespeople will have been raised significantly as will their political credibility in key sectors of the electorate. The right of the ‘no’ side has been less successful. The prevarication of key actors (Ganley and Ross for example) and their late entry to the campaign didn’t serve them well, any more than did the premature withdrawal of Eamon O’Cuiv. In any post-referendum analysis it will be interesting to see data on the division of speaking rights between the left and right of the ‘no’ camp. On an impressionistic level, it has been the left that has overwhelmingly dominated the airwaves and the street canvass, in contrast to most of the Nice and Lisbon campaigns.
The second reflection is that the campaign – on both sides – has largely been driven by fear: fears raised by the ‘no’ campaign of further and/or accelerated austerity and fears raised by the ‘yes’ campaign of instability and economic collapse. Anger too has featured; anger directed towards government parties that have not delivered on their general election rhetoric, anger towards EU institutions and governments that have abjectly failed to contain, never mind resolve, the underlying euro crisis and anger – visceral anger – that Irish citizens continue to be sacrificed by the ECB in the name of euro zone banking stability. That is a burden, by definition, that should be shared across the euro zone.
With the hot money still placed on a modest ‘yes’ and the referendum result hinging on turnout, my own fear is that such a ‘yes’ vote might be presented by some as Irish resignation to the status quo. It will be the job of government to ensure that this is not the case and to press – quickly, forcibly and publicly – for a resolution to the bank and sovereign debt crisis. I appreciate that some have argued that a ‘no’ vote would create the systemic shock necessary to such a resolution, but I genuinely don’t believe that to be case and I judge the risks to be too high to take a punt in that direction.
My final thought is that while the fiscal treaty may reasonably be seen as a necessary condition to Irish economic stability post 2013, it is certainly not a sufficient one. Chancellor Merkel may have fewer political friends in European capitals, but she stands resolutely opposed to the kinds of measures most deem necessary to a resolution of the basic design flaws in the euro zone. With Spain teetering on the edge of the Troika abyss, an Irish ‘yes’ to the fiscal treaty may ultimately amount to less than a footnote in the history of either the euro’s collapse or its rescue from the burning ashes of this crisis..