Falklands and referendum: is the question that clear?


In our last post we focus on what may really concern the three parties in a sovereignty conflict. We centred the attention on Kashmir and what Kashmiris thought it was relevant to be discussed.
To check the article please see:

Falklands and referendum: learning from Kashmir

It is time to have a look at the referendum. So, assuming the main concern of the three parties was the sovereignty over the third territory, in our case the sovereignty over the Falkland islands, what options should be considered for referendum.
The referendum in March will only have one question. In what is important here it will read:

“[…] Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?
YES or NO”

For more details about the actual referendum, dates, and question see:

Falklands: referendum, dates and question

There are two points at least to be made:
Firstly, the value of the referendum. It is indeed important we are going to have a referendum as expression of democratic values and basic liberties. And it is also a way to start breaking the status quo the Falkland islands have been into for so long.
Secondly, the value of the question in itself. Because of the way is written and current international and local scenario, there could be but one answer. So, we all can foresee its result. That does not mean that the actual referendum is of no value. As stated before, it is a crucial moment. And it also ratifies the fact that the Falkland islanders can make use of their right to self-determination at any time and propose any other referendum and solution.

Why does the question have problems? The answer is simple, because although it may seems as it offers a choice, it does not in reality. If the Falkland islanders answered YES, they would still be considered as British Overseas Territory and hence would know what to expect -to continue living the way they live with the government and the law they know and all that this implies. However, if they answered NO, the consequence is but one: uncertainty. And who is going to choose uncertainty over something already known? Human beings are by nature conservative and between an uncertain situation and one that they already know, most go for what is under their knowledge, their experience (I am not saying that is wrong; I am only stating a fact).

Let’s compare it with a different and current example. Let’s suppose that the U.S. government proposes a referendum in relation to the private use of weapons. And they use the following question: Do you want the law for the private ownership and use of weapons to be amended? YES/NO? The question is very simple, yet tricky because either in favour or not of private ownership and use of weapons, if we opted for YES, the government may actually prohibit any private use and ownership of weapons. But they can perfectly do the opposite and actually permit any individual to own and use any weapon under any circumstances. And both these interpretations may be against what we really wanted. What is the problem? The way in which the question is written and the possible choices.

It is true that the booklet that accompanies the question gives a hint about what may happen if the Falkland islanders voted NO. The booklet states:
“If more people vote ‘no’ than ‘yes’ then Falkland Islands Government will undertake further consultation and preparatory work leading to a further referendum on alternative options. These
alternatives would be representative of public opinion, as identified through open and free consultation.”

However, it is not clear what the “alternative options” are. Therefore, uncertainty. In any case in which we have several options and some of them with uncertain result, how many of us are going to go for an uncertain future? Thus, even more sceptical if we have to think of the ones that may be affected by our decisions -e.g. our children.

In the next post we will discuss a possible way of addressing the indeterminacy and offer a clearer question. The intention is to actually let the referendum fulfil its objective, that is, be a democratic tool for self-determination rather than a tool for validation of predetermined and foreseeable decisions.

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