Sunday 22 September 2019

Sneering at No voters could lose referendum

Government, the media and tech companies telling people how to vote could end up with a surprise like the UK election, writes Brendan O'Connor

STATING THEIR CASE: Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Arlene Clarke and Tara Heverin, who were among the crowd in Ballina meeting the Yes Equality Bus on its route around Mayo yesterday as part of its nationwide tour promoting a Yes vote in the marraige equality referendum on May 22
STATING THEIR CASE: Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Arlene Clarke and Tara Heverin, who were among the crowd in Ballina meeting the Yes Equality Bus on its route around Mayo yesterday as part of its nationwide tour promoting a Yes vote in the marraige equality referendum on May 22
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

The Yes campaign must be very nervous looking at what just happened in the UK. Everybody knew what the result in the UK election was going to be. Every poll was in agreement. Neck and neck. Hung parliament. Weeks of manoeuvring to try and create a Government. Everybody agreed. And, as usual, when everyone agrees so wholeheartedly on something, they were all wrong. The media was wrong, the polls were wrong; the whole establishment got it wrong.

The Yes side must be wondering this weekend if the same could be true here. What if the polls are wrong? What if the media is wrong? What if the whole political establishment has got this one wrong? On Friday morning, Antony Worrall Thomson, of all people, pointed out that a lot of Tory voters are his age and they tend not to admit their intentions in advance, saving the truth instead for the privacy of the ballot box. And lets face it, being a No voter in this country is even more shameful that being a Tory in the UK. So the likelihood is a lot more people are lying about their voting intentions in the upcoming referendum. And who could blame them?

I am not at liberty at this time to express my voting intentions in the upcoming referendum, but let's say for example I was a No voter. Would I admit it? Even to a pollster? Probably not. Because in this country right now it is essentially forbidden to have doubts about gay marriage. All right-thinking people are in favour of gay marriage. All the media are largely in favour of it, apart from the odd columnist, who tend to be regarded by their liberal colleagues as pet cranks that newspapers keep in their arsenal to irritate people. All the political parties are for it, obviously, because it is, after all, the most important civil rights issue of this generation. And now, even the IDA and the tech firms are for it. You could forgive people for thinking that every day, in every way, they are being told by their betters how to think on this, and that there is only one correct opinion to have.

The thing about Irish people is that they don't like being told what to think. They don't like being told what to think by the media. They don't like being told what to think by politicians. And they certainly don't like being told what to think by the bosses of tech companies. It's the kind of thing that is bound to get people's backs up.

Take the tech companies. Tech companies like to spout a lot of guff about how their mission is to make the world a better place and about their passion to make life easier for poor people and sick people and frictionless for the rest of us. They have almost begun to see themselves in quasi-religious terms. They now appear to believe they are driving the evolution of humanity, that they will soon have us defying age and mortality. They are also rewiring our neurological synapses and making us nicer, better people. So of course they would feel that it is their job at a time like this to offer leadership to the ignorant masses, to take us forward into the future, a future that only they really understand because they are the ones inventing it, a future that they will own and that we will be allowed to live in.

This delusion belies what the average punter thinks of tech companies. We use their stuff because it makes life easier, but we are very conscious that they are not giving it to us as part of some kind of giant altruistic programme. Furthermore, in Ireland, we recognise that they provide lots of jobs, so we play ball with them and humour them to a certain extent, as we have always done with the Yanks.

But we recognise too that the free products they give us are given to us in return for data harvesting. We recognise too that they have made billions and billions of dollars out of pursuing their mission to make the world a better place. To most of us, they are not the messianic figures they see themselves as; they are just more big companies making money.

And while we have to put up with a certain amount of their guff in order to get the products and the jobs, when they start telling us how to vote, it gets our backs up. These unregulated oligarchs who control our lives in so many ways, and who have robbed us of our privacy, now want to tell us how to think and how to exercise our franchise. That possibly might not play well in Tullamore.

As for the media, who trusts it anymore? And politicians? The only time people trust politicians less than they normally do is when every single party agrees something is good for us. Then alarm bells really go off.

So there just might be a feeling among people that they are being jumped into something here, and whatever their feelings on gay marriage, they might rebel against that.

We have a history of this kind of thing in Ireland. Instead of bringing people along with us on things, we can tend to just laugh at them for their quaint and outdated views while we congratulate ourselves on being so liberal and enlightened. Anyone who speaks out against gay marriage is, let's face it, regarded as a figure of fun, some kind of dinosaur buffoon, or else as some kind of right-wing bigoted crank. Or, worse, a Catholic right-wing crank. This is the last word in unfashionability among the sneery media classes, who are very good at ignoring that a huge number of people in this country are Catholics and a huge number are right-wing, and that many are both. Rather than this being viewed as people who have a different way of looking at things, which we disagree with but which we try and be tolerant of, right-wing Catholics are viewed as crazy ignoramuses who need to be re-educated into new ways of thinking. This re-education is done with a mixture of condescension and disdain.

The Yes side must be worried that all those poor ignoramuses - who feel, rightfully or wrongfully, that they were denied a voice in the last few months, who feel they were not heard, and that their opinions were de-legitimised and discounted - will have their revenge in the ballot box. They must worry that those people, feeling disempowered, will decide to go to the last place they can be heard, the last place they can have any influence or power, and tick No.

And funnily enough, if a lot of people do that, it won't have been the generally disastrous No campaign that caused it, it will have been the Yes campaign.

Sunday Independent

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