Without the help of opinion polls, I can guess how this vote is going to go. Argentina claims the Falkland Islands, which it calls las Malvinas, and the general opinion of the nation of Argentina is that all inhabitants of the islands are foreign invaders. Argentina insists that the sovereignty of the Islands be transferred over the vehement objections of the inhabitants of the islands, and has already condemned the referendum as a stunt.
In the Argentinian model of sovereignty transfer, only direct negotiations between Buenos Aires and London are legitimate, and the population of the islands can be forcibly removed or made to submit to Argentine control once Britain agrees that Argentina owns the islands.
Let's review the political history of the islands.
The Early Years.
The Falkland Islands have no pre-European indigenous population. They were first charted by the Dutch in the year 1600 and named the Sebald Islands. The British named the channel between the two main islands Falkland Sound in 1690, after a British aristocrat.
In 1764, the French attempted to claim the islands by establishing a settlement, and fittingly gave the islands a French name, Iles Malouines. Unaware of the French colony, or perhaps emboldened by their victory over the French in Canada the year before, the British founded a settlement on the other side of the archipelago.
In 1767, the French abandoned their settlement and transferred control to the Spanish, who incorporated the islands as a part of Buenos Aires. The Spanish did not recognize British claims, and expelled the British population by military force in 1770.
When news of this act reached London, the British people were outraged, and began beating the drums of war with an intensity that far outweighed the financial or strategic usefulness of the Falkland territory. Feeling and reflecting popular sentiment, the British government began to mobilize for a European war against the Spanish.
The Spanish, having underestimated the British reaction, and knowing that Britain was a far stronger nation, appealed to the French for support. The French took the British side, stating that they had never maintained control over the entire archipelago, and transferred only the small French territory in the islands to the Spanish in 1767.
War was avoided by treaty in 1771. Spain apologized to Britain and claimed that the expulsion of the British was done by local authorities without the consent of Spain. British rights were recognized, and settlers repatriated.
In the end, both British and Spanish settlements were failures, and could not be developed into functioning colonies. The British evacuated remaining settlers in 1774, in order to divert military resources to the rebellious North American colonies, and the last of the Spanish colonists left the islands in 1811. Despite the evacuations of the settlements, both the British and the Spanish asserted claims over territories controlled and determined by the treaty of 1771.
The first two decades of the 1800's are hard to summarize. The Napoleonic invasions of Spain led to the disintegration of the Spanish government. Spain's South American colonies declared independence, and civil wars began as parties struggled to assert control. Argentina declared independence in 1816. The US government formally recognized the independence of Argentina in 1822.
A federal constitution was adopted in 1826, but rejected by the states, resulting in a collapse of federal government. On-going war and power struggles continued without a functioning government, but when necessary, authority was ceded to Buenos Aires. Argentina did not consolidate politically until the 1860's.
Argentina's current legal claim on the Falkland Islands are the result of their assumption of control in the 1820's, and Spanish concessions made to Argentina in 1836, which specifically ceded control of the islands to the nascent Argentinian republic. According to the government of Argentina, Spain had uncontested claims on the territory, despite actual British control, and the transfer of the territory to Argentina means that the British presence on the islands since 1833 has been illegal.
Luis Vernet and the Seals.
So as Spain disintegrated and lost its South American colonies, the Argentinians claimed the vacant archipelago in the 1820's and sought to establish their own settlement. The man who led the way was a French-German merchant who grew up in Philadelphia, Luis (or Louis, Lewis, Ludwig) Vernet. When the US government sent the first diplomatic mission to Argentina, Vernet hitched a ride, and established an import-export business. Long story short, he was allowed to establish a formal Argentinian settlement in the Falklands in 1828, and would be granted significant possessions if the settlement could be developed to a certain level within three years.
Things get a little tricky here, though. You see, Vernet knew that the British also maintained territorial claims in the Falklands, so he sought and was granted recognition for his commercial endeavor from the British government. So while the flailing government in Buenos Aires believed that Vernet's settlement confirmed Argentina's sovereignty over the Islands, the British thought the exact same thing.
