Wednesday, December 20

Sark Embraces Democracy

Sark, one of the smallest of the inhabited Channel Islands (off the northern coast of France) voted this year to end 450 years of feudalism in favour of directly elected local politicians.

The Channel Islands are 'out with' the United Kingdom (and the EU), are Crown Dependencies with theirs own legislative assemblies, the inhabitants are indeed very British and very Loyal to the Crown (it all dates back to King William I of England, Duke of Normandy in 1066 and all that), yet the islanders have (it is all a tad complicated) to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights.

For over four centuries Sark has been governed by the law-making body, the Chief Please which comprised of 40 landowners directly descended from the 40 Jersey (the largest of the Channel Islands) families who were settled in the Island following the expulsion of a ramshacakeled collection of French temporary occupants in 1533, by the powerful DeCarteret family from St Ouens, in the west of Jersey. Each family was granted a piece of land with a small section of coast on condition they maintained a cannon on their land - and presumably fired it in the general direction of any intending invaders or pirates.

The coastal cannons have long since gone but the feudal system of government has, up to now, remained.

In March this year the Islanders agreed to change (actually, they had no choice) its centuries old system of government which dated back to Queen Elizabeth I, who granted the ruling 'Seignior' a 'fief' on the tiny island.

A ballot outlined two options. In the first, the Chief Pleas would be made up entirely of 28 elected deputies. The second option was for 28 seats but with the body being made up of 12 elected deputies, eight elected tenants and eight additional members.

Well now, the residents of Sark were keen on simple democracy. Of the 419 returned ballots, 234 opted for the first option and 184 for the second. The turnout was an amazing 90 per cent.

So it came to pass that the legislation was sent to the Privy Council for approval. It was then granted Royal Assent and is now law. In the Spring of next year the islanders will elect 28 new politicians and another of our ''dear Channel Islands'' will enjoy universal suffrage.
One wonders if the Islanders of Sark will soon have the highest ratio of voters to politicians in the world, some 450:28 - equelivant to one politician to every six voters. As a consequence one could suspect that the future political scene in Sark will be less tranquil than the past 450 years. Thus is how they will now be governed.

1 comment: said...

Very interesting.
And what a great shame Sark has been forced to play catch up.