Sunday, May 29, 2005

Let the voters speak

Amid the welter of news, comment and opinion on the French referendum today, The Scotsman is one of several newspapers demanding that the British referendum should go ahead, irrespective of what the French say.

In an opinion piece headed: "Europe must heed voice of democracy", it confronts the possibility of a French "no" vote giving Blair to excuse to abandon the British referendum. Articulating the views of many, it declares:

The Prime Minister must not be allowed to shelve, for his political convenience, the crucial consultation he has promised the public - the first vote on Europe in this country for 30 years. Let the voters speak.
That really must be the central message delivered by the British people, whatever the outcome of the French and the Dutch polls, and we may need to be quick off the mark if The Sunday Times has got it right. Its front-page story on the EU referendum announces that "Britain [is] ready to kill EU referendum", claiming that Foreign Office sources are saying that Britain is ready to drop its plans to hold a referendum if there is a no vote in France today.

Helpfully, the paper sets out all the possible outcomes – five in all – ranging from "big no votes in France and the Netherlands" and "France votes yes and the Netherlands votes no", to "both France and the Netherlands say yes". In only two of the five scenarios does Britain then definitely get a vote, which makes the leader all the more welcome, couched as it is in these terms:

For years Mr Blair has attended EU summits with a note of apology never far below the surface. He would love to play a fuller part but has been held back by his own electorate's reluctance. And he has been unable to campaign to turn round such opinions. Why not give him the chance? In the absence of a referendum on the constitution, let us have a vote - properly argued on all sides - on whether the British want more or less EU integration. We don't want the constitution and we certainly don't want ever closer union. We should be given a chance to say so.
However, it appears that we may have little to worry about if the news in The Sunday Telegraph can be taken at face value.

This paper reports that French supporters of the constitution were taking fresh heart last night after an opinion poll appeared to show a last-minute surge in their favour. This poll, produced by TNS Sofres and published on Friday night, put the "no" vote only narrowly ahead, on 51 percent, with "yes" voters on 49 per cent. An earlier survey had given the "no" campaign a more comfortable 54 per cent polling.

That is possibily the only small crumb of comfort as the BVA polling institute also issued a poll. It showed that 53 percent of decided voters will cast their ballots to reject the treaty, against 47 percent who support it. But the key may still be in the "undecideds" in this poll registering nineteen percent of those asked.

Either way, it will be late tonight or early in the morning before we know the results and, unlike the French, we will then be able to study the results in our newspapers. In France, it appears that the newsagents are going on strike. Quelle surprise.

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