And then another new Republic stuck its nose into matters. American sealers considered the islands to be uninhabited international territory, and hunted the islands extensively for several decades. Vernet attempted to exert control over sealing in the islands, and first harrassed and then seized American vessels. The US navy sent a warship, the Lexington, to assess the polity of the islands in 1831, and declared that there was no actual government in the Falklands. All inhabitants were deemed pirates.
This was done for obvious economic reasons, but supported by the uncomfortable fact that many, if not most, of Vernet's settlers were actual pirates, crews of Argentinian flagged privateers and pirate ships.
The Lexington destroyed the munitions of the settlers, arrested the leaders of the settlement (later released without charge,) reclaimed US property, and declared the waters opened to US parties so long as no functioning government existed in the islands.
Argentina then attempted to establish a penal colony in 1832, which failed after a mutiny and the murder of the mission commander. Then things really got ugly.
The Guacho Murders.
Vernet had gotten into business with some obviously disreputable people, and in 1833 when he lacked the funds to pay laborers, a group of gauchos murdered the five senior settlement leaders. Most civilians fled the settlement and were rescued by the British Navy.
Now, the British, of course, considered Vernet's settlement their possession, and were shocked to discover the degenerate state of affairs in the Falklands, agreeing with the captain of the USS Lexington, that the islands were "free of all government." The British Navy then declared the islands a Naval station, arrested the murderers, (who were eventually released by a court in London on the grounds that there was no British jurisdiction in the Falklands in 1833) and established the first permanent settlement.
Vernet's settlers were invited to stay, because the British considered them part of a British colony, though most left, and no current families in the Falklands trace their lineage to Vernet's enterprise.
The British Colonial Period.
The British then did something that no other government had ever done. They invested in the Falkland Islands. Other powers allowed settlements with the idea that if they were successful on their own, they would thrive, but were not willing to build infrastructure in the islands. The British invested heavily to establish their claim.
The territory was formally declared a British colony in 1840, and the town of Stanley was founded. Colonists committed to the islands began arriving from the British Isles in small but steady numbers. Government House was built in 1845. A navigable harbor was charted and a modern port was built. Before the Panama canal was inaugurated, Stanley's fine deep water harbor was a major stop-over point for Atlantic-Pacific route ships, and the islanders were known as expert shipwrights.
Britain's commitment to the colony was sustained through the decades and centuries. Consider this, Stanley had a functioning and reliable switchboard telephone system up and running by 1889, long before most of the rest of the world.
A WWI naval battle was fought in Falkland Sound when the British Navy defeated a Central Powers fleet. For more than a century, no one seriously questioned British sovereignty, but after the UN was founded in 1945, Argentina made a claim on the Falkland Islands and asked to engage in negotiation to determine the territory status.
Wherein the British realize that the Falklands are a money pit and boondoggle and try to turf them off to Argentina and Argentina drops the ball.
The truth about the Falkland Islands is that they are not a strategically important or economically viable possession. The British maintain significant territorial claims in the southern ocean by virtue of possession of uninhabited (or not permanently inhabited) islands, such as South Georgia. These are infinitely cheaper to maintain.
Consider the French territory of the Kerguelen Islands. This archipelago is of similar size and at similar latitude to the Falklands. The French claim territorial waters due to its possession, and keep a seasonal population to exploit resources and engage in research. But they never attempted to colonize the islands. It is just not worth it financially.
So, while the British did not recognize Argentinian claims to the Falklands made after WWII, they did not close the door to negotiations, and by the 1960's the British government came to see transfer of the islands to Argentina as a valuable money-saving option, with the idea that they could maintain some sovereignty over potentially valuable resources.
Negotiations in the 1960's didn't result in definitive plans, the major obstacle being the citizens of the Falkland Islands, who under no circumstances wanted to become citizens of Argentina.
