by Max Barry

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Overview of the Plough Islands

Commonwealth of the Plough Islands


National flag

National anthem: "Golden Age"


Location (green)


Capital & largest city:

Sutton

Official language:

English

Population: (2010)
- Density:

139 550
39.6/km²

Demonym:

Plough Islander

Land Area:
- Water %:

3 520 km²
negligible

Government:
- Legislature:
- Premier:

Unitary Marxist-Leninist one-party state
People's Assembly of the Plough Islands
Dale Piper

Establishment:
- Settlement:
- Independence:

(from the United Kingdom)
11 November 1750
2 December 1960

Currency:

Plough Islands shilling (ʃ)

Drives on the:

left

Dialling code:

+292

Internet TLD:

.pi

The Plough Islands (/'plaʊ 'eɪ:lənds/), known formally as the Commonwealth of the Plough Islands, is a Marxist-Leninist socialist state located in the northern Celestial Ocean, comprising an archipelago of seven inhabited islands approximately 200km in length with a total land area of 3 520 square kilometres. Uninhabited prior to 1750, the islands were first colonised by the United Kingdom in the 18th century, and the population of just under 140 000 are predominantly descended from British settlers with a small European minority, primarily originating from the former Soviet Union. The capital and largest city is the port of Sutton on the largest of the islands, Swift Island.

Owing to their isolation and subpolar climate, the islands only became known to European explorers in the late 1600s, and they were initially occupied by the Royal Navy for use as a resupply station for British ships in the wider Celestial Ocean. The Plough Islands briefly served as a penal colony, before successive waves of immigration and development saw them gradually developed into a self-sustaining colony over the next 200 years, which were also characterised by exploitative colonial policies and growing inequality. Increased left-wing opposition to the local elite saw the emergence of a revolutionary communist independence movement in the first half of the 20th century, culminating in unrest during the 1950s that saw the negotiated end of British control in December 1960 and the establishment of an independent, Marxist-Leninist republic under the Party of Socialists of the Plough Islands.

Following independence, the Plough Islands suffered initial upheaval as the communist authorities expropriated major industries and most private property, which led to the departure of nearly a third of the population and a sharp economic decline that threatened the survival of the country. Following new labour policies and the collectivisation of much of the country's agriculture, though, the situation stabilised; since the 1970s the Plough Islands have achieved a level of economic autarky while continuing to pursue a highly egalitarian domestic policy programme. While the country remains de facto a one-party state with limited political expression, its citizens have considerable social freedom and a comfortable standard of living, and the government continues to hold broad popular support.

Etymology

The Plough Islands were named by the first British expedition to map the islands in 1747 after the constellation known in Britain as the Plough, which forms part of Ursa Major. The seven main islands of the archipelago were taken as corresponding to the seven stars of the constellation, which is prominent in the night sky above the Celestial Ocean; the image and symbolism of the Plough are prominent in the country's national symbols and identity, inter alia featuring in the national coat of arms.

History

Discovery & settlement

The Plough Islands are not known to have been permanently inhabited prior to 1750; their distance from civilisation meant they were not described until the 17th century, but the islands were known to early European explorers of the Celestial Ocean, and in particular, the rocks on the eastern shore of Redcliff were notorious for shipwrecks. British seafarer and Royal Navy captain Cornelius Sutton led the first expedition that visited and mapped the islands in detail; Sutton's men wintered on the islands during 1747/48, naming them the Plough Islands, and the largest of them after his ship, the Swift. After returning to Britain that spring, Sutton reported on the islands' relatively mild winters and potential as a victualling station for further exploration of the Celestial Ocean, and was granted a charter to claim the islands for the Crown by George II in 1749.

Sutton returned the next year with an initial party of 212 settlers, and his fleet made landfall on the southwestern coast of Swift Island on 11 November 1750 to establish what would become the Colony of the Plough Islands. The site of the initial landing was christened Port Georgia in honour of the King, and would become the seat of the islands' Governor and the only major British military installation in the area. After a further expedition by Captain Sutton and the Swift, exploring the wider Celestial Ocean, was lost during the winter of 1756/57, it was renamed Port Sutton in his memory on the tenth anniversary of settlement in 1760.

Early colonisation

For the British, the value of the Plough Islands as a colony lay as a supply station and in preventing their occupation by other powers; their intrisic value was considered to be negligible until surveys conducted in 1764 revealed far greater deposits of coal, iron, and nickel on the islands, particularly Redcliff and Swift, than had been thought previously. Early economic exploitation was limited; the Plough Islands were considered too remote for slavery, or later, indentured labourers from China or India, to be viable, outside of shipboard and harbour work where such practices were commonplace. Instead the local authorities utilised penal labour, where criminals convicted of otherwise capital offences in Britain were transported to the islands in servitude. The isolation of the islands made them a harsh destination, but their value in this regard increased after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War in 1775 prevented transportation to the North American colonies, and they took an estimated 15 000 prisoners in this manner until an Order-in-Council under George III in 1785 established New South Wales as the preferred destination for criminals.

