David Cameron reiterated this week that Britain will not negotiate with Argentina over the status of the Falkland Islands for as long as the islanders themselves want to retain the constitutional link with the UK. The Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez reacted angrily, suggesting that the comments were an "expression of mediocrity, and almost of stupidity" and were a sign that the British "continue to be a crude colonial power in decline". Well, most of us can probably agree on the last point, but in truth, who is it that's actually being old-fashioned and colonialist in their attitudes here? After all, the current British population of the Falklands is the only stable population the islands have ever had - other countries established settlements before the British presence, but they were all extremely short-lived. The Argentinian claim on the islands is therefore based on the antiquated and highly subjective principle of territorial integrity, and (bizarrely) on a medieval papal edict granting South America to Spain in perpetuity - Argentina sees itself as the "successor power" to Spain in respect of the Falklands.
It may seem odd for a Scottish nationalist to be defending British rule in the Falklands, but it seems to me the logic is inescapable. If we believe in the much more modern principle of the self-determination of peoples, that applies as much to Falkland Islanders as it does to Scots. For as long as the people want no constitutional link with Argentina, the Argentinian government is arrogant in the extreme to think it has a God-given right to go over the islanders' heads and thrash out a deal with London - indeed, it's hard to think of a more colonial mindset than that.
A point which could of course be driven home with more credibility if Britain formally decolonised the islands. There would be nothing for anyone to fear in that - a free association agreement with the UK (perhaps modelled on the Cook Islands' relationship with New Zealand) could replace the current set-up, and in practice nothing much need change. When I suggested that at Political Betting a few months ago, I almost had my head bitten off by another poster who thought I was ignoring the islanders' wishes - I don't know if he had simply misunderstood what I was suggesting, or if he really was pig-headed enough to think that the symbolism of colonial rule is what the islanders are interested in protecting, rather than the substance of self-government and a constitutional link with the UK. Indeed, another decolonisation option that is recognised as legitimate by the United Nations is voluntary integration into the 'mother country', as has happened with many French colonies. Either way, it would certainly confuse the imperialists-in-denial in Buenos Aires to wake up one morning and discover that the Falklands had been decolonised without Argentina gaining a single inch of territory.