Guernsey Press

Horace Camp: A constitutional threat

We have a lot to thank Good King John for, but our independence has never been under a greater threat, writes Horace Camp...


Guernsey has had a pretty good run since 1204.

Pure chance put us in the right place at the right time to gain a level of independence that would hardly seem plausible given our size and the tiny 13th century population. Naturally it went to our heads and from that time Guernsey became the centre of the universe, at least in the minds of Guernsey people.

Yes, we have a lot to thank Good King John for.

Possibly only Sarnians root for him when watching films about Robin Hood. Since gaining a degree of independence we have had to fight to keep it. Literally fight on many occasions, as invaders came and went over the centuries. The islanders of old put up some gallant resistance and often paid the price of freedom with their blood. We still remember the road that flowed with blood but we don’t recall the names of the quarter of the population who died defending our Town. Two separate battles where Guernsey blood defended our right to be Guernsey.

Over the centuries we had good times and bad times. The good times were very good and the bad times were very bad. There was a time when strangers were not permitted to land here because the food situation was so dire that one more mouth to feed would be too many. On other occasions we took huge advantage of being on the frontier between England and what would become France by exploiting trading opportunities both legal and Guernsey legal. And why not, given that for two centuries we were constantly raided and our people killed? We even took advantage of that by being rewarded with rights and privileges that even ordinary English people didn’t enjoy. We held on. We stuck with our Duke and didn’t sell out to the French. We were a hardy people living for centuries on the front line of a war that was on and off, mostly on, for centuries.

Our independence, gained by chance and paid for with blood was, and is, our most precious jewel and one we will not surrender lightly.

We have stood up to challenges other than invasion. England became Great Britain and then the United Kingdom. We managed to stay out of all of them, although it came close during the Civil War when Oliver Cromwell toyed with making us, I believe, a part of Hampshire. In true Guernsey fashion, although we, or at least our leaders, sided with Parliament we had the good sense to be among the first to send our warm greetings to the returning King Charles the Second. We, and here I grudgingly include the other Crown Dependencies who are but a shadow of our historical magnificence, are unique in never being a colony or a territory of the once great imperial power to our north.

We were also unique in our ways and customs, which also aided us in our argument that we are ‘different’ to the United Kingdom.

Today our independence has never been under a greater threat. Greater even than when the General Post Office dared to extend its mandate to us and our Town constables had to cut the telephone wires they strung up in Town. Greater than when Customs and Excise set up a station here and we had to bash in the bottoms of their boats in protest. Greater than when it was proposed to extend the Corn Laws here, which could have been as devastating as it was to Ireland. Greater than when the Imperial Levy to pay for the First World War could have bankrupted us because we happened to provide a greater proportion of our population to the war effort than any other part of the Great British Empire.

We knew the value of our independence and the need to remain unique to avoid being compared with the Isle of Wight. Although we have always punched above our weight, we generally kept our heads below the parapet for fear of them being blown off. To remain independent we knew not to annoy our friend to the north. We knew that we had to pay our way and not be seen as a burden. Which we generally achieved, until we were occupied by the Germans and we did need a bit of a hand-up to recover.

But since then we have paid our way, and generally kept very quiet, until more recent times. Our States was renowned for nodding through important legislation which kept the money flowing in and spending days discussing whether a bike shed roof should be corrugated iron or felt. Those were the days when deputies could do no harm.

Unfortunately, these days everything has changed. We are no longer unique. In fact, every day we become more like Milton Keynes or any other part of England. Our people, our culture, our laws, our buildings and now, potentially, our national debt make us almost a clone of England – a Little England in the Channel.

Now we learn that the UK treats us more and more as though we are an irritating nuisance that just gets in the way. It treats us with contempt when negotiating trade deals and even includes clauses in legislation to enable it to take action when our unwritten constitutional position wouldn’t allow it. We have an industry which will be morally irksome to the next government of the UK and I don’t doubt for a moment that, if they think it fit, they will legislate it out of existence without a second thought. We are politically unstable and fiscally irresponsible, basing our future survival on an industry that much of the western world is seeking to curb or even eliminate. We have seen industries come and go before, even in our own lifetimes. If at any time we had had to go bonnet in hand to the UK to bail us out, then it would have been game over for independent Guernsey.

Our current P&R were considering increasing our national debt to more than £750m. In UK terms that would be £750bn. About a third of the national debt it has taken the UK more than 200 years to acquire. If we borrow to finance Education, Sport and Culture’s flawed vision, we will have to borrow more than we need to get a decent rate. The minimum we could issue a bond at would be £250m., double the amount required by ESC. I expect our deputies will think of something to spend the excess on?

The United States of America struggles to sell its debt issues and has had to increase the interest rates to even get some of its bonds away. What sort of rate will Guernsey get, having told the world it’s in dire straits, does not have a functional government and the government it does have is willing to risk nearly 900 years of independence in a foolhardy attempt to build a school?

Never has the Guernsey battle cry of Diex Aix seemed more relevant. For those not familiar with our battle cry, it translates as, God Help Us.