Going Dutch

If I asked you to think of “The Kingdom of the Netherlands” you may imagine a flat landscape strewn with tulips and windmills on its country roads and hash bars and whore windows on its city streets, rather than palm trees and Caribbean beaches.

When it's spring again I'll bring again, peanuts from Oranjestad.

The Caribbean islands to scale with the Kingdom's European territory.

However the Dutch Kingdom, much like our own United Kingdom, is a group of countries that share a monarch; as well as the European country commonly and erroneously (but for my purposes in this article conveniently) called Holland, the Kingdom also includes the European nation’s former colonies in the Caribbean, Aruba and the five island colonies which form the Netherlands Antilles.

All three countries have their own money (the Aruban florin, Antillean guilder and Euro), their own teams in FIFA and people are proud to be Aruban, Antillean or a Nederlander, but all three have Dutch (and by extension EU) passports.

The Kingdom has a similar level of asymmetric devolution to our own; like London, Amsterdam serves as the capital of The Kingdom and of Holland, the Dutch parliament in The Hague serves as both the domestic parliament of Holland, as well as dealing with the Kingdom-wide matters such as defence and foreign affairs and like England, Holland is the largest country in the Union dwarfing the others with just shy of 98% of the Kingdom’s area and just over 98% of its population.

Oranjestad and Willemstad both house their respective national parliaments which legislate on those devolved matters affecting their respective nation, and the Prime Minister of each parliament is responsible for assigning the nation’s Minister Plenipotentiary to the Dutch cabinet (the equivalent of the FM of Scotland getting to name the Scottish secretary).

As the Dutch parliament doesn’t have constituencies per se there is no “West Leeward Question”, it is simply accepted that the people of the Caribbean fringe choose to vote for parties based on reserved policies.

By now you are probably wondering why I’ve decided to bring this up on a blog that asserts to pertain to Scottish politics. On the 10th of October, most of what you learned above will no longer apply because the people of the Netherlands Antilles have voted to end their own Union. Multi-option referenda have been held on all five islands giving the islanders four choices.

  1. To remain part of the Netherlands Antilles
  2. To leave the Kingdom of the Netherlands and become fully independent
  3. To have their island recognised as a nation within the Kingdom
  4. To have their island absorbed into Holland

The two largest islands, Curacao and Sint Maarten have chosen option 3, and while St Eustatius actually voted to preserve the Union, it will be going along with the other islands Saba and Bonaire and will become council areas within the province of North Holland on the 10th, with 5 years to prepare for Holland’s laws to take effect.

Now when a friend of mine from Leiden explained these goings on to me recently, I appreciated the insight into the quirkyness of the Dutch constitution but didn’t really see what it had to do with us here in Scotland. Until she told me that in the cases of Sint Maarten and Curacao these are the second referenda within twelve years.

Sint Maarten voted / percentage in 1994 / percentage in 2000

  1. To remain part of the Netherlands Antilles / 59.6% /3.7%
  2. To leave the Kingdom of the Netherlands and become fully independent / 6.2% / 14.2%
  3. To have their island recognised as a nation within the Kingdom / 33.1% / 69.9%
  4. To have their island absorbed into Holland 0.9% / 11.6%

Curacao voted / percentage in 1993 / percentage in 2005

  1. To remain part of the Netherlands Antilles / 73.56% /3.74%
  2. To leave the Kingdom of the Netherlands and become fully independent / 0.49% / 4.82%
  3. To have their island recognised as a nation within the Kingdom / 17.93% / 67.83%
  4. To have their island absorbed into Holland 8.02% / 23.61%

These figures, particularly those of Sint Maarten are quite astonishing, within the space of 6 years, the centre of Antillean politics had shifted to such an extent that 55.9% of those who had voted in favour of preserving the Union felt such a position was no longer tenable, and that the island was ready to move on to bigger and better things.

Alex Salmond has made his position clear on holding further referenda after a hypothetical defeat in the first, believing that another referendum would not be possible for a generation but I think that these results show that such a stance is perhaps misguided. A vote to remain part of the UK isn’t necessarily a “No” vote, just a “Not Yet” vote, and that plenty of these voters can be persuaded by good governance, effective campaigning, and perhaps even some Dutch courage.

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