Category Archives: British Overseas Territories

The Decline and Fall of the British Empire Part 3: Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha

Saint Helena from space

Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha

This state has a population of just 7,728. It developed a new constitution in 2009, and it’s in the middle of the Atlantic. Compared to the places we’ve already spoken about, it’s quite dull. Witness Ascension Island’s newspaper, The Islander. I especially like this enigmatic message.

The islands are strategically valuable, especially Ascension Island, which has an air-base. The UK has £19 million (around £2500 per head) invested in the islands, with plans to build an airport and a boat to deliver the post. That accounts for 64% of the islands total budget.

With such a reliance on the British, I can’t see much prospect of independence. I mean, Saint Helena is dependent on British money and Ascesion relies on the British and American militaries. But there are conflicts within the country itself. According to Wikipedia (and sorry for using such a lousy source), Ascension Islands first island council in 2002 was dissolved by the government in Saint Helena. The Ascension Islanders mostly boycotted the next election and by 2009 they had had to introduce a new constitution recognizing the three islands as equal partners. It all seems very civil, but a change in the islands could affect Britain’s relationship with them

The Decline and Fall of the British Empire Part 2 – The Pitcairn Islands

Pitcairn Islands

With a population of just 62, the Pitcairn Islands have the smallest representative democracy in the world. In 2012, the population was made up of 52 resident islanders and 10 non-residents. The statistics on the island are truly fascinating because they’re so exact. There are 34 able bodied people of working age, and 31 of those work public sector jobs, although its mostly part time and private enterprise also has a role.

So, 95% of the government’s money comes from Britain, and the population has dropped from a high of around 250. The island also has to deal with the aftermath of a series of sexual assault trials that affected nearly every family and seem to indicate a deeper, cultural problem in the colony.

As if this isn’t bad enough, global warming is likely to have an affect on the survival of this community. The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change lists problems such as a decrease in the size of coral reefs, warmer waters bringing up more poisonous or dangerous fish, risks of tropical storms. The biggest risk for Pitcairn is flooding: most shipping comes through one small jetty. If that is damaged then the island could become difficult to access. Such a disaster, even if it’s temporary, could mean soil loss for the island, and could affect the community’s ability to survive.

Chance of survival

The main lesson to draw from this is the political force that the British government puts into keeping the colonies running. In 2012 and 2013 DFID donated £3.6 million to the island, which is £58,000 per islander. This shows a real desire to invest in the survival of British Overseas Territories.

However, in my opinion, the money doesn’t seem to be helping. Big projects on Pitcairn include RSPB running a rat extermination programme on an outlying island, and an abortive attempt to build a wind farm. These projects aren’t creating work for islanders. The population is still leaving. Reliance on British foreign aid doesn’t seem to be a good option for them.

Pitcairn faces big challenges with global warming, and the risk of British funding cuts to foreign aid. There is a good chance that this colony could disappear within the next few decades, in spite of the UK government’s best efforts.