Britain’s claims to sovereignty over the Falklands are being challenged by Argentina, who believes that the islands they call Las Malvinas belong to them. The dispute can be juxtaposed against arguments closer to home that rage over independence for Scotland.
These two disputes highlight how complex and awkward issues relating to legitimacy and power can be. England has historic ties to both Scotland and the Falklands; the former has been united with England since 1707, whilst the latter had their 189 year relationship re-affirmed thirty years ago when Britain fought a war in order to defend the islands. Yet both have other pasts, Argentina used to rule the islands for a period around 1822, whilst there is a long history of conflict between Scotland and England.
There are many differences politically or culturally between England and Scotland, with their right to self-determination not as clearly stated. The arguments in favour have more to do with geography – that a united island pulls more weight than a divided one. In a recent speech David Cameron said “I am one hundred percent clear that I will fight with everything I have to keep our United Kingdom together… to me, this is not some issue of policy or strategy or calculation — it matters head, heart and soul. Our shared home is under threat and everyone who cares about it needs to speak out.” The consequences of separation could have a significant impact upon the makeup of Great Britain, with potential for calls Wales and even separatists in Cornwall to grow louder.
In contrast, no one can claim that the UK has close geographical ties with the Falklands. Instead, leaders in Britain are insisting that the islanders have the right to self-determination. Sir Mark (son of former PM Margaret Thatcher) stated “the UK has no intention in imposing any changes in the sovereign status against the wishes of the Falkland Islanders.” This rhetoric is clever, it conveys a sense of democratic choice, whilst being safe in the knowledge that the Falkland islanders identify themselves more closely as British than Argentinian. Keeping the islands is of benefit for the British economy, with an estimated £115 billion worth of oil possibly in the surrounding sea.
Argentine documentary producer Tamara Florin who visited the islands has illustrated this, arguing that contrary to popular belief in her home country, “there is nothing Argentinian about the islands. The people eat fish and chips, they have dinner at 6pm, they’re British. The only thing that is remotely Argentinian is maybe the landscape that resembles barren Patagonia and the thousands of still active landmines that the Argentinian forces left behind.”
As a final thought, how far should history play a role as a determinant in ownership? Should legal treaties not be respected? The alternative is endless contention and disputing of territory, whereby tenuous links are drawn upon in order to justify actions. This seems particularly futile considering that many previous imperial nations can argue some kind of entitlement to many places. It is time that countries, such as Argentina stop making claims to pieces of land they no longer possess, particularly ones they have not had for nearly two hundred years and have developed cultures closer to their current rulers.