The American columnist and wit Franklin P Adams noted that elections are won “chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody”.
If this is true than the Yes campaign for the Lisbon Treaty in Galway has a right to be worried, as the public has many reasons why it might feel justified in voting No again, and, much as it may be loath to admit it, some of those problems are of the Yes side’s own making.
The Yes side has first to overcome the fact that the Treaty was already defeated in Ireland last year. As such, many voters feel charges of a lack of democracy in the EU and an indifference to the views of its citizens are embodied by the fact that we have to hold another referendum - ‘You can vote any way you like as long as it’s Yes’.
A problem related to this is that honest questioning or reasonable criticism of the EU is instantly met with knee-jerk accusations of Euro-scepticism and ‘Do you want to go back to the way Europe was in the run up to WWII?”.
Democracy flourishes by free, open debate, and the right to question and criticise political institutions. Look at it this way, in Ireland we never stop giving out about our Government. Do we want the Dáil shut down and the return of British rule? Certainly not. It is the same with the EU. However, pro-EU groups have failed to grasp this.
While scaremongering from the No side helped defeat Lisbon I, the public expect better from the Yes side. As a result, claims that Ireland will be banished to the outer darkness by the EU do not have an impact, except make people want to vote No.
The public expects the Yes side to be positive, to argue why a Yes vote is a good thing, and how it will be of benefit to Ireland (Labour councillor Niall McNelis is to be commeded for always taking this approach ).
However, as with Nice, the Yes campaign is often lacklustre, uninspired, and worst of all, tends to be so enthusiastic about the EU, it fails to see that the public may need more convincing.
Politicians know never to take their votes for granted in local and general elections, so it is baffling as to why this happens in EU referendums.
Getting the public excited about the Treaty is not easy. EU votes are usually tied to other polls to ensure a decent turn out. Re-running a referendum in the winter (polling day is October 2 ) on something we already voted for could see a very low turn out.
That the Yes side is being led by the most unpopular Government of recent years, is also no help.
Times have also changed since the last Lisbon vote. The economy has nose-dived, NAMA is looming and the McCarthy and Commission on Taxation reports look set to reduce ordinary people to penury. There is still the suspicion that the Government will look after its cronies in the banks and among the developers. The rich will be protected by the money of the less well off.
As Bill Clinton said: “It’s the economy, stupid”. People have far more to worry about - indeed very real things to worry about - than an EU Treaty. Hence the importance for the Yes side of arguing that Lisbon is good for job creation.
The Yes side has also to contend with problems of the ‘chickens coming home to roost’ variety.
After the first Lisbon vote, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, said: “I think the Lisbon Treaty is dead...The Irish people have now decided in a referendum that they do not wish to have it ratified ...therefore the Lisbon Treaty falls.”
That’s not the kind of quote you want to be reminded of when you are telling people to vote ‘Yes’ for a second time and that it’s perfectly legitimate to hold a second referendum.
The ball is firmly in the Yes side’s court. How they strike it will determine everything.