The end of transportation resulted in the Plough Islands being viewed increasingly as an outpost rather than as an economic concern, and inward migration dwindled considerably to barely above replacement levels; the colonial way of life became primarily concerned with fishing, mining, and resupply in the early 19th Century. The second wave of Highland Clearances in the early 1820s led to a small increase in new settlers from the Scottish Highlands, bringing with them knowledge of farming in harsh climates, with wheat, potatoes, and oats able to be grown during the summer. Thereafter, the colony proved to be self-sustaining, but was never a particularly profitable enterprise; the maturation and modernisation of the islands' social structure was particularly slow due to the prohibitive travel time from Britain, and it evolved into a highly exploitative, class-tinged system.

Owing to the difficulty in communicating with Britain, the Governor of the Plough Islands had considerable autonomy in decision making, and though settlement had spread to all seven major islands by 1800, what government the islands had was concentrated in Sutton (as Port Sutton had been renamed upon its proclamation as a town in 1788), and the affairs of the colony were increasingly dictated by the Governor for the benefit of a small number of locally based merchants and landowners. These privileged groups formed a local elite that dominated public life on the islands; when a formal Legislative Council of the Plough Islands was proclaimed in 1852 to advise the Governor, the franchise was extremely limited, with a requirement that prospective voters and candidates own immovable property on the islands valued in excess of £200 effectively formalising elite dominance of local affairs. While the franchise was expanded in 1880, and opened to women in 1928, in practice the advisory nature of the Council and the established social order meant this had little effect.

Political awareness & independence

The impact of the Industrial Revolution, which transformed the economy and civil society of Britain and many of its colonies, was poorly felt on the remote and highly stratified Plough Islands. While some limited industrialisation took place, with Sutton and Redcliff seeing the most development, the islands retained a strongly rural character with much of the population seeing little increase in living standards, particularly as trades that supported many poorer Plough Islanders, like fishing and shipbuilding, declined in prominence. The rate of inward migration remained low into the 20th century, but increasingly included political exiles from an increasingly unstable Europe, who brought with them an increased geopolitical awareness and, often, an alternative political perspective on the situation in the colony. Although there had been opposition to the colonial elite previously, the aftermath of the October Revolution saw the beginning of overtly Marxist agitation, with groups such as the Redcliff Workers Council taking on an openly leftwing character, and this continued to gain prominence during the inter-war period. World War II did not affect the islands directly, but the authorities closed down much of the island economy for the duration of the conflict, leading to near-famine in the later years of the war, and the Plough Islands hosted a base for the Empire Air Training Scheme.

The post-war political atmosphere on the islands was dominated by a renewed communist movement, which had come under the influence of anti-Stalinist intellectuals who had sought refuge on the islands during the war and had organised around the Party of Socialists of the Plough Islands, led by Gabriel Sutcliffe. Sutcliffe, the son of tenant farmers from Waterfalls, was ideologically influenced by Leon Trotsky and the Vietnamese communist leader Hồ Chí Minh, and - recognising the Plough Islands' lack of unique history in isolation from British colonialism - sought, through publications and speeches, to create and cultivate an indigenous Plough Islander identity, intertwining the Marxist class struggle with unhappiness at the quality of life of many settlers. In reaction to these developments, politics in the Legislative Council ossified around anti-communist sentiment, and as the Socialists resorted to direct action in the form of mass strikes and civil disobedience, this often brought them into violent conflict with the security forces.

Elements of the colonial establishment, and particularly Governor Sir Richard Brooke-Davies, were criticised in some quarters and by the British Colonial Office for what was seen as a failure to deal effectively with the communists; Brooke-Davies repeatedly refused to proscribe the Socialist movement, instead seeking to include them in the debate about the future of the colony. Consequently, despite a rally on the 11 November 1957 that turned violent when the Royal Marines opened fire, resulting in twenty-six deaths, the Socialists were able to openly run candidates in the 1958 Legislative Council elections, which would be the first to be conducted under a system of universal adult suffrage; the Socialists won a landslide victory, including an absolute majority on five of seven islands. Though the council officially remained an advisory body, Brooke-Davies considered the result to have moral weight and negotiations with the communists resulted in the Government House Agreement on the 8 June 1959, which began the process of ending 210 years of British control. Following the adoption of a socialist constitution alongside fresh elections earlier that year, the Plough Islands became independent in 1960 as a de facto one-party state under the Socialists, led by Sutcliffe as its first Premier.

