How to become independent the easy way

by Elias Blum

There are various ways in which a state can become independent. In the case of becoming independent from the UK, the most normal means was as follows:

1. In response to local demand, a devolved legislature is set up.

2. Pro-independence parties win a majority in the legislature.

3. UK government convenes a Constitutional Conference to work out the details of independence: timing and process, but also substance of the post-independence Constitution. The negotiations take place between various political parties in the territory, as well as with the UK Government. This results in a report that set out things like who will be a citizen of the new state, how its institutions will be set up, etc – including things like protecting the pensions of civil servants.

4. The proposals of the Constitutional Conference may be put to the people in a referendum. This means that they are not voting on the concept of independence, but on an agreed constitutional transition to independence. Note: If there is no a referendum, the legislature of the territory might approve the independence Constitution instead. Sometimes there was an additional election, before or after the Constitutional Conference, in place of a referendum.

5. The UK Parliament passes an Independence Act, which divests Westminster of sovereignty and grants to the territory a new Constitution (as agreed at the Constitutional Conference).

6. The new Constitution comes into effect by UK Order-in-Council on ‘the appointed day’. At that point, the band plays, the soldiers march past, some royal flunkey takes the salute, the Union Flag goes down, the new national flag goes up, and they have a big party in the streets.

7. Alongside this, there might be some continuing arrangement for defence co-operation, financial co-operation etc. That’s the grown up way to deal with things – to recognise that while independence cannot be prevented, there are enduring shared interests that can provide a basis for a good post-independence relationship.

That’s the normal process by which the UK gave independence to most former colonies. There were some variations. In a few cases, it didn’t work that way and it was either very messy (Ireland) or did not end well (Rhodesia). Of course, this doesn’t deal with the full politics of the situation – how to win the case for independence – but it does show that with mutual respect and goodwill, the mechanics of the process are not eligible.