#Euref: Underlying questions too big for a simple Yes or a No. What about a ‘Not Yes’?

Last night’s avalanche of advocacy for the NO campaign on Vincent Browne was remarkable. Watch it though, especially for Sigrun Davidsdottir‘s remarks on why Ireland is not Iceland that seemed not to come to the notice of our eponymous host.

Hint: neither includes the fact that Ireland is hemmed in by the EU, nor that Iceland is blessed with endless quantities of valuable natural resources.

So first, try this fascinating little vignette on P.ie on why you might question one of the flakier assertions on the No side:

There has been the let’s-veto-the-ESM answer. Quite how this would magic into existence billions of euro in funding is certainly beyond this writer.

The Referendum Commission nailed it early on and to be honest, no one should have needed the eminent Mister Feeney to point out the blindingly obvious that Ireland – providing little more than 1% – could block a fund that can be established once the ESM treaty has been ratified by euro member states representing 90% of its capital commitments.

The answer most peddled – because it’s the most hypothetical hence most difficult to prove/disprove – has been the line that we will get funding even if we don’t ratify – the gun to our heads option.

(a) It requires one to leave aside the glaringly obvious paragraph in the Treaty’s preamble that states we won’t.

(b) As per Karl Whelan last night, it also requires one to believe that Ireland is some sort of special case and that the tax payers of the other signatory nations (many of whom are poorer than Ireland) will be happy to see their lawmakers stump up vast amounts of cash for us despite our having voted the Treaty down.

(c) It presumably requires one to believe that we would get the funding on better conditions than those available if we voted yes.

(d) It requires one to believe the the bond markets will regard us as being a lower risk if we undermine our prospects of ESM access.

(e) It requires one to believe that the future stability of the eurozone rests on the funding of Irish public services and social welfare. We need to get over ourselves. Greece is imploding and is likely to implode a lot more. I don’t see Germany in difficulties. What I see is a division emerging between vulnerable countries on the one hand and the ultra-safe bunds on the other. I believe the Germans are for some shorter term maturities now effectively borrowing for free.

(f) It doesn’t take a greatly perceptive mind to see that a firewall could be built around Ireland, not to protect us but to protect others from us. Funds could be used to honour our sovereign debt obligations as they become due whilst providing little or nothing for public service or welfare funding in this country. These items are very clearly separable. They could protect the rest of the eurozone while we twist in the wind.

This campaign has been characterised by a great deal of bluster and nonsense. For instance, the treaty may bring stability in the very short term, but even a cursory glance to Europe proves beyond doubt that there is no guarantee of that.

The Council of European Council makes progress only slowly, and otherwise continues to fiddle whilst the Euro burns. The structural debt clause would be a fiscal straight jacket, if there was ever a way found to fairly and effectively enforce it.

Then again, would you take a 66/1 bet in the grand national?

Well, you might. But the chances of a pay off would very much depend on the destruction of the chances of a whole field of more favoured horses and you managing to stay on board your plucky wee grey.

In short, it’s hard not to sympathise with some of the more principled critics of the treaty, but hard to contemplate life for the Republic without the cover of the EU’s larger, and now decision making, nations (European Parliament, how are ya?).

John Waters in the Irish Times renders an interesting and creative answer of his own:

It is not that No is for me the wrong answer, but that I know it will be misinterpreted as a vote for Sinn Féin or some other cynical entity with even less chance of having to implement the consequences of what emerges and deal with what happens next. A No will sound like the inarticulate speech of the unknowing, the unthinking and the beyond caring, whereas a Not Yes could be a way of making a precise point.

[John, if you ever get over your allergy to reading blogs, I think you might find an echo of some of your feelings in this acute critique of ReferenDUMs]

He continues:

…there has been minimal space for any of this complexity in a debate characterised by two opposing forms of condescension. On the one hand there has been the condescension of what might broadly be termed “the establishment”, insisting that there is no rational answer but Yes; on the other, the condescension of those who urge us to vote No in the hope of feathering their political nests with the meagre, ragged down of our disillusion. The real question in this referendum is rather different from the one on the voting papers, or being discussed in the referendum debates.


The real question is the unwritten plea being issued to the electorate by the current generation of politicians-in-power.

It goes something like this: “Since we have no possibility of continuing to run the Irish State other than on the take-it-or-leave-it basis currently laid down by our, eh, partners – and set out unambiguously in this ‘stability pact’ – do we have your unconditional agreement to do anything we consider necessary to keep the money coming? Yes or No?” Thus, in this campaign, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have finally given voice to their ideological interchangeability. The worst nightmare of this generation of politicians would be to wake up one morning and have to face the prospect of organising Ireland’s affairs outside of the embrace of the dependency that has sustained it for so long.

This, really, is the meaning in this context of “stability”.

And, in a country that has long worn its hard won independence on its sleeve but has rarely shown much inclination to treasure the privileges of self determination:

Much as I might wish, it is probably impossible to deliver the kind of No that would carry the conviction of independence, national dignity and self-respect. These qualities are long lost to us. To really say No – rather than tearing our jackets off and shouting to bystanders to hold us back or we’ll have to be dug out of the Germans – would require a guiding idea and this is even more remote from the capacities of the parties advocating a No than from the imaginations of those pleading with us to vote Yes.

It says something about the character of Irish politics that such an imaginative step away from current realities typically resides merely in the head of a single writer. [Voices off: “We are where we are. Going forwards…” “Goooing backkawwaarrrds”]

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