The British government did not give up, however. They established a plan whereby the government of Argentina could slowly exert sovereignty over the islands.
First, citizens of the Falkland Islands were not recognized as British citizens, establishing the idea that the Falklands were not really part of the UK.
Second, Argentina was granted monopolies over transportation links to the islands and energy supplies to the islands, which meant that close business ties had to be maintained.
Third, policies were adopted which, in theory, would allow Argentinian immigration and investment in the islands. Large tracts of land were sold and subdivided making real estate widely available, and Britain allowed islanders unrestricted immigration to the British Isles, resulting in a significant decline of the ethnic British population.
The sly plan failed for two main reason. The government of Argentina throughout this period was control by a series of vicious fascist dictatorships and military juntas which perfected the arts of mass torture, murder and disappearing political opposition, a fact that made the Islanders quite uncomfortable.
And second, despite British attempts to encourage Argentinian investment and a presence, not one penny or peso was spent on development or investment in the islands, and not one Argentinian immigrated to the Falklands.
So it seemed that while the Argentinians liked the idea of taking over the Falklands, they didn't really want to spend the money or do the work necessary to justify a transfer of sovereignty.
But the British were not deterred. In 1980, they sent a colonial administrator, Rex Hunt, with an explicit mission: tell the islanders that British control of the Islands would soon be transferred to Argentina. Per Wikipedia:
The status of the Falkland Islands was an irritant to the British Foreign Office who wanted to hand over the Islands to Argentina. Hunt's role was to persuade the islanders that Argentine sovereignty was in their best interests. Hunt soon discovered that the population of the Falkland Islands were wholly opposed to any ceding of sovereignty and he relayed this information back to the Foreign Office. Hunt's seniors in London did not receive the news well and concluded that Hunt had "gone native."Well, the Islanders were proven right in 1982 when Argentina invaded and began killing people. I won't say too much about the war except to say that Thatcher's leadership and determination saved her failing political career, and gave her the leeway to continue dismantling the labor unions.
In 1983, Britain recognized the Islanders as full citizens of the UK, established a significant military presence, and attempted to encourage immigration. I remember this while living in the British Isles as a kid in the 80's and 90's. Free land and stipends were offered. No one wanted to go though. Oh well.
Reassertion of Argentinian Claims.
So, after some real detente, things calmed down. More democratic governments in Argentina made excuses about the fascists starting everything, diplomatic relations were re-established in 1990, and it looked like Britain would have to pay for the Falklands boondoggle forever, without an opportunity for escape.
But in 2007, Argentina began its rhetoric again. It again has reasserted true and complete sovereignty over the islands, and demands that Britain engage in direct negotiations to transfer control. Specifically, despite the Falklands being a self-governing territory, Argentina demands that the Islanders, who actually control the Islands, be excluded from any negotiations, because, of course, the Islanders hate the Argentinians.
And this hatred is bidirectional. Argentina shows nothing but contempt for the Islanders. Falkland's Websites are routinely spammed by Argentinian internet tough guys.
Here's a Google review of a British Pub in Stanley:
INGLESES CHUPA PI JASS(ENGLISH PEOPLE, SUCK MY DICK)
And a bed and breakfast:
No queremos kelpers quremos que sean hermanos argentinos...:-), No queremos que sean kelpers ,queremos que sean hermanos argentinos...:-)(We don't want Kelpers (a derogatory term for Islander), we want there to be argentinian brothers.. :-) )
It's easy for a population of 41 million people to intimidate a population of 3 thousand. Conveniently, the British Navy is still there.
So after 200 years, the only things Argentina has ever given to the Falklands are land mines, dispersed in huge areas around the islands, destroying the possibility of the Falklands even developing as an eco-tourism destination. And now, it belligerently claims the islands, and treats the residents with nothing but contempt.
Argentina does not want to work co-operatively with the local people. It wants the right to expel the population by force. And those people are today going to the polls to vote on whether the British government should engage in negotiations to transfer sovereignty. I bet the vote won't be close.