Bergerac goes nationalist

Here’s a funny thing. The Crown Dependencies. Now, I know something of Manx politics, going back to the old Pan-Celtic days, but I’ve never really taken the Channel Islands all that seriously.

Maybe this is a class thing. Before the advent of cheap continental flights, and before the more recent dependence on financial services, Mannin used to be a big tourist destination for the working class. Geography dictated that the island drew in a lot of its income from the great unwashed of Belfast and Glasgow. This lent the island a pleasantly down-at-heel aspect that’s only partially been effaced by ostentatious property development. The Channel Islands, on the other hand, have at least as far back as I can remember successfully projected the image of an exclusive country club. The Whicker Island image is probably unfair on a lot of the islanders, but there you go.

And yet, rum things are going down in the Manche. Sark is currently abolishing feudalism, a mere four years after Scotland got round to it. Ordinarily, you’d think this was a good thing, but I’m not sure that it is. Remember for a moment that a tiny polity like Sark, where everybody knows everybody, probably militates against the worst aspects of the tenant system, and that the Barclay brothers seem to be subjecting the island to a hostile takeover. We just may be seeing a harmless anachronism sacrificed on the altar of right theory for the benefit of a couple of oligarchs.

On the plus side, there’s a bit of a push being given to language revivalism. There’s finally getting to be some real, as opposed to symbolic recognition given to Jèrriais and Dgèrnésiais – which, let’s not forget, were everyday spoken languages a mere hundred years ago when the islands were rural backwaters, but have since declined into the property of the very old and the dedicated hobbyist. Better late than never, I suppose. And, bearing in mind the unlikelihood of the Acht Gaeilge getting through Stormont, are these guys actually in advance of us?

And now we have this hefty report [pdf] from Jersey’s high-powered Constitutional Review Group. Much of this is made up of unexceptionably progressive ideas – a written Constitution incorporating a Bill of Rights, coupled with reform of the archaic legislative and judicial systems with a clear separation of powers. But what’s eye-catching is the serious consideration given to the question of independence, and assessing whether the island would be prepared for it.

It’s an interesting point. Remember that the Crown Dependencies are not and never have been part of the UK state. They tend to have an ornery independent streak, and put a lot more stress on their self-government institutions than Westminster, which basically sees them as Ruritanian holdovers under the authority of an obscure subsection of the Home Office. As the Jersey group point out, they’re only one or two steps away from independence as it is, and the big change would be substituting a state-to-state relationship with Britain in place of Home Office oversight.

Why now, though? Why, at this point in particular, do these micro-polities want to stress their distinctiveness from Britain? I know there’s been some dispute between the Brits and the Jèrriais about whether or not Jersey has the right to sign international treaties, but that sort of thing doesn’t come in a vacuum. Nor does the polling evidence that seems to show, maybe not exactly a nationalist upsurge, but at least a little popular support for independence. I suppose there’s a lot of this going on in different parts of Europe, with increased – or at least more visible – attachment to local identities. In this particular case, I suspect devolution, with the cracking of the once massively centralised UK state, has had an impact. Linked to that is the British-Irish Intergovernmental Council, which for the first time has allowed ministers from the Crown Dependencies to strut their stuff on a bigger stage. This may have put some ideas into the heads of local politicos. There really is nothing like a seat in the UN to make a chap look posh.


  1. Tankie said,

    July 3, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    OK, but why have you illustrated this with a pic of a young Inspector Barnaby? What has Midsomer ever called for, except a lower murder rate?

  2. McGazz said,

    July 3, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    I think it’s something to do with retaining their status as tax havens. If Britain is forced at some point in the future to crack down on that sort of thing (look at the recent kerfuffle between Germany and Liechtenstein), theatening independence is the only card the Channel Islands/Isle Of Man can play.

  3. Doug said,

    July 4, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    The Channel Islands are seriously weird places. Jersey is run like aparteid South Africa – unless you can prove 5 generations have been born there, you’re second class in access to somewhere to live, jobs etc. I

    remember going to Guernsey a few years ago – the impression some of the locals gave was that the arrival of German coach parties in 1940/1 was a golden age. Gun emplacements get pride of place on the tour guides. We couldn’t get off the island quick enough.

  4. ejh said,

    July 4, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    I ‘ve spent some time in Port Erin because there used to be a very strong chess tournament there (and two very good pubs). As far as I could tell all the local youth were elsewhere and most of the proletariat were from Liverpool.

  5. Soliver said,

    July 4, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    What an accurate assessment of the Barclays take over of our have not mentioned the bullying tactics that they employ.

  6. July 9, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    Re Doug at 3 and ejh at 4: A large part of Jersey’s proletariat is Scouse too. The indigenous working class there are classic labour aristocracy, bought off by a very high standard of living underwritten by the precarious seasonal labour of scouse and jock proles who are legally denied the right to even rent property under Jersey’s indeed apartheid-like laws – and also by the even more precarious seasonal labour of Portuguese temporary migrants (mainly from peasant communities in the Atlantic islands). Second generation Portuguese migrants have found ways of evading the exclusive residency laws, but are now facing fierce competition from migrant labour from the Accession states (the Polish invasion of Jersey actually pre-dated Accession by a couple of years, due to Jersey’s odd EU status): now that Portugal is no longer a Third World state, the starvation wages they have been used to in Jersey are starvation wages in Portugal too, whereas the wage gap between Jersey and Poland remains huge. Despite the economic viability of the Jersey model resting on the hyper-exloitation of migrant labour (as with Mexicans and Central Americans in California), their very presence generates disgusting racism among the Jersey natives.

    Sorry, lots of sweeping statements. Jèrriais is, however, a very cool language, and I am glad it has been revived.

  7. Dear Koba said,

    July 10, 2008 at 12:37 am

    There has been some intensive effort by the GMB to recruit workers in the Channel Islands over the last few months.

    I understand these are linked with proposals to form a Jersey labour party – the initiative coming from Jersey workers themselves.

    But we shall see.

  8. ejh said,

    July 10, 2008 at 9:31 am

    Didn’t the GMB or somebody hold their conference on Jersey a few years ago?

    That business about renting property. Where do people live then? Do they have to either buy or live in hotels? Tents?

    Oh, I remember – on getting back from aforesaid chess tournament I was in a pub in the City of London and at the next table was a Manx-language session. I wonder what that was all about.

  9. Luton Diesel said,

    September 30, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Dude… the correct nomenclature is Les Iles anglo-normandes. For the French – and indeed, objectively – they’re not really dans la manche, but off the coast of Normandy.

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