Post-independence development

With initially broad popular support, Sutcliffe had some success in reshaping the new country's institutions according to his vision; the new country became a highly unitary, Marxist-Leninist socialist state with a state planned and owned economy, and most private property - including all farmland and housing stock - was expropriated by the state. This badly affected the colonial upper and middle classes of the islands, most of whom left over the next few years; between 1960 and 1963 the population of the islands fell by 40 000 as as many as a third of the population emigrated. The population exodus undermined the new political and social order; the institutions of government became populated according to ideology rather than necessarily by experience and competence, and a mild winter in 1960/61 masked a skilled labour shortage in key industries including manufacturing and agriculture. Despite major public infrastructure projects, including the construction of collective and social housing, the re-paving of many of the roads on the islands, and the reconstruction of much of Sutton including a new People's Assembly building, the early post-independence years saw recurrent shortages of food and basic goods, necessitating the distribution of emergency aid.

Difficulties in developing new trade relationships after leaving the British economic sphere in 1962 led to rapid price inflation, causing a 'death spiral' of confidence that threatened the country's economic viability; at its peak in 1964, unofficial inflation of the Plough Islands shilling, introduced just two years previously, was in triple figures. Rare peaceful demonstrations in Sutton and other major cities during the winter of 1964/65 caused the government to abandon Sutcliffe's highly unorthodox variant of Marxist-Leninist economics, with Sutcliffe's Minister for Finance, Karelian-born communist and economist Janne Elkkonen, instituting a system of limited market socialism that restored internal order. Elkkonen succeeded Sutcliffe as Premier in 1967, and under his premiership a revaluation of the shilling and further reforms to the price control system brought economic stability, and the shortage of skilled labour was addressed with countrywide training programmes. Successive Premiers have generally followed Elkkonen's economic policies while retaining the Marxist-Leninist political and social structure of the country, and have continued to promote a highly egalitarian societal paradigm.

Since the 1970s, the Plough Islands have pursued a goal of increased economic autarky, aided by the full collectivisation of the country's agricultural and fishing industries, and of focusing on internal development; when adjusted for purchasing power, the GDP per capita of the Plough Islands increased fivefold between 1970 and 2000, and outward migration decreased. The Vital Skills Programme in the 1970s and 80s encouraged the immigration of Eastern Bloc citizens with expertise in areas such as defence and manufacturing to aid the Plough Islands' self-sufficiency, with many settling and forming a small community of Soviet and Eastern European descent. The country did not otherwise align closely with other socialist states, pursuing instead an independent foreign policy that maintained links with nations from around the expanding multiverse, while the geographical isolation of the islands effectively limited the influence outside events had on Plough Islander society. The collapse of the Warsaw Pact in Europe and the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics therefore did not threaten the established order in the Plough Islands, with the Socialists continuing to hold power and popular support to the present day.

Geography

The Plough Islands comprise a chain approximately 200km in length of seven main inhabited islands, and a small number of additional islets predominantly off the coast of Redcliff. The predominant landscapes are lowland plateaus with gently sloping hills; the highest point is the 1090m Great Redcliff peak on Redcliff. The islands have considerable amounts of boreal, evergreen forest, including the indigenous Sutton pine (araucaria farbensis), a close relative of the prehistoric monkey puzzle tree, which dominates the higher elevations along with introduced European conifer species. There are few records of native wildlife prior to significant human settlement, and the introduction - supposedly accidental - of the European red fox (Vulpes vulpes) with the first settlers resulted in the almost total replacement of most native wildlife with the species due to predation; foxes thrive on the islands and live ferally in many populated areas, with other macrofauna on the islands consisting largely of goat and horse subspecies introduced through agriculture.

Geologically, the islands are of ancient volcanic origin, though no part of the archipelago is volcanically active at present. The bedrock of the islands is predominantly granite of the Ordovician Plough Intrusion, a massive, intrusive igneous dyke cut by several faults and eroded over time; this is overlain with layers of marginal marine siltstones and later, extrusive volcanic material. The banded sedimentary rocks of the Permian Redcliff Formation, which give the Great Redcliff its distinctive colour, contain iron and nickel bearing rocks in exploitable quantities which drove early settlement of the islands; other natural resources include coal deposits found on Redcliff and New Dalmatia, and oil has been extracted in recent years from fields discovered to the northwest of the Plough Islands, but within their territorial waters.

