Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Independence? I'll burn my passport if it ever happens.

Well today it has been virtually impossible for me to check my Twitter feed, read the local news and even read the national news (I'm a Guardian reader, you'll be surprised to hear) without hearing all about the suggestion that Jersey should be prepared to become an independent sovereign state, should the need arise.

The emphasis has focused on an article in the Guardian based on an interview with the Assistant Chief Minister (our sort of Foreign Affairs Minister) Senator Philip Bailhache in which he said that should a time arise where the interests of the UK and Jersey are too at odds to be reconcilable, the island should be ready for independence.

The article can be viewed HERE. The interview was conducted a month ago, before all the news hit about Jimmy Carr's tax scheme/ scam and the K2 arrangement. In the JEP today Senator Bailhache said that apart from the articles headline (which in fairness was a misrepresentation of what the Senator had said) it was actually an accurate representation of the interview they conducted with him.

Now, as a democrat and a believer in self-determination, I don't have a problem with people wanting to talk about the future of their nation (I don't consider Jersey a nation, but I concede that some people do, and they have the right to disagree with me and have an identity different to mine), and so if people want to engage in a discussion about Jerseys constitutional future, I say, bring it on and lets have the debate.

But I have some serious reservations with how this particular episode has been played out and I have strong views on the independence question.

I think Senator Bailhache was completely out of line to say the things he said, has done a very poor job of representing Jersey internationally and wasted what could have been a great opportunity to present a positive image of Jersey to the Guardians hundreds of thousands of readers.

The fact is, until today, the independence question was not even vaguely on the agenda. No businessperson had called for it and no politician had openly rallied anyone around the cause (I'm of course discounting Sir Philips conference a couple of years ago because tickets were ridiculously expensive). The independence question is not being asked, so why is he bringing it up?

There being a big question mark hovering above the constitutional position of the island is bad for business. Businesses don't like to invest in jurisdictions that aren't secure and with an uncertain future. The process of becoming independent means fundamentally changing the nature of the jurisdiction, it means renegotiating all international agreements and potentially changing currency and tax arrangements. These are all things that a business looking to make some new investments would want to avoid. They want to put their money in a place where the future is certain. If we became independent, there is nothing to suggest that various international organisations (EFTA etc) would be happy for us to be admitted as a member and it would have huge implications for Jersey business.

The same things are being said in Scotland at the moment, where businesspeople are saying that the Scottish Executive waiting until 2014 to hold a referendum (when they could hold it much sooner) is bad for business because the country is currently in purgatory.

By Bailhache's own admissions, independence is only a vague possibility upon certain conditions being fulfilled (namely the total deterioration of relations between Jersey and the UK) and that he doesn't want it to happen. But because these conditions are not being met, there is no need to even bring up the issue. An interview with such an important national newspaper could have been a great opportunity for Senator Bailhache to put forward a positive image of Jersey, it's role in the British economy and how it conducts business. But instead the opportunity was squandered by his pet obsession, and has put a totally irrelevant issue on the front page (literally!). But if he was genuine about independence just being a far off idea, surely he should dedicate as much of his time to also talk about the possibility of an emergency (the finance industry crashing) where Jersey might want full amalgamation into the UK. Okay, it's unlikely, but it's not inconceivable that such a thing could be desirable under certain circumstances. My guess is that he is less keen on that idea.

A professional politician should know before an interview exactly what points they want to make, what message they want to get across and know how to avoid going off track, and on this occasion the Senator has utterly failed and done not just himself, but the whole island, a big disservice. It was irresponsible for him to make the comments he did, because of the stir it has caused, and has had no benefit from being said whatsoever.

And what is more is that he seems to be the only one in the Council of Ministers that has said anything to do with this issue ever. I'd be intrigued to know if there was any conferring amongst them to decide whether they felt that it was appropriate for him to use an important interview to talk about such things.

I've heard arguments that it's okay to keep the idea of independence on the table because it could be used as leverage in negotiations, but if there is one thing that today has proved is that plenty of people in the UK would be happy to see the back of us (interesting how their views are different for the Falklands...), and so such a threat is only something to use if we are actually prepared to carry it out. As it stands, there doesn't appear to be an appetite in Jersey for independence. Senator Bailhaches position is that an independent Jersey is something that could be an acceptable circumstance given certain conditions, but perhaps even that doesn't reflect the view of the people, who, for all he knows, might think independence is unacceptable under any circumstances?

It is my view, and the view of the majority of people I have spoken to, that Jersey should absolutely NEVER become an independent sovereign state.

Just imagine it, an independent Jersey. It's a horrifying thought. The States of Jersey is generally held in contempt by most people in the island, could you even contemplate what they would be like if they didn't have the ever watching eye of the UK government checking over their shoulder to ensure the "good governance" of the Crown Dependencies?

The only people in Jersey that are interested in the idea of independence are the ultra-conservatives who have no interests in the needs of the average person in Jersey. All they are interested in is preserving their hegemony, and ensuring the needs of finance are always met.

