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CLARIN

Scottish Lessons For The Falklands

The dispute over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands is unique. But Argentinians can still draw lessons from the way Britain averted the prospect of Scottish independence.

Falkland islanders in March 2013
Falkland islanders in March 2013
Fernando Petrella*

-OpEd-

BUENOS AIRES — The international system is living through some notable crises.

There is a basic questioning of democratic values, as if republican guarantees were a thing for some but not for others. There are also crises of political legitimacy manifest in distrust felt toward those in government, as well as an economic crisis causing job losses, inequality and uncertainty. These have all led to a fundamental breakdown of global governance that has demonstrated itself in the most extreme ways in places like Iraq, Syria and Ukraine.

This age of crisis has also fueled "separatist" movements that, while existing before in historical terms, had never matured to the level of threatening the integrity of important nation states or the geographical equilibrium on which international stability resides. The cases of Scotland and Catalonia are not new, though Europe's difficult conditions are making separatist voices louder.

Falkland islanders in March 2013 — Photo: Martin Zabala/Xinhua/ZUMA

But not all circumstances are equal or so distant, nor should they be for the Argentines.

Scotland, for example, offers us an opportunity to make two important reflections and reach a conclusion. First, in terms of content, the British government was expected to peacefully accept the results of the Scottish independence referendum and the changes that could have followed what turned out to be an averted secession.

Second, Prime Minister David Cameron did not dismiss Scottish secessionist politicians, nor did he insult Scotland and its history or traditions. Instead, he approached them and opened a dialogue, highlighting the political and economic advantages of the status quo while offering more, enticing elements of autonomy. Meaning he negotiated, even if unilaterally, and sought to boost the ties of amity instead of irritating the other side. Ultimately, Scottish voters were persuaded.

We could draw a double conclusion from Cameron's approach. First, the Scottish episode allows us to better understand the United Kingdom and its "codes" of conduct, considering it is the side with which we would negotiate over the Falkland Islands. Second, the right way to initiate negotiation would be to maintain a focus based on closer positions, friendship and shared values.

Happily, none of the separatist movements of the past or present, whether peaceful or traumatic, is essentially similar to the dispute over the Falklands. But we should nevertheless make use of the experiences the world offers.

They show us a British government that was both determined and flexible when faced with the prospect of losing a very important part of its territory. Despite that prospect, it remained attached to the principle of forming bridges with those it is forced to deal with.

Argentine diplomacy has made great progress whenever it has applied these criteria in various cases. It should turn to them now.

*Ambassador Fernando Petrella is an executive committee member of the Argentine Council for International Relations.

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