Bermuda and Scottish Independence

One week to go…

Exactly one week from today we will know the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum, to be held next Thursday.

Due to a quirk of personal circumstances I am not able to advocate either a Yes or a No position, although I will say that: Scottish independence

  • I am eligible to vote in the referendum.
  • I am currently in Scotland.
  • I will be voting in the referendum.
  • I have already decided how I will vote.
  • I am extremely unlikely to be changing how I will vote between now and the referendum.

Bermudian Independence…

All that notwithstanding, I think it is important to begin a conversation on what Scottish independence might mean for Bermuda.

As most of us are aware, Bermuda had a referendum on independence in 1995, one which was held under certain conditions (a schism in the then governing UBP, a call for a boycott by the then Opposition PLP, and a hurricane hitting the day before).

And under the Premiership of Alex Scott we had the somewhat abortive Bermuda Independence Commission.

In general, support for Bermudian independence has hovered at around 25-30% – it’s a minority position.

Colonial Carrots?

From my experiences and interactions with supporters of the status quo, opposition to independence for Bermuda stems from a mix of:

  • Nostalgia for ’empire’ and ‘Britishness’ – in some ways, despite our accents, we’re more British than the British, in a stereotypical way.
  • Fear of the unknown.  I’ve found this particularly strong amongst White Bermudians, for whom, in my impression, our continued status as a colony gives some psychological comfort.
  • Home fees tuition in the UK (introduced in the mid-2000s).
  • EU citizenship.
  • Economic concerns.

Of these, I think – at least for the younger generations – the carrots of home tuition fees in the UK and EU citizenship are the most important factors.

These two carrots are, however, the most under threat in the UK today.

The Westminster Government has changed the tuition fee structure in such a way that the carrot of home tuition is no longer as attractive as it once was.  The costs of even home tuition fees there are steadily increasing.  While still substantially less than international fees, the threat to their attractiveness is ongoing.

And the last two years has seen the rise of the right-wing UKIP party, which is fiercely opposed to the UK’s membership within the EU – and which has forced the UK Government to commit to an ‘in/out’ referendum on the EU in 2017.

As such, if these two carrots are removed, and a growing London-centric UK, which acts in the interests of the City of London, against the interests of Bermuda, is remaining a colony of the UK still going to be of interest to Bermuda?

In other words, will staying a colony remain as attractive if these colonial carrots are lost?

Independence Imaginaries

In addition to the potential loss of the colonial carrots of home tuition and EU citizenship, the Scottish independence movement – and actual Scottish independence in the event of a Yes vote – has the potential to captivate the imagination of Bermudians about the potential of Bermudian independence.

I think it’s inevitable that Scottish independence will cause many Bermudians, especially those already in favour of Bermudian independence, a boost to the idea of independence for Bermuda.

The Scottish independence movement is already animating the existing independence movements in Catalonia and the Basque region (eastern and northern Spain, respectively), as well as separatist movements in Italy and elsewhere.  I expect Quebec is also keeping an eye on the situation.

Back in the 1980s, in the midst of the Cold War, there was a concern in DC about the ‘threat of a good example’.  This was spoken about in terms of an actually well-working socialist state (be it Cuban, Grenada, Allende’s Chile, Manley’s Jamaica or Aristide’s Haiti), and how it might inspire other revolutionary movements.

In this case a successful independent Scotland could well serve as an inspiration for others, including Bermuda.

The very act of imagining an independent Bermuda, inspired by an independent Scotland, can in a very real way be the first step towards actual Bermudian independence.

The ‘winds of change’ that largely swept away the era of formal imperialism in the post-war decades of the 20th Century was, in a very real way, a ‘domino’ effect as one after another colonised peoples drew inspiration from the successful anti-independence movements in Vietnam, India and Algeria.

Colonised peoples saw that colonialsim could be defeated and that other colonised people were able to govern – even if they ended up governing as badly as their previous colonial administrations.

Scottish independence – even a narrow No victory next week – can inspire and animate independence movements in Bermuda and the remaining UKOTs.

What would be the impact of both a rejuvenated Bermudian independence movement AND the loss of these aforementioned colonial carrots?  A ‘perfect storm’ leading to Bermudian independence?

Practical Consequences?

Regardless of the more long-term issues, of inspiring independence or the loss of colonial carrots, in the event of Scottish independence next week, there will be consequences for Bermuda.

At a very minor issue, would Bermuda need to change its flag?