Jersey doesn't have an effective separation of powers, we don't have a pluralistic media and we don't have a representative electoral system. There are plenty of feudal relics still kicking about in our system. But Jersey doesn't have the means to change this for itself, because those that benefit from these deficiencies are the ones who are in charge. The UK is meant to be in charge of the "good governance" of it's overseas territories, and it recently imposed direct rule on the Turks and Caicos islands because of corruption. Currently the UK is not stepping up to the mark with it's obligations to Jersey but the Establishment in Jersey is terrified that they could eventually change and start cleaning up the island.

That is the only reason they want independence, so that they can make sure the UK has no power to step in and fix Jersey. Now that the tide is turning against tax havens, places like Jersey are going out of fashion, and instead of remodelling Jerseys finance industry to provide a totally moral and useful offshore service (as it is more than capable of doing), instead they would rather preserve it as it is and concoct fake disputes with the UK (PASSPORTS and LVCR) to engineer public opinion in Jersey to be against the UK so that the seeds are sowed to fool the public into sleepwalking into independence. This is absolutely NOT the context that any debate on Jerseys future should take place in.

Make no mistake, for the average person in Jersey there are no positives of independence, only negatives.

  • We could have no guarantee to keep our British citizenship.
  • We could lose our rights to rely on British diplomacy if we get into trouble abroad.
  • We would either have to set up our own currency or use a foreign currency in which we would have no say on it's rules.
  • We would not be able to appeal Jersey States and Royal Court decisions to the Privy Council, and possibly the European Court on Human Rights.
  • We would lose our defence.
  • We would have to start paying to use the UK services and expertise, many of which that we currently get for free.
  • If we needed the UK to represent us internationally on something that we couldn't fight ourselves, they wouldn't do it.
  • We would lose the local BBC (leaving it all to the JEP...)
  • Most importantly, we lose the vital safety net.

But if that isn't enough to give you nightmares, just think about the general principle. Jersey is British. We have our own history, autonomy and a special identity. We have the best of all worlds. I hate the idea that a person from England is somehow foreign to me, as they would be if we were independent. We speak English, we drive on the left, eat fish and chips, use the pound. Jersey has no reason to culturally detach ourselves from our mainland counterparts. Nationalism is just evil and divisive and has to be fought against at all costs.

I'm tempted to write another letter to the JEP over this, but if someone wants to beat me to it, please do, they might be getting sick of hearing my name! I'd also want to mention their rather poor headline talking of how the UK is "attacking" us. "Attack" is an emotive word that implies that it's unjustified, whereas "criticise" would be a much more appropriate word to use because anyone is entitled to comment on Jersey and it's finance industry without being delegitimised with words like that.

In the mean time, please vote in the new poll I have put at the top left hand corner of this page for you to vote (anonymously) on whether you think Jersey should become independent or not. It it's successful I might do more polls!

Until next time,

P.S. I do realise that some people will consider the title of this post to be a good enough argument to declare independence right now, but oh well!

P.S.S. Does anyone else think Senator Bailhache looks like he's playing a piano in that picture?


  1. Sir, Does your belief in self-determination extend to the Falkland Islands? Is any government not held in contempt? Does the JEP say the UK is attacking us or just that the Guardian is?

    Really enjoyed this but would have been better if you hadn't strayed into establishment conspiracy theories. A-

    1. Thanks for the comments and questions.

      For the Falkland Islands, I actually don't agree with self determination, which probably sound a bit hypocritical, but here's why -

      I think self determination should apply to nations and the Falklands is not a nation. They are very proud about being British, and so their nation is the UK. A group of less than 3,000 people who are virtually identical to a group of English people can't really be called a nation and the UK probably shouldn't go out of it's way to afford them self determination if it is against Britains national interest.

      Of course most governments face opposition, but many people can at least relax and know that they can always vote a government out of office, whereas there is no mechanism to do that in Jersey.

      The version of the article I've seen (the shortened online version) didn't specify where the attacks came from, but I don't really think that affects the relevance of my point. Both the UK and the Guardian are entitled to criticise Jersey if they like.

    2. For a fine article on the Falklands/Malvinas/Malouines read the new introductory essay by Anthony Barnet to the reprint of his IRON BRITANNIA which was published at the time (1982):

      The Falklands Syndrome: the 30 year legacy of Iron Britannia []

      Barnet writes:

      “A people have the right to self-determination but that is different from determining between sovereignties. The Falklands may be the size of Wales but they are not a country, they are a settlement. As such, the settlers cannot themselves alone decide that Britain must spend millions to defend their cashing in on the all the oil revenues of their Atlantic pastime. This is also up to us.”

      As for the loving care of the Motherland, one of the comments to the article reminds us “Sometimes 'the first draft of history' actually gets the real-politics spot on!” The islanders were denied full British citizenship and rights of resettlement in the UK, under legislation passed by Thatcher’s government in 1981. It was only after the invasion the British Nationality (Falkland Islands) Act of 1983 granted full UK citizenship to the islanders.

