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