In the aftermath of the “smacking” referendum I was struck (as I often am lately) by the range in quality of editorial / opinion piece writing on the subject. Compare and contrast. John Armstrong writes:
The referendum’s opponents have naturally sought to downplay the 88 per cent “no” vote as not unexpected, arguing that people were confused by the referendum question which was anyway heavily loaded to increase the “no” vote, while only 56 per cent of eligible voters actually bothered to return their ballot paper.
The assumption of voter ignorance is the typical sort of patronising claptrap used by the liberal elites to conveniently explain away something that disturbs their comfort zones.
Voters understood exactly what they were doing.
Well there goes any lingering respect I had for John. “Liberal elites” and “patronising claptrap”? Lacking an argument John parades his prejudices as fact? John is wrong (and incidentally also arrogant to assume that he speaks for the No vote en masse). Voters did not send an agreed and uniform message (“understand exactly what they were doing”). Not because they were “ignorant”, but as a result of factors such as the following:
(1) The legal and social issues surrounding the referendum are genuinely complicated. In general only those who have made a particular effort to understand the issues have come to terms with them properly. This not an elitist argument (about “ignorance”), it’s an acknowledgement that most people simply aren’t interested enough in politics to follow such issues in detail, and it’s an indictment of the appallingly superficial ways in which the issues have been presented in the media. For evidence of genuine confusion or of misunderstanding of the legal issues see the voices of the voters in places like The Herald’s own comments section.
(2) Voters weren’t a uniform horde parroting one agreed message. They were a multitude of individuals who were answering the question in front of them. A different question got a different answer, as shown in The Herald’s own poll prior to the referendum. In that poll the referendum question polled 86% No (remarkably similar to the referendum itself), while a neutral question polled 50% No (which sends what message exactly?). This clearly suggests that referendum voters were not acting en masse to voice the message of John’s prejudice, they were simply answering the question as stated in front of them. For further evidence of the range of motives for No votes see for example again the same Herald comments section.
After that disappointing nonsense from John it was a breath of fresh air to read an excellent editorial on the same topic from Tim Watkin at Pundit. It deals (among other things) with the same issue of how well the context of the referendum question was understood. But I’ve already gone on long enough here so I won’t summarise it, go read it for yourself.