  2. Would you sacrifice the finance industry to maintain the existing constitutional arrangement?

    1. I don't see it that way. Jersey is more than capable of having both. It just needs to play it's cards right.

  3. Who exactly is the 'Establishment' in Jersey? Name and shame?

  4. Given that he raised the issue of potential independence well before the election, and topped the polls because, or in spite of these views, the inference that his raising this subject is in someway demonstrative of an undemocratic approach is baffling. Given that the highest number of electors plumped for Sir Philip and his views,I would say that he was well within his mandate to talk with the authority of a majority view, especially as he has been given the de facto position of foreign minister by his peers in the States. Other than the CM, who else do you believe should be in a position to do so ? Surely Democracy means accepting the view of the majority even if you disagree with it

    As to the usual establishment conspiracy comments,, I am with your first commentator in thinking you are doing your interesting comments and yourself a disservice by straying into this nakedly politically motivated nonsense.

    1. It was noticeable during his campaign how little he mentioned the independence issue, apart from a small bit in his manifesto which actually said "I do not advocate independence for Jersey", so if you take the view that the poll topper has free reign to do whatever he likes (which I absolutely don't, and would assume you wouldn't have taken that view after the 2005 election...) then he still doesn't have a mandate to talk about independence.

      But you totally missed the point I was making. I'm not against independence being talked about (provided it's in a healthy context) because I'm sure my side of the argument would win. I'm criticising him talking about something which is, even by his own admission, an irrelevancy, which has led to Jersey being portrayed as a spoilt brat that wants to throw it's toys out of the pram because it's being told off for the recent tax avoidance criticism. I'm saying his tactics were foolish and bad for Jersey.

      As for being politically motivated, I plead guilty. I want a different government in Jersey. The one we currently have doesn't reflect my values or principles and I'd like to argue for a total change. I'm fairly open about that.

    2. Anonymous muddies the waters by implying that because PB topped the poll and (briefly) mentioned the possibility of independence in his manifesto that we should therefore accept that means that the democratic majority voted for the possibility of independence. Very poor analysis, but typical of the muddle headed "thinking" we see from so many defenders of the Status Quo or at least those political representatives of it.

      The misleading aspect of Anon's position is that they seem to believe that voters who vote for a polltopper are voting for every single item of opinion and policy a candidate has mentioned without exception. Barking. Clearly, reasonable voters vote for the candidate whose policies most closely match their own ideas.

      For example, if PB had also said in his manifesto that he would have all kittens put down to help rid Jersey of allergens, would Anon claim that the democratic majority supported this too?

    3. Absolutely Damocles.

      Some people seem to believe that democracy stops when you leave the polling station. From that point on it's a consented dictatorship (forgive the oxymoron).

      And aside from this idea being undemocratic, it's also bad for outcomes, because without scrutiny and opposition, poorer decisions will be made because mistakes won't be spotted.

      There are no two people on the planet with 100% identical views, so when you vote for someone, you are voting because you agree with much, not all, of what they say, but also like their character and professionalism. That doesn't mean you support everything they say.

      But as I said before, the Anon, I suspect, was not likely to have said in 2005 that Stuart Syvret should have been our first Chief Minister given that he topped the poll and stood for election on the basis that he would put his name forward for the job.

  5. A very good posting Sam.

    Regarding the 800 years of legal independence often cited by Philip B, he always forgets:

    a) the Act of Oblivion - a UK Act passed under Charles II which mentioned and applied to the Channel Islands. Passed by a fudge - a similar law was passed in Jersey so it could be claimed the Islands had made their own law, and not had UK law applied to them.
    b) the case of the law passed to make Methodists traitors for not drilling on a Sunday, which had to be retracted by the States after the Privy Council rejected it
    c) The case of homsexuality being legal, recounted amusingly in Peter Crills A Little Brief Authority - delegation troops in, Dick Shenton at head - Minister - "Well, gentlemen, are you going to pass the legislation, or are we going to have to do it for you". Crill's comment: "collapse of stout party!"

    The weighty book on the subject either skims these or ignores them!

  6. So would independence mean that Jersey could ignore the EU over Zero10, oh hang on, are we not under no obligation to do so anyway, but we do, because, well its the EU, and they are bigger than us and could make life difficult!!! and if so, surely with independence, the UK could also become a fearful aggressor....

  7. > democracy stops when you leave the polling station. From that point on it's a consented dictatorship

    That is a widely held view in the States that increases the chances of us thinking that they're very arrogant :)

    The idea is that the general population can't be trusted with knowing all the ins and outs of the issues, and these fine elected politicos have been trusted with the burden of making all those difficult decisions for us. If they get it wrong, they face the consequences at the next election.

    I used to think that a referendum should be allowed on any controversial issue and the result should be binding, but I'm increasingly being turned around to the idea above - the "consented dictatorship". I do keep returning to Mr Churchill's famous quote about 5 minutes talking to the average voter!