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How to fight a referendum: Do the homework, and use it

This is the third of a five part series on how to win a referendum by William Norton, referendum agent for the successful NESNO campaign.

Staffwork is what wins elections, and in any referendum on the Constitution-Treaty the No Campaign will have a massive in-built advantage: it will be a referendum about a specific document, and that document is going to be very long and very boring.

This opens up a number of easy plays:

  • Demand that the Government post a copy of the Constitution-Treaty to every voter. The Government, of course, will refuse on the perfectly sensible grounds that it would be a ruinously expensive exercise – at which point they look like they are trying to cover-up something.
  • This opens up the opportunity for the No Campaign to present their analysis of the document, from the standpoint of honest men who just want to educate the public.
  • Every single representative of the No Campaign who appears in public should be carrying a copy of the Constitution-Treaty and waving it like a windmill. You have to ram home the message that this is a vote on the detail contained in that document (which voters haven’t seen).
  • Every single representative of the No Campaign needs to be briefed on the fine detail of the Constitution-Treaty and able to quote it. Nothing does more to undermine the credibility of a Yes Man if you can catch him out not knowing the detail of the document he is supporting.
  • Any document has winners and losers. The No Campaign have to identify the losers as fast as possible and let them know they’re losers.
  • If the referendum is fought on the specific details of a specific document, the No Campaign have the opportunity to gain the support of people who are not against a treaty as such in principle but dislike some particular point enough to reject the whole. If the No Campaign attack the principle of a treaty, e.g. because the EU is a horrible mess and we should pull out, then they will never be able to access such voters.

The lynchpin holding these moves together is the fact that someone has actually read the Constitution-Treaty and has provided an accurate and honest analysis of what it contains. This is not a time for tendentious Sunday newspaper column writing, only hard solid fact will do. If the No Campaign is caught out pushing hysterical exaggerations it will destroy their entire credibility.

The Yes Campaign will want to fight their referendum on vague general principles and aspirations. It will be their only chance of winning. If they are made to fight on the detail they will lose. So why not fight on the detail?


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