Independence from a Commonwealth perspective

I am from a Commonwealth country.

When the country of my birth campaigned for independence, there was a great sense of national pride. A bold venturing forward, the ability to self-govern, the pride of a free nation. When that happened, my country was not economically successful. It wasn’t even politically stable. Racial tensions ran high. But there was one thing we all had in common: the desire to be a free, independent, self- determining nation.

On the day that independence was declared, one word rang repeatedly throughout the nation: “MERDEKA!”

It means “freedom”.

The recording of Malaysia’s first prime minister repeatedly shouting that word in triumph, is the most iconic and widely recognised recording in the nation. Never in the history of the nation was it more unified. That day has been celebrated every year since the declaration of independence. This day of freedom, of independence, is also celebrated and supported by every friendly foreign nation, every Commonwealth country, including the very nation that used to rule us.

This declaration and celebration of independence is not exclusive to Malaysia. Throughout the world, a great many former colonial nations celebrated independence and sovereignty. Most eagerly joined the international association known as the Commonwealth of Nations. It was an organisation that fostered great international relations, in particular giving us great relations with the country that used to rule us. We became friends with Great Britain, rather than subordinates.

Then the UK joined the EEA, the precursor to the European Union.

And now, as a child of the Commonwealth, I watch with great puzzlement as the nation which used to rule us now stand quaking at the prospect of independence. There seems to be great trepidation at the prospect of economic uncertainty, of the loss of global influence, and even the fear of war. And worst of all, this fear is being driven primarily by the country’s own political leader, the Prime Minister himself.

The puzzlement is because none of these concerns mattered to us when we campaigned for and achieved independence. What mattered to us was sovereignty, the idea of being self-governing, making our own laws.. The freedom to make our own mistakes and learn from them, without needing a powerful foreign entity to hold our hand. And you know what, Great Britain, as it was then more widely known, supported our endeavour.

There was no fear of economic uncertainty. Once we gained independence we were free to develop our own economic advantages, exploit our own resources, and develop local expertise in doing so. Sure, we didn’t have the financial backing of a massive global empire, but we still grew economically. Gaining sovereignty granted us international recognition, and we were able to positively influence our immediate neighbours and trading partners. The only armed conflict that since then was Indonesia’s opposition to the formation of Malaysia.

Of course, it can be argued that the UK’s relationship with the EU is very different from Malaysia’s relationship with Great Britain. And I would agree. But the driving principle has never been economic success or fear of war. It has always been the desire to be a fully-fledged sovereign nation, to take responsibility of one’s own trajectory, to pave its own way in human history.

So here I stand, in complete puzzlement at the attitude of those who are cowed by fear. There seems to be little confidence in the country which once governed half the world through trading influence rather than through might, an island nation which stands as the 5th largest economy in the world, one of the world centres of financial trade, one of the few nuclear powers, one of the few permanent members of the UN Security Council, the home of the most widespread language in the world. With regards to the economy, the United Kingdom has a very diverse and successful economy of high-end manufacturing, technological expertise, academic excellence, leadership in financial services, and still there is much fear of this country’s ability to stand up on its own economically.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland may be an island nation off the shores of the European continent, but it is clearly an island that punches well above its weight.

The lack of confidence in this hard-hitting ‘little island’, is the attitude of Little Britain, not of Great Britain.

And the funny thing is, the anti-independence pro-EU faction are the ones most likely to accuse the pro-independence anti-EU side of being Little Englanders. Do you not get the irony of it at all?

This piece does not discuss the consequences effects of independence from the EU (which I maintain are positive). It is deliberate because I am addressing the negative attitudes of those wanting to Remain.

I don’t believe I have all the answers. But evidence indicates that the fear of leaving the EU is irrational and unnatural. If the country votes to Leave, I will celebrate. If the consequences of leaving proves to be more detrimental than what we had before, I will apologise and admit I am wrong. But if the consequences of leaving proves to be beneficial, I will rub it in the faces of those who disagreed with me. I’m only kidding. I shan’t do that because then I will be pleased at the better future you enjoy.

(I suspect there will be no apology or admittance of wrongness forthcoming anyway, for even now, there is no such admission from the current Bremainers who were then arguing to join the Euro.)


Author: Hoong-Wai

I am a sinner. I care about people, and truth, and justice. I have an interest in dancing, economics, engineering, philosophy, and science.

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