Yes camp to ramp up fear factor as conviction fails

Has a yes campaign in a referendum ever sounded less enthusiastic about the proposal it is endorsing?

Fine Gael’s campaign director Simon Coveney admitted over the weekend that the fiscal treaty would “not by a long shot” solve all of Ireland’s problems.

Before that, Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin, also on the yes side, admitted the treaty was “by no means a panacea to all of our problems”.

Or take one of the economists whom Sinn Féin selectively quoted to strengthen its call for a no vote.

On a party leaflet, Sinn Féin reprinted the following quote from a newspaper opinion piece by UCD economics lecturer Colm McCarthy: “As an exercise in addressing the eurozone’s twin banking and sovereign debt crises, the fiscal compact makes no worthwhile contribution.”

Sinn Féin was rightly criticised for omitting the fact that McCarthy actually supported a yes vote. In that same piece, McCarthy had gone on to say that, despite the treaty’s flaws, a no vote made little sense.

“There is no percentage in running the risk of losing support from official lenders, even if that might not be needed in a benign scenario. Moreover, a rejection of the treaty would antagonise the ECB, whose hostility towards this country has been amply demonstrated.

“If there has to be a referendum, the electorate would be well-advised to swallow hard and vote yes, notwithstanding the inadequacies of the treaty.”

But while advocating a yes vote, McCarthy criticised the treaty itself, and he’s not alone on the yes side in considering the treaty to be flawed.

Cobbled together, a document of compromise rather than conviction, the treaty induces a similar lack of conviction in some of those selling it.

This may actually prove as big a problem to the yes side as the strength or otherwise of the no campaign.

It is why some in Government are already focusing on the fear factor — emphasising the fact that Ireland will not be allowed access the EU’s future bailout fund, the ESM, if it fails to ratify the treaty.

And the Government is likely to ramp up the fear factor if the yes side’s lead continues to shrink.

The latest Sunday Business Post Red C poll shows the yes side’s lead has shrunk by four points in a month. As things stand, 47% of likely voters intend to vote yes, 35% no, and 18% are undecided.

A 12-point lead, while decent, is hardly overwhelming, considering that no campaigns in previous referendums have been able to make up a lot of ground fast.

Roughly four weeks out from the first referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in 2008, a TNS MRBI poll for The Irish Times showed the yes side on 35% and the no side on 18%. A week out from the vote, a further poll revealed a dramatic shift, with the no side up to 35% and the yes side down to 30%. Sure enough, the treaty crashed to defeat.

A 12-point lead at this stage, therefore, will reassure nobody on the yes side. The difficulty in sounding convincing about the treaty itself won’t help. The no side has ready-made slogans — with “austerity treaty”, in particular, likely to be pretty effective.

So what can win the campaign for the yes side? Political self-interest among the government parties. In Lisbon 1, Fianna Fáil was asleep at the wheel and ran a shambolic campaign in which few of its TDs, senators or councillors canvassed that hard. Brian Cowen’s leadership never recovered.

Fine Gael and Labour will surely have heeded that lesson.

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