Leader: Greece torn in two by vote

No and Yes posters in Athens prior to the referendum. Picture: AP
No and Yes posters in Athens prior to the referendum. Picture: AP
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Traumatised nation needs to find spirit of reconciliation, whatever the referendum result

EVEN before today’s referendum in Greece on the terms of a bailout, the country’s division was laid bare. Rallies in Athens, involving No supporters who want to reject the terms of further international loans, and Yes supporters who believe the debt-ridden country has no choice but to accede to the demands of other EU nations, saw members of the public clash with police. Greece is a nation under intense pressure and the cracks are clear for all to see.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has staked his reputation – and his career – on support for a No vote, calling on the nation to vote against strict new conditions on lending. According to him, Greece is being blackmailed and only the rejection of the proposed terms of financial assistance will allow its people to live with dignity in Europe.

Tsipras rejects the claim of EU leaders that a No vote could see Greece leave the Eurozone, instead insisting that such an outcome would strengthen the country’s hand in bailout negotiations.

But Tsipras faces strong opposition from those, including politicians from his coalition partner party, who support a Yes vote. Opposition leader Antonis Samaras has called on every Greek to vote Yes, “above and beyond parties”. The result is predicted to be close and neither outcome guarantees a quick fix. With £323bn of debt, Greece’s troubles will not be resolved soon, regardless of the outcome of today’s vote. The repercussions of this crisis will last for many years.

And this fall-out may not concern only the Greek economy but the unity of the people.

We in Scotland have some experience of the division a referendum can cause. Last year’s vote on Scottish independence followed a long campaign which frequently descended into rancour. Now, almost 10 months later, the country stands divided along constitutional lines.

It seems inevitable that divisions in Greece exposed by this hastily arranged referendum will linger long afterwards. And that would be a great tragedy.

Scotland’s division is sometimes unfortunate but it is bearable. But in Greece things are desperate. Unemployment soars, pensions have been slashed, and now members of the public face restrictions on accessing their own money from banks.

Into that fraught atmosphere, add a divisive vote on the way forward and it’s easy to see how bleak things could soon become.

Tsipras’s promise that a No vote will strengthen Greece’s position seems to be based in little more than hope, but it is easy to see why that defiant position holds appeal for a great many of his fellow citizens.

Having been on their knees for a long time, many Greeks will want to take a stand, to say that enough is enough. And, given the parlous state of the economy, the question “what have we got to lose?” may seem particularly apt.

But equally understandable is the position of those who believe Greece should vote to accept lenders’ conditions. What good is a display of pride when there’s no money in the banks and no prospect of recovery?

Either position requires, on the part of the voter, a great degree of faith, because accurately predicting Greece’s financial future is impossible.

We hope that all who participate in today’s referendum can accept that those who vote in a different way do so in good faith. Greece simply cannot afford the further chaos that deeper enmity would bring.

Let’s hope, then, that regardless of the outcome of the referendum, the Greek people can try to come together again as one.

However Greece votes today, recovery depends on shared purpose and understanding among its people.