Flying the flag: Affluent Atlantic jewel jibs at the cost of independen ce

Continuing a series on Britain's last colonies, David Usborne reports from Bermuda

Hamilton - A grand afternoon indeed at the National Sports Club. The Band of the Bermuda Regiment has given us God Save the Queen and Bermuda is setting about Barbados in a Rugby World Cup qualifying match. In the VIP tent, Lord Waddington, the former Home Secretary, is enjoying one of his last public appearances as governor. His is a gin and tonic; most of us are taking bucks fizz.

Lord Waddington may be going - he departed formally at the end of April - but Bermuda is not. Once Hong Kong is finally relinquished on 30 June, these coral outcrops in the Atlantic with a population of 60,000 will become the largest remaining British dependency. If the sun set long ago over most of the Empire, here, at least, it remains resolutely above the yardarm.

There is just a chance that Britain's oldest colony - the Bermuda islands were settled after a British ship bound for Virginia under Sir George Somers struck rocks off its eastern end in 1609 - could become Britain's last.

That would be ironic. Nowhere else under British rule is more able to go it alone. It has one of the world's highest per capita incomes, levies no income tax, and is a magnet for tourists and international businesses, especially the insurance industry. It is also a fully-fledged, multi-party democracy.

What Britain supplies is the Governor and his funny plumed hat. (But Bermuda pays for his salary and costs). London looks after the islands' limited foreign policy and defence concerns. And, of course, it provides a certain quaintness that the mostly American tourists relish: red post boxes, warm Watneys and a branch of Marks & Spencer.

But, for now, it seems that most Bermudians, amongst whom the black-white ratio is roughly 60-40, prefer to remain under Albion's wing. In a referendum in 1995 the 53 per cent who voted rejected independence by 73 per cent. Even politicians who favour independence predict it may now be 20 years before Bermuda confronts the issue again.

"I don't see independence in Bermuda's foreseeable future," said Jennifer Smith, leader of the opposition Progressive Labour Party (PLP), which has the pursuit of independence enshrined in its constitution. Pamela Gordon, recently installed Premier and leader of the United Bermuda Party (UBP) agreed: "It'll be a while. The referendum is still very fresh; it caused a lot of pain".

The fallout from the 1995 vote continues to stir the calm waters of Bermudian politics. An early victim was Sir John Swan, Bermuda's long-serving premier and UBP leader who called the referendum. Upon the results, he was forced to resign. Since then, he has been at the heart of a political soap opera that might be called Bigmacgate.

Picking himself up from his demise, Sir John asked for - and got - a licence to open a McDonald's on the island. It was a transaction that reeked of political favour-giving; it also appalled most Bermudians.

The burger debate split the UBP and led to the demise of Sir John's successor, David Saul, two months ago. Now, Ms Gordon is striving to clear the wreckage before the next elections, which must be held by next autumn.

Such turmoil is not Bermuda's style. Indeed, it is the conservatism of Bermuda that partly explains the dearth of nationalist fervour. In so far as there is any, it exists in the black population and is driven by racial frictions. "Change is difficult for any society and it's no different here," said Premier Gordon. "We like the status quo and there is the feeling that if it isn't broke, don't try to fix it."

The importance to international business of political and economic stability, perceived to be partly derived from the British link, is lost on few Bermudians. Perhaps Bermuda's most noted corporate catch was Jardine Matheson which stunned the Hong Kong expatriate establishment in 1984 by announcing its intention to restructure itself under a holding company to be registered here.

"We needed to find somewhere secure with a legal environment that was familiar to us; therefore we picked Bermuda," explained Harry Wilken, head of Jardines here. "Bermuda is highly respected in the Far East as a place that is open, where there is not a whiff of corruption." As for the 1995 referendum, Jardines is just glad its over.

Among the few speaking up for independence is Walton Brown, a market researcher who heads a group called the Committee for Independence for Bermuda. "The will of the people was not allowed to emanate - quite clearly they have not spoken," he said.

Mr Brown is guided by a feeling simply that "you should govern yourself". He also questions Britain's long-term commitment. "Its old colonies just cannot be of any interest to it in the long term and we have to be ready for that."

Ms Gordon sees behind Bermuda's attachment to Britain a certain sense of satisfaction that Bermuda did not join the many British colonies in the Caribbean when they rushed into independence in the early Sixties and discovered sovereignty was no Nirvana. "Our sisters to the south taught us how not to do it," she said.

Tomorrow: The Falklands

Colony facts

Population: 60,500 (1994)

Area: 20.59 sq miles

Crown colony since 1684

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Morrissey pictured in 2013
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

1st line call logger/ User access administrator

£9 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Warrington a...

Shine Night Walk 2014 - 'On the night' volunteer roles

Unpaid Voluntary Work : Cancer Research UK: We need motivational volunteers to...

Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable & Accounts Receivable)

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable...

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star