Falkland Islanders “Better Together”

Coat of Arms of the Falkland Islands

Earlier this week, the denizens of the Falkland Islands voted by an overwhelming majority to remain as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom.  This result was not unexpected, but are there any lessons to be learned for our own constitutional referendum in 2014?

The wording of the referendum question is, of course, all important. Section 5(2) of the Referendum (Falkland Islands Political Status) Ordinance (No 16 of 2012) requires the Governor (N. R. Haywood C.V.O.) to take reasonable steps to ensure that the question to be asked is “objective, unambiguous and easy to understand.”

The terms of the preamble and the question itself was set out in the Referendum on Political Status (Question) Order 2012, as follows.

“The current political status of the Falkland Islands is that they are an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. The Islands are internally self-governing, with the United Kingdom being responsible for matters including defence and foreign affairs. Under the Falkland Islands Constitution the people of the Falkland Islands have the right to self-determination, which they can exercise at any time. Given that Argentina is calling for negotiations over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, this referendum is being undertaken to consult the people regarding their views on the political status of the Falkland Islands. Should the majority of votes cast be against the current status, the Falkland Islands Government will undertake necessary consultation and preparatory work in order to conduct a further referendum on alternative options.

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

The question is very much skewed in favour of the status quo, I suppose.  It should also be noted that media in the Falklands could fairly be described as “staunchly Unionist” in character.  The scheme is also one of a two referendum approach in the event of a departure from the status quo – the first to establish the principle, the second on the detail of that proposal.  The Scottish Government have indicated that Scotland will be taking a one referendum approach to constitutional change.

There were only three people on the islands who voted against the current political arrangements – who will presumably now be rounded up and fed to the penguins.  Such an emphatic result – in either direction – seems unlikely in Scotland’s case, but we would be pleased to receive the glowing report from the international observers:

“It is our finding that the Falkland Islands referendum process was free and fair, reflecting the democratic will of the voters of the Falkland Islands,” said Brad Smith, the Head of the International Observation Mission. “The international observation mission has concluded that the voting process was executed in accordance with international standards and local laws. The process was technically sound, with a systematic adherence to established voting procedures.”

Argentina has been quick to denounce the poll as meaningless and continues to press its claim to “Los Islas Malvinas”. Whatever the result of Scotland’s vote, it is sure that it will not end the debate.

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