What makes Jersey special and why does that matter?
These two simple-sounding questions underpin the creation of this report. If we can provide satisfactory answers to them, we can also begin to see how our Island’s distinctive qualities can be recognised afresh, protected and celebrated. We can help educate our citizens and the wider world about our unique constitution, history, environment, culture and community. We can take advantage of the opportunities they bring, and enjoy the economic and political benefits of a more confident and positive international personality. Most of all, we can foster engagement and pride and inclusiveness, and hand these down responsibly to future generations through the sense of identity that embodies them.
However, these questions of identity – how we see ourselves and how others see us – are actually far from simple. Jersey is bursting with stories to tell. But none of these stories alone can tell us what it means to be Jersey. And Jersey is changing – both for the better and in some respects for the worse. The task of the Island Identity Policy Board has not been to look backwards and attempt to preserve our unique essence, but to shine a light on its many strands and look at the different ways they can be woven together in the future.
This is not a branding exercise. It involves searching our soul, engaging with difficult issues, and asking not only who we are but who we want to be in ten, fifty or a hundred years. This will allow us to take an active role in shaping our future, rather than just responding passively to signals from the global marketplace, or unthinkingly following UK policies that are ill-fitted to our context. And I believe that success must start with a confident understanding that Jersey’s unique history and personality qualify it as an Island nation in its own right, a country entwined with but not bound by the paths of the other nations of the British Isles. Our future is ours alone to shape.
The Island Identity Policy Board and its many interlocutors have spent considerable effort examining these questions. This document summarises our findings so far, and thus distils the ideas, aspirations and wisdom of perhaps one hundred people. Lovers of Jersey, leaders in their fields; I am grateful to every one of them for their time and effort. However, we don’t presume to have found the answers to those two simple questions, but to have helped to frame them and to kick-start the debate. The next stage – and the aim of this summary document – is to put the ball in your court.
Whoever you are, whatever you do, please ask yourself two questions as you read this. First, do you agree with the ideas we are advancing? Tell us what we’ve got wrong, and what we’ve missed. Articulating and debating questions of our national identity is an ongoing process not a one-off exercise, and the issues (and answers) will evolve over time.
Second, please ask yourself what you can do to further the objectives set out below. We all wear many hats professionally and personally. We are all ambassadors for Jersey when we are abroad. This is NOT just a policy paper for policy makers, although the Government Plan recognises its central role in guiding the future decision-making of politicians and civil servants. But in whatever capacity you make decisions – in your communities, parishes, schools, hobbies, businesses, homes, travels – please think how you can help make Jersey more cohesive and civically engaged, more knowledgeable and proud about itself, and better recognised internationally.
I’d like to thank all those who have contributed to this work so far, especially my Island Identity Board panel, through extremely difficult times. We still face considerable uncertainty in the future, but in my view the topic of our identity and international personality – what Jersey means to you and to others – is a fundamentally optimistic and forward-looking one. And it is in that spirit of optimism that I now say “Over to you!”
Our national Identity – how we see ourselves and how others see us – matters a great deal. In Jersey, our ability to work together, care for each other, grow our economy and look after our environment depends on us being bound to each other by more than a shared geography and set of rules. Whatever our backgrounds or occupations, we can benefit from a shared sense of belonging and a shared understanding of what it means to be Jersey.
Internationally, our long-term future relies on projecting a positive image of the Island; a richer international personality than just that of our world-class finance industry. Our unique history and constitutional status, and our extraordinary endeavours in other fields (culture, heritage, philanthropy, international development, sport, business, art, digital, agriculture, tourism and conservation, for example) should also be recognised as part of this personality. Coordinating and projecting these facets of our Island identity will help us build the reputation and relationships we will depend on to thrive in a globalised world.
Why is now the right moment to prioritise these issues? First, there is a profound and almost universally-shared sense that what we have in Jersey is special and worth protecting, yet also a widespread feeling that something is being lost. How can Jersey change with the times, embrace diversity, remain a welcoming place for immigrants, and play its part in an increasingly interconnected (and homogenous) world, yet preserve and nurture its uniqueness?
Second, there are some very practical reasons to examine our identity at this particular moment. Big global issues such as the changing relationship between the UK and Europe post-Brexit, rapid technological advances, the global Covid pandemic, and the increasingly urgent need to avert or mitigate the impact of climate change will all likely result in changes to the way we associate, work and prioritise things. At the same time, there is great opportunity to diversify and innovate, as other British nations such as Scotland and Wales are attempting to do with far fewer political and constitutional freedoms than we enjoy. The way Jersey positions itself now will affect the way we respond to these challenges and opportunities.
