Yesterday started early for us. Armed with our accredited observer badges, we climbed into our 4×4 and followed in the convoy attached to Mobile Team 1 as they headed west and then north from Stanley towards farms and settlements including Long Island, Estancia, Green Patch, Brookfield, Port Louis, Rincon Grande and Johnson’s Harbour.
It was going to a long but rewarding day. Each mobile team, regardless of whether they were operating in East or West Falkland, had a schedule to keep and that meant that we needed to be at our first stop, Long Island farm, at 0900. We were scheduled to stop for 20 minutes. Long enough as it turned out not only to set up the mobile ballot box, according to the agreed standards of this referendum, but also long enough to enjoy a cup of tea with the inhabitants of Long Island – the Watson family. Encumbered with hospitality, we were able to chat about various aspect of Camp life, and attitudes towards the referendum process. We were not, of course, allowed to see the act of voting. Neil and Glenda were terrific hosts and we spent a very pleasant time catching up on Camp traditions such as horse riding, socialising, and the hard graft involved in running a sheep farm. The Watson family have also diversified and now routinely welcome tourists, eager to learn more about Island life, to their farm. They are routinely asked about the strength of the agricultural and rural element of the Falklands, despite speculation over the role of oil and gas in fuelling the Islands’ future.
Voting completed, we headed on to the next stop. This time it was rather less comfortable. The convoy parked up at a road junction close to the settlement of Green Patch. We waited in the bitter cold…no one turned up. The officials dutifully respected the allotted voting time (25 minutes) before we gratefully retreated to our cars for the next point on our voting itinerary. As it turned out, the residents of Green Patch had already voted by post, but the rules of the referendum meant that we, as the mobile voting team, had to remain in place for the advertised duration.
As the day developed, we parked up at several other farms, a settlement and some road junctions waiting for those on the electoral register to appear and cast their votes. It became clear that the act of voting was not the only thing on the mind of the communities we visited. The most striking aspect of the ensuing conversations involved lingering memories of the 1982 occupation and the conditioning effect of that time on those who were present during the 74 days. Thirty years may have passed but the occupation continues to have a subtle persistence in terms of how communities make sense of the past, present and—significantly—future. Our obligation as accredited observations demanded that we were never to ask, or speculate upon, the voting intentions of the people we spoke to during the day. After an hour journey, we eventually found ourselves back where we started, at the Malvina House Hotel.
At approximately 4pm, a snaking convoy of vehicles began their slow, but profoundly animated, journey through the streets of Stanley. Lead by a small contingent of horse-backed Islanders, there followed an extraordinary array of highly-decorated quad bikes, cars, 4×4, motorbikes and a lorry with a Union Flag draped over a large metal skip, containing three young Islanders. Men, women and children were, themselves, decorated in Union and Falkland Island flags. Local organisers estimate that some three hundred vehicles took part, and the ensuing spectacle was broadcast to viewers around the world thanks to the presence of the international media. The convoy took around 90 minutes to pass our position on the Ross Road, close to the 1982 Liberation Monument. The procession had the feeling of a grand finale. In reality, it marked only the end of Day 1 of the 2013 referendum. Day 2 was still to come.