Friday 21 September 2018

It's time we gave credit to people who voted, not the 'Yes' campaigners

Celebrations at Dublin Castle
Celebrations at Dublin Castle

The phrase 'history is written by the victor' originally applied to war. It also applies to referendums.

The victorious discussion of the marriage equality referendum has largely focused on how the 'Yes' side won through heavy canvassing, clever use of social media and consistent grassroots work.

The problem is the numbers don't fully bear that out. Back in December, an Ipsos poll showed 70pc of people intended to vote 'Yes', with 17pc voting 'No'. That narrowed to 62pc/37pc. In other words, during the course of the campaign the number of 'No' voters doubled, and most undecideds opted for 'No'.

None of this is comment on the result, which was a clear and definitive statement of support for equality. But it's hard to see how a shift towards No can be read as evidence of an effective Yes campaign.

Contrast that with the experience of Lisbon 2, where a majority against became a majority for. In fact, a higher percentage of people wanted the Lisbon Treaty adopted (67pc/32pc) than wanted marriage equality - despite starting from a much lower base. And Lisbon 2 saw a similar turnout as marriage equality - 60pc for Marriage, 59pc for Lisbon 2.

So boiled down, the marriage equality referendum was very similar to Lisbon 2 - slightly higher turnout, slightly lower margin.

The analysts nonetheless still pointed to the turnout as evidence of a 'groundswell' from all the heavy campaigning.

Both Lisbon and marriage equality saw an unusually high turnout - for a referendum. But both were spanked by every Dail election since 1948.

The result that was extraordinary last week was the presidential age vote - 73pc voted against lowering the age.

That's one of the most comprehensive rejections of a referendum in our history. We not only kicked the idea into touch, we booted it over the stands. Yet no-one is analysing that as an overwhelming victory for the 'No' campaign.

Rather, most of the analysis says we didn't give a rat's ass and therefore voted for the status quo.

The reason is simple. Few cared about the presidential poll, so no-one is invested in writing the history of the defeat.

This pattern of heavy analysis occurs after every tense election. We are fed an explanation for how clever campaigning delivered the result.

And all of this analysis is entertaining.

And it does add to the spectator sport that is Irish politics. But it has a downside. It transfers responsibility from the electorate to the campaigners.

Wouldn't it be much nicer to follow the story the numbers actually tell, that most Irish people are in favour of marriage equality?

From the first time they were asked they were in favour. And no campaigning changed their intrinsic desire for equality.

The victory was not won by clever campaigning, it was won by the people.


So you don't like this week's column? Then belt me, it might help me learn

We're in trouble with Europe for smacking our kids. Well, our laws call it 'reasonable chastisement'. But smacking is what it is. And a lot of people think Europe is wrong. But only 42pc of people (according to recent polls) believe smacking your kids should be illegal.

And there's an apparent logic to this - some parents feel there's a point where kids won't respond to anything else. Others think back to getting belted as kids and say 'well, it did me no harm'.

The best way to judge it is to put the logic in other contexts: 'My colleague was refusing to listen, so I smacked him'. 'I was spanked as a kid, it did me no harm, so I occasionally belt my husband.' 'Sometimes the only way to get through to staff is with a firm, open-palmed slap on the behind'.

Smacking children

We'd regard it as bizarre, inappropriate and most likely criminal to behave like that with adults. Yet nearly half of us are OK with doing it with kids, who are more fragile, more easily influenced, and way less able to defend themselves.

Kids may not always respond to reason, or conversation. But that creates an onus on adults to find a type of discipline that is not damaging.

Frustration or tiredness is not an excuse. And the fact that one generation had a less than ideal experience is no reason to recreate that experience for the next one.

Because while a lot of people may say 'being smacked did me no harm' I'd be willing to bet fewer say 'being smacked made me closer to my parents, made me happier, made me more confident, and was the only possible way my parents could have got through to me.'

And unless that's the view and that view is scientifically supported, then smacking ain't the way to bring up kids.

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