The, “orthodox,” view that the Falkland Islands referendum was little more than British voters choosing to remain British, as pedalled by the Argentine government, is not enough to explain the result of the Falkland Islands referendum argues Professor Peter Willetts in his ‘A Report on the Referendum on the Political Status of the Falkland Islands’.
Professor Willetts who was in the Islands to witness the referendum on behalf of the South Atlantic Council, SAC, states in his report: “New tables from the Falklands census show that 11.0 per cent of the referendum electorate was neither born in the Islands nor in Britain. Almost certainly, some 100 to 150 foreign-born individuals, or perhaps more, voted ‘Yes’.” In a variety of international forums the Argentine government has dismissed the referendum claiming the Falklands people are nothing more than a British ‘implanted’ population and therefore not entitled to the right of self determination, as they are guaranteed to vote for British sovereignty.
Professor Willetts says the idea of holding a referendum was the Islanders’ response to the increasing pressure they faced from Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, pursuing a sovereignty claim over the Falklands, but, he concludes the President achieved the direct opposite of her intentions.
Instead of weakening and isolating the Falkland Islanders, they were strengthened and given a stronger basis for appealing to the global political community for support, argue Professor Willetts.
“Ironically, President Fernandez de Kirchner has guaranteed that there will be no settlement of the dispute during her presidency and she has made it much more difficult for her successors to have any possibility of being trusted as potential negotiating partners. The Islanders have become so united as a political community they should be called a ‘micro-nation’.”
Professor Willetts agrees with the official Referendum International Observation Mission that procedures for a free and secret ballot were scrupulously followed and the result accurately represented the collective choice of the electorate. It cannot be reasonably argued by the Argentine Government that there was any unfair bias against their sovereignty claim.
However, he suggests the Falkland Islands Government (FIG) information about the referendum, sent out to every voter, was “highly prejudicial against voting No to support independence.”
The three No votes are widely believed to have been pro-independence and not pro-Argentine. Professor Willetts does not support independence or any other specific option for the future of the Falklands, but he recognises the referendum result has forcefully asserted the right of the Falkland Islanders to have their wishes respected. The Islanders will have to be participants if any negotiations about the future of the Islands are resumed, he says.
He adds that among the whole census population of 2,840 people, 8.9% do not have British citizenship; 24.8% were neither born in the Islands nor born in the United Kingdom; and 24.0% do not chose British or Falkland Islander, when asked to “describe their national identity”.
These figures cover both people with Falkland Islands Status (FIS), who could vote, and immigrants on work or residence permits, who could not vote.
He explains it is not necessary to be a British citizen to have the vote. New immigrants, who have been in the Islands long enough, are able to apply to belong to the community, to gain FIS and to vote.
Professor Willetts has invented the term ‘Incorporated Islanders’, to cover people who have been granted Falkland Islands Status, who were neither born in the Falklands nor born in the UK. He then asked the census office for an extra table counting the number of Incorporated Islanders. The answer was 182 people from 58 other countries provided 11% of the referendum electorate.
Given eight per cent of the electorate did not vote, then simple arithmetic proves that a minimum of three per cent or at least 45 individuals who voted Yes were foreign-born.
The largest minorities were St Helenians and Chileans, he notes, but there were also 18 Argentines on the electoral register. These new Islanders are committed to their new country. Over 100 have also chosen to become British citizens, alongside the 42 St Helenians voters who are British.
Only one third of the foreign born Islanders chose their former country as their national identity in the census and two thirds have changed to being an Islander or British or having joint identity.
Professor Willetts deduces, not just 45, but most of the 182 Incorporated Islanders voted ‘Yes’ with the same enthusiasm as the longer established population.
Professor Willetts is a founder member of the South Atlantic Council, set up in December 1983, to ‘promote better communication and understanding between Argentina, Britain and Falkland Islanders’. (PN).-