Malta celebrates Independence Day (Jum l-Indipendenza) on 21 September – the day in 1964 when it was granted independence from the United Kingdom.
Independence was by no means a foregone conclusion. For much of the 1950s the discussion about Malta’s political future centred upon arrangements for Malta to become a self-governing part of the United Kingdom, with representation in the House of Commons and autonomy in all matters except defence, foreign affairs and taxation.
The Maltese Labour Party supported integration or else outright independence. In a referendum in Malta in 1956 there was even a 77% vote in favour of integration – but only 60% of the electorate voted as the National Party (which favoured dominion status akin to that of Australia, Canada and New Zealand) boycotted the referendum, meaning that there was no majority for integration. And with the UK Ministry of Defence – the islands’ largest employer – reducing its commitment to the long-term future of naval dockyards on Malta, the idea of integration lost its appeal for the islanders.
The plan was unique in Britain’s colonial history – no other British colony was offered such a deal, and the United Kingdom government has consistently ruled out integration for any of its remaining Overseas Territories.