Letter: Why the Irish referendum counts

PUBLISHED: 13:23 04 June 2018 | UPDATED: 13:23 04 June 2018

People celebrate at Dublin Castle as the official results of the referendum on the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution are announced in favour of the yes vote. Picture date: Saturday May 26, 2018. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

People celebrate at Dublin Castle as the official results of the referendum on the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution are announced in favour of the yes vote. Picture date: Saturday May 26, 2018. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

PA Wire/PA Images

Referendums are best when the issue being voted upon is a narrow one where the pro and anti arguments can be easily explained on the back of an envelope. Sarah Austin explains more.

I hoped for the result in Ireland but didn’t expect it. What I should have expected is the queue of Brexiteers (mostly men) on social media asking if we have suddenly changed our tune on referendums.

The answer is simple. Referendums are best when the issue being voted upon is a narrow one where the pro and anti arguments can be easily explained on the back of an envelope.

Referendums are at their worst when the issue is hugely complex, where a binary yes/no choice is imposed nonetheless and especially where no-one can agree on what the yes/no binary choice actually means (Michael Gove etc can protest as much as they like about what their campaign said, but polls show most Leave voters did not expect to leave the single market).

I should add also that the Irish ‘no’ campaign was not based on a single lie emblazoned on a big red bus, nor was a rebel ‘no’ campaign given huge media coverage for distasteful and disingenuous campaign posters.

Sarah Austin

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