Monday, 11 March 2013

Referendum Special!

[This is another occasional observation on life in the Falkland Islands, which are currently enjoying "Referendum Fever".  Today, Islanders must decide whether they want to remain British.  It's a question in the same category as,  "Is the Pope a Catholic?".....]

For those readers who are unaware, the Falkland Islands are conducting a Referendum on whether to remain a British Overseas Territory, or not.  Currently, the Islands are self-governing, with Defence and Foreign policy being run by the UK.  There can only be a "Yes" or "No" response.   There is no option for independence or other possible outcomes.
"X" marks the spot for the ballot
 At the time of writing, the polling stations are still open and the count hasn't started, but it will be a major shock if the result isn't a huge majority (around 90% +) for the status quo.
Horses are very important to Falkland's culture
Apart from the result, what will be interesting will be the turnout.  From a population of about 2,800, only about 1,600 people are entitled to vote.  I haven't seen this commented on, despite the scores of media personnel wandering the streets looking for a story.

The last couple of days have seen a splurge of patriotic fervour, culminating in a massive rally of about 500 flag-bedecked cars parading through the capital, Stanley, yesterday.
Horses lead the rally, snaking away to the distance.
Not just cars - quad bikes, cycles, prams, babies and horses, were all proudly displaying red, white and blue colours!  The assembled camera crews had a field day.
 The colourful procession slowly wound its way along the harbourside road, stretching back about 2 miles.  It reminded me briefly of the many hours spent sitting on the M25,  London's orbital motorway, waiting for some blockage to be cleared.   However,  I don't recall experiencing the collective good humour and community spirit that was obviously in evidence yesterday!
Penguins just want to live peacefully...
The purpose of the Referendum is to demonstrate clearly how Falklanders feel about their current political status.  For years, Argentina has claimed the country, and still refuse to acknowledge the population, saying it has been implanted by the colonial UK.
Add caption
Interestingly, most of the Argentine politicians who shout loudest about the Falklands have names like Timmerman and Kirchner, etc, and are obviously descended from European settlers in a former-Spanish colony.
Cornered by the camera crews......
Unlike every other European colonial settlement, whether in the Americas, Australia or wherever, the Falkland Islands are unique in having had no indigenous population for incomers to displace.
Impractical buggy.
Last week, I attended an interesting talk given by Emeritus Professor Peter Willets, a Global Politics expert.  He put forward the view that the Falklands needs to change its political status in the medium- to long-term.  The status quo will not be viable in the long-term, he believes.
Local resident without a vote.

Interestingly, he mentioned Guyana - a former French colony in South America - which is now an integrated department of France, with the French President as its Head of State. It even sends two deputies to the National Assembly in Paris, like other departments. Apart from defence and foreign affars, it is self-governing.  Could this be a model for the future Falklands?   Who knows?  Other possible scenarios include "Free Association", such as two small island countries in the Pacific, which have formed relationships with large neighbour, New Zealand, who runs their defence.
Seal in town centre
Professor Willets was emphasising how sovereignity and political independence can be complex issues, and that nowhere is really in sole control of its affairs.  Look how the EU affects UK laws.

And if large numbers of British troops are required to be based in Falklands for the forseeable future, then it could follow the precedent of Cyprus and have a Sovereign Base, which is under UK control.
Big flags need a big pole....
By the way, if the majority of votes cast are for the "No" option, (currently you can get odds at 50/1 at bookies for that option; the same as Nick Clegg being the next British Prime Minister), then the government will have to instigate a series of consultations to find out what the populace would like, if not to stay an Overseas Territory.

The favoured options would then be put to the voters in another Referendum.  I can't see it happening myself.

The result should be announced tonight (the 11th of March) at 9pm, Stanley time. (Midnight in the UK).  There is a open-air party planned in the town centre.

Whatever the fickle Falklands weather does, I can't see anyone raining on their parade!


(PS.  I don't have a vote.  It takes at least 7 years to attain the required status, and there are many hoops to jump through).

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