After all, we have the Union Jack in the corner of our flag.  While Australia and New Zealand do too, they came to independence under the UK.  They can retain the Union Jack as a nod to their history.

If Bermuda remains a colony under the rest of the UK (rUK), and the Scottish component of the Union Jack is removed, what justification can there be for retaining the Bermudian flag as it is?

Another, more constitutional question, is, if both Scotland and the rUK are both successor states to the UK, and Bermuda is currently a UKOT, what happens to the UKOTs?

My guess is we’d all go with the rUK, but if the rUK is wanting out of the EU and an independent Scotland is intending to remain in the EU, could Bermuda choose to become a Scottish Overseas Territory (SOT) rather than a rUKOT?  I’d imagine that would require a referendum in Bermuda.

And what negotiations would there have to be between the rUKOTs and an independent Scotland?  Currently we enjoy home tuition fees there (which are governed under a different law than rUK) – would we be able to retain those?  Maybe play a reparation card even?

Could Bermudians choose to (and be eligible for) Scottish citizenship and passports in the same way we’re eligible for UK citizenship and passports?

These are just some initial questions – I’m sure there’s lots more that Bermuda will have to ask.

It’s worth asking though, has the Government put together a plan in the event of Scottish independence?


12 thoughts on “Bermuda and Scottish Independence

  1. The biggest carrot for the status quo is the benefit of independent outside oversight of the police, judiciary and civil service on small island with a culture of hookups, special favours and using official positions to help out friends.

    Bermuda has one of the most favorable set-ups of anywhere in the world – power to make its own laws, independent oversight to limit abuses of power, benefits of UK citizenship without the downsides, and backup of a powerful country in the event of a genuine emergency.

    With independence you would lose all of the above. You would gain a Premier who gets to appoint the police and judges. Can you think of any other actual positive benefits of independence?

  2. I also anticipate that, if Scotland votes yes, Shetland and possibly Orkney would bid for overseas territories / crown dependency status of the UK, cutting off at the knees Salmond’s plans to fund an independent Scotland with oil wealth.

  3. As the Guardian Newspaper said, “arguments for and against independence inhabit more politicised and emotional territory than facts – some of which are largely unknown at this stage.

    Amazing that the “heart can appear to over rule the head” so much and so easily. Much as it appears to do here in Bermuda.

    One thing I never understood is “why now?”. Surely, the ideal time for this debate and vote was in the early 1980’s when North Sea Oil was peaking. 40 bn barrels extracted to date – 24 bn could remain (BBC). What happens after that to Scotland’s economy?

    Edinburgh Castle souvenirs, Isle of Arran oatcakes and whisky sales won’t cut it.

    And, it often amazes me that it’s independence on their terms. Let’s keep The Queen (check), let’s keep the £ (check). Methinks the “yes” voters may well be in for a few surprises going forward.

    If Scotland wants Independence – then go independent. Let’s have Immigration at the border. That should stop Scots making their living in London Monday to Friday, then rushing home to Scotland on Friday night and not wanting to be part of the Union for two days out of seven.

  4. As I’ve already stated, I am, unfortunately, bound by certain restrictions at the moment, and cannot explicitly discuss certain aspects of the Scottish referendum on independence.

    What I will say is that the media reporting of the independence campaign has not, and continues to not be, representative of the realities on the ground. Quite frankly, and I’m being as neutral here as I can, I’ve found the media to be extremely biased in a pro-unionist way, and the issues that they are raising are not necessarily reflective of what is actually being discussed on the ground, in the streets and in people’s homes.

    If you would like a clearer picture of those discussions, the following resources are perhaps the best for reviewing:

    The Wee Blue Book – The Facts the Papers Leave Out –

    Scotland’s Future – Your Guide to an Independent Scotland –

    These are both pro-independent documents, but they are more reflective of what’s actually informing and animating conversations on the ground, rather than what the media is presenting, which is – I feel – quite a distorted picture, and not something the outside world should truly be relying on for information right now.

    The second link is the official Scottish Government White Paper on Independence. It’s quite a read, I think some 300 odd pages, but it’s covers a lot of areas and one can skim to the relevant section you’re interested in.

    The first link uses pro-unionist sources to rebut pro-unionist arguments, and does quite a good job, I think, of balancing out the media reporting on the referendum issues.

    The one other thing I would like to point out is that Scotland actually did hold a referendum in 1979. This was about setting up a devolved government, like was eventually set up in 1998, and was seen by pro-independence activists as a first step towards independence.