The islands have a subpolar oceanic climate (Köppen classification Cfc), giving cool summers and mild winters with relatively low levels of rainfall, and extreme weather events are uncommon, though the weather can change considerably from day to day. A dominant characteristic of the local weather conditions is the frequent occurrence of sea fog, particularly during the summer months; prevailing winds from the south and east often bring the fog ashore as a fine mist which disrupts shipping and inland transport, and the government maintains a network of lighthouses to mitigate the risk to ocean traffic.

Demographics

As of the 2010 census, the population of the Plough Islands was 139 550 people, with slightly over a third living on Swift Island; the capital city, Sutton, has a wider urban population of approximately 30,000 people. Other significant settlements include Redcliff (14 000), Lainemouth (10 000), and Foxdale (10 000); with the notable exception of Redcliff, most major population centres tend to be concentrated around the coast of the islands. The population of the islands was historically largely rural, but urbanisation has increased since World War II, largely due to the collectivisation of agriculture and the concentration of government services in major settlements, and most outlying towns have entirely resource-based economies.

Most Plough Islanders are descended from British settlers who came to the islands in the 18th and 19th centuries; during the era of transportation, most prisoners arrived from London and south west England, while further British settlement included Scottish tenant farmers forced from their lands during the Highland Clearances, and migrants who came to work in the mining and shipbuilding industries. A significant minority in recent years are of Slavic descent; active recruitment by the government and military of skilled workers from the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact nations saw the influx of many technical professionals, predominantly ethnic Russians, who made the Plough Islands their home in the 1970s and 1980s. Migrants have generally assimilated into the dominant Anglophone culture and society of the islands, and rates of inward and outward migration have historically been low since the sharp population decline after independence.

English is the official language and is used in government, education, and daily life; the local dialect predominantly follows British or Commonwealth conventions, but has been strongly influenced by over 250 years of relative isolation, its most notable characteristic being the almost complete absence of contractions except where to indicate possession. Plough Islander English has also been ideologically influenced in recent years, and a number of Russian calques or loan words have entered the lexicon through their political or technical meanings, such as kolkhoz and commissar.

The religious heritage of the Plough Islands prior to independence was predominantly Christian, largely Anglican and Presbyterian. The communist government maintains a policy of Marxist-Leninist state atheism, and following independence, many churches and other places of worship were demolished or converted to other uses; the 19th century cathedral of Saint Nicholas in Sutton today houses the Museum of Nature and Science of the Plough Islands. Consequently, the islands have one of the least religious populations in the world, with a 2000 study by the University of the Plough Islands finding that over 90% of the population described themselves as agnostic or atheist. Proselytism is illegal and treated as a crime of subversion, and civic holidays on the islands do not include Christian celebrations, but are instead based around the seasonal calendar or commemmorate significant dates in socialist and Plough Islander history.

Government

Politics

Politically, the Plough Islands are organised as a unitary Marxist-Leninist parliamentary republic, with a 36-member unicameral People's Assembly of the Plough Islands as the highest legislative body and the Premier, appointed by the People's Assembly, as head of state and head of government. The Premier appoints a cabinet of ministers to dictate policy, and laws must be passed through the People's Assembly; the legal system is based on a civil law code with influences from both British common law and Marxist-Leninist ideology, with a quasi-independent judiciary ultimately subordinate to the Premier and People's Assembly. All 36 members of the People's Assembly are elected every seven years, and once elected they choose a Premier from among their number; by convention, no Premier since independence has served more than one term.

In practice, and in common with other socialist states, the Plough Islands are a de facto one-party state under the Party of Socialists of the Plough Islands, with all candidates for political office having to be approved by the district branch of the Socialists and no other political groups permitted to organise. Most decisions are made and followed according to the principle of democratic centralism, and while the People's Assembly does on occasion debate legislation, it often serves as a rubber stamp for decisions made by the Premier and cabinet. Outside of the political sphere, civil rights are relatively advanced and Plough Islander civil society is considered highly egalitarian; discrimination on grounds including race, gender identity, sexuality, and disability is prohibited, and homosexuality has been legal since independence; same-sex marriage has been explicitly legal since 1990. Freedom of expression is generally respected for private citizens, but self-censorship on ideological topics is common.

Owing to the small size and population of the islands, and the country's relative stability, the Plough Islands have been described as operating on a principle of consent of the governed; Sutcliffe saw Marxism-Leninism as an ideology to be adapted to the changing local situation, "a living science rather than a rigid guide", and Plough Islanders are seen as having more social freedom and a higher level of political engagement than their counterparts in other communist states, and their government seen as more candid. Most adults are members of their local branch of the Socialists, and a number of day-to-day decisions are made at branch level rather than by the People's Assembly.