The Government recognised the importance and urgency of examining how Jersey’s distinctive qualities could be more systematically celebrated and deployed for the benefit of the Island. In October 2019 it convened a Policy Development Board to consult a wide range of opinion about how we see ourselves and how others see us, and what might make this identity more distinct, coherent, inclusive and positive.
The Policy Board was composed of 12 Jersey citizens of different ages and backgrounds, and was chaired by Assistant Chief Minister Carolyn Labey. It was impossible to ensure all viewpoints were represented in a sample this size, but between them the Board embodied numerous strands of Jersey life, including politics, the arts, business, finance, journalism, foreign affairs, law, creative industries, heritage, education, language-teaching and public administration.
Over a period of ten months from October 2019 the Board met ten times, interviewing or consulting numerous members of the public, experts in different fields (such as marketing, policy-making and diplomacy) and the leaders of ten key Jersey institutions. It also examined existing government strategy documents and reports, the (limited amount of) research conducted into public attitudes towards identity, and similar exercises conducted by other countries.
From March 2020 the Covid pandemic led to restrictions on movement and assembly, and the reassignment of key supporting staff to emergency operations. This caused severe disruption to the planned programme of consultation. Nevertheless, thanks to the dedication of those involved in the project and the importance attached to it by the Government, some work continued – the only major piece of long-term policy development to do so. Aware that there were many other views and voices still to hear, in the summer of 2020 the Board decided to begin circulating an interim draft of its proceedings to stimulate further debate and provide some useful signposts for the formulation of the Government Plan 2021-24.
This paper is the third iteration of that summary document. The Board’s initial findings have now been both endorsed and considerably enriched by new voices from the world of business, politics, law, sport, culture, media and finance, and from a handful of individuals who have made other distinguished contributions to Jersey life in recent years. The plan now is to widen the debate to the general public, while at the same time assisting policymakers to internalise and begin putting into practice the objectives and ideas which this exercise has already generated.
Over the course of its consultations, research and discussions, the Board examined Jersey’s identity – current and desired – through several lenses: constitutional, cultural, civic, historical, international, economic, environmental and social. It agreed on three overarching objectives and seven more specific goals which it hopes will inspire people across Jersey and guide the future plans of numerous Jersey organisations - not only those connected to government.
These are set out below, together with a summary of the major issues which arose across the key themes. Examples are given of ideas proposed by Board members, interviewees and reviewers to advance the objectives, some of which could rapidly coalesce into concrete activities and government policies, others of which are still very much at drawing-board stage. Readers of this document are invited to join the debate, and to come up with their own initiatives which can also serve to further these goals.
The Board settled on three primary objectives for this work: overarching goals representing where we want to get to (and against which success may ultimately be measured). They were chosen to have the broadest appeal to Islanders and organisations, and consciously reflect the aims of many existing organisations.
The first two embody the two main aspects of identity discussed above - how we see ourselves and how others see us:
1) People living in Jersey are civically engaged and proud of their Island
2) Jersey has a recognisable and positive international personality
The third objective underlies these, and although it could also be consfalsed as simply a means to achieve them (and therefore more at home in the ‘Goals’ section below) it was felt to be sufficiently important in its intent and implementation to be highlighted as an end in itself:
3) Public policies coherently support and develop Jersey’s distinct identity
All those whose work has an impact on our identity are encouraged to reflect on how their activities advance - or could be advanced by - these three overarching aims.
Over the course of its consultations the Policy Board identified seven more-specific goals which it felt would further the overarching objectives listed above and serve to nurture and celebrate our Island identity. These begin to point to some more concrete outcomes while still having applications across the breadth of public life and a range of policy areas.
- Conserving what makes Jersey look and feel unique and expresses our distinctive character and heritage
- Improving public awareness of our constitution and history, including understanding ourselves as a country, or small Island nation
- Nurturing a stronger sense of citizenship and engagement in public life
- Addressing alienation and social exclusion, and ensuring all Islanders feel the belong in Jersey whatever their background
- Expanding the international narrative about Jersey
- Developing Jersey’s distinct international personality, separate from that of the UK but with strong connections to Britain, France, other European countries and the Commonwealth
- Celebrating and better promoting what we do well
Again, readers of this document are invited to consider how these goals might be applicable to their areas of interest, how they might advance them in different ways, and how they might coordinate with those involved in other sectors.
In its meetings and interviews the Board considered how to apply these goals across many important areas of public life in Jersey, and what implications they might have for the activities of different organisations and government departments. The discussions, main issues and (where applicable) interim conclusions are summarised below, together with examples of the ideas which emerged as ways to take things forward.