This whole issue of Ascension being a working island makes for a bit of a quandary. Everything seems so temporary on Ascension. Nobody owns any property, everything is leased through the US or UK (aka the Ascension Island) governments. One of the reasons businesses fail is because there are few opportunities to do any long term investment or planning. And the population will say they are Brit, Saint, American, Canadian but not Ascension Island. And yet, as I say, some were born there, have always worked there, are even now raising their own families there but cannot be considered an Ascension Islander.
The UK Government at one time investigated whether the policy of allowing belonger status to exist on Ascension. I was on island when some of the consultations occurred, indeed I shared my breakfast table at the Obsidian with the guy who was here to deliberate. Like a few diplomats I have dealt with, he played his cards close to the table, the conversation seemed open and investigative, but something at the back of my mind told me that it would not be up to the people who lived on Ascension Island to decide if they could stay there. Its strategic importance militarily made it too valuable to both the British and Americans to give up their complete control of policy to civilians. Not only was it a crucial airfield and intelligence gathering location, but supply ships from both navies could sit offshore here relatively undetected and ready to mobilise far more easily than from their home ports. One of these, the TSGT John A Chapman, part of the prepositioning service that could deliver a war to a country in days regularly sat in Clarence Bay. It contains all the kit, food, vehicles, supplies that can keep an army functional for weeks. Given the protracted dispute between the UK, US and residents of Diego Garcia, the British do not want to open up another diplomatic sore like that in the mid Atlantic.
But that leaves a few people spiritually homeless. As one guy told me, I was born on Ascension to Saint parents, but I have never felt attached to St Helena. It is a place I go to visit relatives and have a holiday. I don’t belong there, as much as I don’t belong to Swindon.
There was a little hope that the island would be opened up for belongers and maybe turned into a retirement paradise, but both the politics and the economics did not stand up and the lid was put firmly back on the belonger issue a few years ago. There is a little more democracy on the island with an elected council although there is some resistance to that too- a smoke and mirrors trick to rubber stamp decisions made elsewhere perhaps.