    The Yes vote won that referendum, despite similar scare-mongering and bribes as has been seen in this current referendum. However, the UK Government introduced certain conditions which were seen as undemocratic – effectively, they were seen to move the goalposts – and the Yes vote was dismissed – and Thatcherism ensued. I believe that largely explains some of the skepticism the No campaigners are being met with.

    So. I recommend you review both the above links (the Wee Blue Book is the much easier – and shorter – read) in order to get a better understanding of the actual issues being discussed on the ground here.

  5. I think we all would agree that the focus should be on the arguments raised, not by the personality raising them.

    You know, focus on the message, not the messenger.

    I think that the Wee Blue Book does a good job at exploring some aspects of the independence debate, and does a good job of referencing the arguments to allow others to fact-check. Whether one agrees with the arguments or not, I believe it is a valuable contribution to the independence referendum debate, and helps inform certain aspects that the UK media has not – it helps give a more informed and balanced understanding of the independence referendum issues.

  6. Indeed it is the facts that are important. One of the issues I have with people is that they allow their perceptions to guide them to a decision, and not the facts. We’re also lazy, in that we hear or read something that we find comfortable – so we don’t go further than that and look for the facts.

    The problem with the Scotland issue is – what are the facts?

    One can talk of how much oil is estimated to be left – how much it costs Scotland to be part of the UK and so on and forth. But beyond that, you are really into the politics aren’t you?

    Can Scotland keep the £? Depends on the outcome of discussions with the UK and whether Scotland threatens to walk away from it’s share of the UK debt if they cannot I think.

    Can they stay in Europe? Depends on whether the EU will allow that surely. Much of the comment coming out of the EU suggests the answer is “no”.

    Anyway – we will see what next week brings.

    I guess the onlt fact we do know is that a “yes” vote is an none reversible decision.

  7. Well, the Wee Blue Book seeks to answer several of those questions, complete with references.

    Whether the book is right or not, well, we’ll only really know in the event of a Yes vote I suppose.

    Personally, and without taking a Yes/No position, I see no way the rUK could stop an independent Scotland using the £, or that Sterlingisation would be a problem (dollarisation works quite well, as Bermuda can show, for example – whether that’s the best option or not for Scotland is a different question, imo). Nor do I see EU membership being a realistic problem for an independent Scotland. The oil, well, I don’t know enough about that.

  8. Its all very exciting I am sure , but independent from WHAT to WHAT? It will be the same basic style of Government and system of economics , so how ‘independent’ will the average person really be? How about independence from corporate interests and big banks? ha ha , I live in a liberal dream world, I am sorry.

  9. If you are a member of the EU, are you truly independent?

    Not so sure that you are.

    Does that mean that Scotland simply wants to be rid of the English? Are the gains of partial independence (i.e. prior to joining the EU) so great?

  10. The likelihood (despite the No campaign’s scaremongering) is that Scotland will remain in the EU in the event of a Yes vote. No country in our interconnected world is truly independent – but an independent Scotland within the EU will be independent in the same sense as other EU member states.

    I have not experienced ant anti-English sentiment in the discussions around the referendum – it simply hasn’t featured. I’ve encountered anti-Scottish sentiment coming from English-based media, but not anti-English sentiment from supporters of Scottish independence.

    The supporters of Scottish independence believe that it gives Scotland the opportunity to build a better society AND to guard against the consequences of the austerity project being pursued by the Coalition Government (and which the Opposition Labour Party has pledged to continue). As the block grant ‘transferred’ to the Scottish Government is based on the Barnett Formula, which basically allots a certain fraction of English public spending, cuts to social welfare services in England, along with privatisation of social welfare (especially the NHS), or the introduction of university tuition fees there (meaning less public spending on tuition) means a continuous reduction of the budget available to the Scottish Government, thus dictating the freedom of the Scottish Government. In that way, Holyrood may still have the devolved power to make its own choices, but its latitude of freedom is subsequently restricted.

    Furthermore, Holyrood can make policies to increase business in Scotland, but Westminster pockets the tax proceeds and does not necessarily return that.

    Add into that certain UK policies which are pretty much unanimously opposed in Scotland, such as the huge cost of Trident, means that Scotland suffers from UK cuts, while has to pay for programs they oppose, both on an ethical and financial perspective.

    These are just some examples of arguments I believe Yes voters would put to your questions – to them the gains of independence are, indeed, worth it.

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