Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Falklands referendum was a massive missed opportunity, but the result must be respected

It's something of a red-letter day when I find myself agreeing with any part of a ranting by Mr Nile Gardiner, director of the 'Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom' (yuck), so I thought I ought to make a note of the occasion for posterity.  Of course he's right for all the wrong reasons - it's part of his ongoing paranoid obsession with the Obama administration's supposed betrayal of America's 'greatest and most noble ally Great Britain'.  But all the same, when he says that it's outrageous for the US to airily wave away a legitimate exercise in democratic self-determination by the Falkland Islanders, I think he's pretty much spot-on.

As far as sovereignty is concerned, there really is no point in the US urging the UK and Argentina to negotiate, because those countries have nothing to negotiate about.  If the UK's constitutional relationship with the Falklands is ever to change, that is a matter for negotiation between the islanders and the UK.  And if the Falklands are ever going to have any sort of constitutional relationship with Argentina, that is a matter for negotiation between the islanders and Argentina.  It's a grotesque irony that the Argentinian government witters on about "colonialism" while demanding a solution that is the absolute epitome of the colonial mindset - two powers negotiating for territorial control, entirely over the heads of those whose lives will be directly affected by any change.  I've said this many times before, but it's worth reiterating - the current residents of the Falklands and their ancestors are the only stable population the islands have ever had.  They satisfy all the criteria for national self-determination.  We in the Scottish national movement may find their enthusiasm for all things British somewhat quaint, but if our belief in our own country's right to self-determination means anything at all, it has to extend to the Falklands as well.

That said, this was an imperfect referendum.  As I pointed out in June, a one-dimensional question asking if the islanders wanted to retain their antiquated status as a UK overseas territory was a massive missed opportunity.  Instead, they should have been asked how they wanted their relationship with the UK to be modernised, thus removing the colonial label that provides cover for Argentina's own imperial designs on the territory.  The other shortcoming was that newcomers to the islands apparently had to satisfy a seven-year residency requirement to be eligible to take part, which must have had the effect of suppressing the No vote.  Quite what the point of that was I don't know - a referendum result that hadn't looked quite so North Korean in character might actually have earned more respect around the world.


Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?

Yes 1513 (99.8%)
No 3 (0.2%)


  1. Much though I dislike the idea of anyone having "overseas territory", I would have to agree that you are 100% right.

    These people are the only stable population the Falklands/Malvinas has ever had. They were asked if they wanted to stay British. They said pretty overwhelmingly YES. (Would that we had that kind of support for independence, and I suspect that the NO campaign wishes that support for Britishness ran that high in Scotland).

    Of course, the islanders get a rather better deal out of being British than Scots do.

    As for Obama's underwhelming response, I've long noted that the "special relationship" is one which both sides talk about to the point of ennui, Britain seems to act upon and America doesn't.

  2. Thank you for this interesting post, I definitely learned something new....

  3. I think you also have to remember the history Falkland Islanders have with Argentina, even I if I lived there I'd vote to remain attached to the UK.

    The idea of embracing a country you're not from which had invaded your land within easy living memory is a big ask.

    Beyond that, possibly the only thing keeping Argentine troops out at the moment is the existence of the RAF base on the Island, to rock the boat with Mother-UK (especially under the current financial/political climate) could put it at risk.

  4. The UK government's recent legal opinion makes the issue of self-determination quite unclear, even on this vote. According to that opinion, the right of self-determination has force only in colonial situations. Consequently, the Scots have no straightforward right of self-determination in the UK context; and something similar must apply to the Falklanders. While agreeing with that view in respct of the Falklands the UK govt appear to disagree with it in respect of Scotland. One difference of course is that no external power is making a claim on Scotland. At the same time, though, Argentina isn't making a claim for the Falklands as a colony (albeit, as James says, their attitude is indeed colonial, as is the UK's) but as part of a unitary territory (like Spain and Catalonia).