This impeachment referendum is not about abortion.
A golden rule of public relations and politics for years has been: If you don’t like what is being said, change the conversation. If you can control the narrative then nothing can come out of the blue and surprise you. It is an approach that Katie Ascough knows all too well. When she launched her campaign for students to vote no in the upcoming impeachment referendum, she posted a picture of herself with a group of students, all holding cartoonish signs. They follow the spirit of every other dull and hopelessly out of touch political slogan; Ascough holding a “Vote No” sign and flexing, another holds a sign which reads “Stand Up for our SU Pres”. The sign that should worry everyone the most however, reads “I’m pro-choice, and I support Katie”.
The pro-choice versus anti-choice argument is one that is raging across campuses all over Ireland, but it is not what this referendum is about. The issue that has angered a vast number of students, is that she allowed her personal beliefs, which she has every right to hold, to cloud her professional judgement. A number of students, a larger number than voted for her in the elections, believe that these beliefs led her to take a course of action that did not follow the mandate set by her fellow students.
We, as a student body, voted for the UCDSU to hold a pro-choice agenda. We voted against a stance of neutrality on the issue. We have made our opinion on the matter crystal clear. For her to say that this referendum is a matter of pro-choice versus pro-life is simply dishonest and manipulative. It is drawing attention away from the fact that she did something wrong as UCDSU President. She is framing the debate the way she wants it to be framed.
Katie Ascough, it must not be forgotten, is a very astute political operator, and she should not be underestimated. She has experience running campaigns, and it must be said that she runs them well. Her campaign for UCDSU president last year was very effective. She focused on a few key issues, such as microwaves and healthy eating, and she stuck to those points. Already her campaign has released a slickly produced video, replete with soft, emotional piano music and slow-motion shots of students laughing and smiling as they speak in glowing terms about Ascough (the vast amount of money wasted on reprints and legal fees is not mentioned, unsurprisingly).
In doing all of this, she is moving the debate in a more emotionally-driven direction. The impeachment campaign has been accused of bullying, and for going after her simply because she is pro-life. Ascough knows this is not the case, she is too intelligent to believe it, yet she knows that this is yet another powerful narrative that can work in her favourite. Play the innocent, poor pro-lifer who was only trying to restrict the information available to UCD students because it was against the law (a law which has never once been enforced on this issue), and then anyone against you is merely a bully.
This excuse is wearing thin however. Her recent comments, “In complete honesty, leading an all-male sabbatical team has been a particular challenge” have irked a lot of students, who are now beginning to see through the glossy veneer of her highly polished campaign for what it really is; a desperate attempt by the SU President to cover the fact that she knowingly did wrong by undemocratically imposing her own agenda.