Greenland: Yes We Can

November 26, 2008

Greenland has overwhelming voted for more autonomy from Denmark in yesterday’s referendum.

Over 75% of Greenlanders backed the plan.
Just over 23% said no.
The turnout was around 72%.

I reckon that’s an impressive turnout given the dark Arctic winter days. Those in the north of the country must be coping with little or no daylight at this time.

Its a clear sign that the island is heading towards independence.

As I said in yesterday’s blog, the First Minister Hans Enoksen has a timescale of independence in 12 years time.

Others prefer a shorter timescale.

The former foreign minister Aleqa Hammond sees independence in 8 years.

And the head of the Greenland union SIK, Jess Berthelsen, sees it happen in 4 years.

The defeated unionists like the Democrats leader Jens Frederiksen and rebel Siumut politican Finn Lynge are now left arguing over the timescale and the feasibilty of independence.

Lynge in particular thinks that with only 57 000 people, Greenland cannot be independent. He said it was ‘impossible for an island with 50,000 to 60,000 inhabitants to become an independent state.’

‘There are simply too few of us to provide the personnel necessary to develop a viable state’.

The ex-First Minister Lars-Emil Johansen rejects that criticism. Echoing the slogan of Barack Obama he simply says ‘Yes We Can’.

Greenland is rich in oil, gas, gold, diamond and other minerals.

Scottish companies like Cairn Energy are keen to develop the Greenland oil and gas potential. It is now the largest oil company investing in Greenland with a total of 8 licences around the island. Greenland’s oil company Nunaoil has a 8% stake in those licenses.

Its part of the Greenland Government’s plan to diversify its economy which is currently largely based on the fishing industry.

And speed the path to independence.

The world’s current smallest states by population:

1 Vatican City 920
2 Tuvalu 11,640
3 Nauru 13,050
4 Palau 20,300
5 San Marino 28,880
6 Monaco 32,410
7 Liechtenstein 33,720
8 Saint Kitts & Nevis 38,960
9 Marshall Islands 59,070

Currently the population of Greenland would put it at no. 9 in the world.

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Weekend warriors

June 18, 2008

Sometimes cited as a place where an alcohol ban has been successful, the islands of Chuuk (formerly Truk) in the Federated States of Micronesia, has recently suspended the act.

The Federated States of Micronesia lie in the Pacific Ocean, north of Papua New Guinea. They and its western neighbour Palau form the Caroline Islands.

The first Old World explorers to the Caroline islands were the Spanish (1526) and Portuguese(1527), though the Spanish did not assert control till 1875. They sold the islands to the Germans in 1899.

Incidentally, German Caroline Island stamps are very collectable, if you have any. The very early ones are just German stamps with the word Karolinen printed over them.

The Germans lost the islands to the Japanese at the start of the First World War, and the Japanese lost the Islands to the United States in the Second World War.

The Federated States of Micronesia gained its independence from the US in 1986; Palau achieved it in 1994. Both countries still have a compact with the United States that allows the US to station its defence posts in the islands in return for financial aid.

One of the islands in the Chuuk group, Moen, had a referendum of the prohibition on alcohol in 1977 with a 93 % Yes vote, a move prominently supported by the Moen women and the local Protestant church. This was to try and stop the young men getting drunk at the weekend; so called ‘weekend warriors’.

The effects of this prohibition were to drive drinking underground, and drinking after a short lull returned to its previous levels before it was introduced. Tax revenues were also affected. So long as the drinking was in private and without disturbance, the police had a relaxed attitude.

People however felt the streets safer and the alcohol ban was enforced in neighbouring islands in the Federated States of Micronesia.

This year though the ban has been suspended. The Micronesian nation has become a magnet for tourists, particularly for scuba divers, and particularly in the Chuuk islands at the heart of the alcohol ban.

Tourists and prohibition just don’t go together. The ban had to end. Foreign money was much more important than a temperance movement.

There has been little evidence for a temperance movement in Scotland, but the alcohol comsumption figures are at startling levels.

In particular the rise of underage drinking is a worrying trend.

Alcohol consumption in Scotland

We can see from the graph that alcopops have came from nowhere and ciders have increased. These are drinks prodominately associated with young drinkers.

The violence and anti-social behaviour of our young people in some ways match the ‘Weekend warriors’ tag of the Chuuk islands.

Their ban didn’t quite work.

Reports are that the Scottish Government is considering an increase of the legal age to buy alcohol in off-licences and supermarkets from 18 to 21. This is an attempt to stop underagers buying alcohol in off-licenses; its far easier for them to appear 18 as it is to appear 21. However 18-year olds and over can still buy alcohol in pubs and clubs. It is hoped that such environments will provide an element of supervision for young adults.

Nowhere near a ban then.

Scotland’s drink culture is engrained. Years of trying to change the culture, promotion of healthy drinking levels or abstinence, education, advertising bans etc. just haven’t worked. Children being admitted to Scotland’s hospitals for alcohol abuse are testament to that.

As with the smoking ban introduced in 2006, legislation is always the last resort taken to changing the culture. Its also the most effective.

Lets hope any new legislation is helpful. These proposed ideas may not go far enough to curb Scotland’s ‘Weekend Warriors’ and change the drinking culture.

But they’re a good start.