Asking for my vote

"ballot paper" for the EU Lisbon TreatyMy “ballot paper” arrived.

“I Want a Referendum” is holding a referendum in ten Labour and Lib Dem constituencies in the UK. It’s even made the news, and Eastleigh – where I live – is one of the constituencies involved.

You get two questions – which essentially boil down to “do you think there should be a referendum?” and “if there was, how would you vote?”.

And a litle “Information Booklet” that explains the two sides of the argument – the argument against the Lisbon Treaty written by “I Want a Referendum”, and an argument for it from the European Movement.

I found this booklet very interesting.

The argument against

The information booklet gives an emotive scary bullet-point list of the bad things that would happen if we “gave away even more powers” to the EU. It warns that “Britain’s power to block damaging EU laws would be cut by 30%” (?), would give “more rights for criminals”, “would be bad for jobs”, and “means even more unneccessary interferance from Europe”.

It includes emotional examples of why EU law is bad : “the recent Chindamo case, in which the UK Government found itself powerless to deport the convicted murderer of school headmaster”, and how the EU could “interfere” in new areas such as “increasing our electricity bills” and “telling us how we should run our National Health Service”.

And it’s got a soundbite – “Even the author of the Treaty, former French President Valery Giscard d’Estang, said: ‘All the earlier proposals will be in the new text, but will be hidden and disguised in some way.'”

It’s all very patriotic and heart-felt language – lots of use of “our this”, “we should do this for ourselves in Britain”, and “Don’t let politicians treat us like fools”.

The argument for

The information booklet has two pages of block text covering the constitutional and political implications of ratifying amending texts. It is more wordy : it uses words like “dissemination”. It argues that “Referenda are not in the tradition of the UK’s parliamentary democracy”, while admitting that “It is appropriate to ask what defines a constitutional change and it can be argued that the totality of the treaties amounts to a significant constitutional change”.

It argues that the treaty “is a reasonable and intelligent compromise between those who wished to see a comprehensive, constitutional document that clarified and integrated EU decision making processes…” and that “it is inefficient … to try and run a community of 27 counties … with institutions unchanged from those appropriate to a membership of 15”.

The first three-quarters is taken up with this discussion on the theory of referenda, amending texts and the background to the Lisbon Treaty. The last quarter is a few bullet points which tries to identify the benefits of it, citing things like increased democracy and accountability.

A fair comparison?

On the one side, an emotional and very accessible call-to-arms from a writer trying to sound like “the common man”, warning us of ways the EU will interfere and take away our powers, if we “let the politicians fool us”.

On the other side, a dry and dull piece on the theory behind the politics. The tone is like that of a lecturer explaining something complex to a student – trying to explain the facts but not trying to connect on any emotional level.

I’m not saying I don’t like the second piece. In many ways, I prefer an argument to be made by presenting the facts of a case without resorting to emotion.

But the contrast in style is interesting. I wonder how many people (of the people who base any of their decision on the information booklet anyway!) will make a vote based on the presentation rather than the substance?

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