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?