Friday, June 17, 2011

The Falkland Islands should be decolonised - but what has that got to do with Argentina?

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.


  1. I'm not about to argue with the woman when she describes Cameron as mediocre and stupid. It seems to me blindingly obviously true.

    Cameron’s respect agenda for the aspirations of “ordinary” people in the Falklands might be more believable if he demonstrated more of it elsewhere.

    It surely can’t have escaped his notice, for example, that in the recent referendum on constitutional change, there was at least one choice that was missing from the ballot paper; a choice which might very well have had the backing of a majority, or at least more than the other two options. He wouldn’t give us the opportunity to take it.

    His assertion that if Mr Salmond tries to confuse us poor befuddled haggis chasers with 3 options in our independence referendum instead of 2, then he, Cameron, will take it over and return it to a choice of ‘separation’ and ‘union’, lacks the passion demonstrated in his staunch defence of the Falklanders.

    Mr Clegg’s party, before the election (when the likelihood of power was slim to the point of non existence) seemed to propose a referendum on UK status within the EU. I notice that that was dropped. So despite the fact that it is probably not what the British peoples want, Mr Cameron is not prepared to give them the opportunity to change it in line with the wishes of the majority.

    I can’t see why Britain should have land in South America, and I suspect that if Argentina had the Isle of Man the English would want it back tout de suite. But the Falklanders established themselves there in different times and they want to stay British, so you and Cameron certainly have a point. (I suspect that they think that the UK will pour more money into the islands than the Argentineans would; and they don’t want the bother of learning Spanish.) For whatever reasons they would prefer to be British as they currently are.

    I wonder how much it all costs, and if the UK government’s continued expenditure on the other side of the world has more to do with the potential content of the seabed, rather than any democratic principle.

  2. "I can’t see why Britain should have land in South America"

    Tris, the way I would look at it is that it isn't Britain's land, it's the islanders' land, and it's up to them what to do with that sovereignty. If they want to pool it with another country (ie the UK) that's their choice, just as it's Britain's free choice to pool its own sovereignty with other countries via organisations like the EU and NATO.

    But that's why the constitutional relationship between the islands and the UK urgently needs to be modernised - the fact that it's still technically a colonial relationship gives Argentina the alibi of "resisting British imperialism".

  3. That's a fair point, James.

    The actual relationship is, though, as you suggest, flawed by its colonial nature and the pith helmet nonsense.

    Still, if that disappeared, how much of the oil, or income therefrom, would London be able to get its hands on?