Military

The Plough Islands have no ground army, but maintain armed forces for air defence (the Plough Islands Air Force), a green-water navy (the Plough Islands Naval Force), and an armed, military gendarmerie (the Plough Islands Constabulary) that provides civilian law enforcement as well as protecting sites and people deemed important for national security. The total active strength of the forces is around 4000, mostly within the Air Force and Constabulary; there are provisions in the constitution allowing for the conscription of all adult citizens in the event of a national emergency or a lack of manpower within the force, but since their inception all forces have been entirely professional. The primary responsibilities of the military are border and airspace security and search and rescue operations; there have been no major military incidents or conflicts involving the Plough Islands.

Economy

During the colonial period the Plough Islands had a primarily pastoral and resource extraction based economy, but following independence the communist government expropriated almost all major industries and land holdings and instituted a centrally planned, Marxist-Leninist command economy, and virtually all major industries were re-organised into cooperatives during the 1960s and 1970s. Almost all adults of working age are guaranteed employment and are members of a trade union, with the unions having a great deal of practical power in how individual working environments operate; most everyday prices, along with wages, are subject to central government controls in order to prevent increases in the cost of living. Some industries, predominantly in the service or consumer goods sectors, are subject to limited market forces and run according to the principles of worker self-management, normally with ultimate control resting with the local Socialist party organisation.

The government has explicitly aimed for autarky in many areas of the economy, which has driven expansion in the previously small manufacturing sector, and the Plough Islands are self-sufficient in their food and energy production. Rural areas at lower altitudes are often dominated by large collective farms, while the Crabble II nuclear power station on New Hibernia, constructed during the 1960s with Soviet assistance and frequently upgraded since, provides almost all of the islands' domestic electricity needs. The Plough Islands have a low rate of car ownership and most people rely on public transport, which is normally provided by buses or, between islands, by air or passenger ferry; Plough Islands Transdimensional Airways (PITA) is the only airline operating within the country and services domestic routes, as well as foreign destinations from Echodale International Airport near Sutton.

Plough Islander society is primarily cash-based; the Plough Islands shilling (symbol ʃ), which replaced the pound sterling at a nominal rate of 2:1 in January 1962, is not a freely convertible currency, though owing to the isolation of the islands its value has generally remained stable since a revaluation in 1968 under Elkkonen. The importation or trade of foreign hard currencies is illegal, as is the export of the shilling except for numismatic purposes. Coins and notes are produced at the Redcliff Mint and issued by the People's Bank of the Plough Islands, which is the only financial institution in the country and also provides personal savings accounts.

Culture

Society & media

Plough Islander culture inherited many aspects from two centuries of British colonialism, such as the English language and literary tradition, and the islands share elements of a common culture with the wider multiversal Anglosphere. More recent works have been heavily influenced by socialist realism and the propaganda role of art in a communist society; common themes include the dignity of labour and gender and sexual equality, which are seen as key Plough Islander values. Islanders themselves have been characterised as a hardy, self-reliant, politically aware, and friendly people, and the country is often portrayed as a place where time appears to pass more slowly, or as an egalitarian but unworldly backwater.

Education is freely available and compulsory to the age of 16; higher education is encouraged by the government, with two institutions catering to different areas of learning for post-secondary education. The University of the Plough Islands, based in Lainemouth on Swift Island, has its roots in the establishment of a library and university college by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1910, and offers courses in sciences, medicine, and the humanities, while the Plough Islands Technical College combines apprenticeships and correspondence courses to train workers in the agricultural, manufacturing, and other labour-intensive industries.

Most mass media is government-owned; the main daily newspaper is the Plough Islands Gazette, which began publication in 1754 as the official record of the colonial government and expanded into local affairs in the 19th century. Other publications include the official journals of institutions such as the Socialists, the branches of the military, and trade unions; these all generally take a strongly left-wing, pro-government stance, and self-censorship is common, with independent news media generally limited to hobbyist groups or material from abroad. Through the Plough Islands Broadcasting Agency - generally known as Plough Radio - the government operates several national and local radio stations, including one for the benefit of shipping traffic, and a single television station (Plough TV) which operates a time-limited service during the evening. Internet access is widespread, although upload and download speeds are relatively slow by multiversal standards.

Sport

The national sport is cricket, which was brought to the islands with the first British settlers and was widely adopted in the 19th century, being well suited to colonial life and the relatively cool, mild conditions. The Plough Islands Cricket Association, founded in 1920, is a full member of the Global Cricket Federation and operates two main senior competitions, the first-class Harrison Cup and the one-day Sutcliffe Shield, and its constituent cricket boards, which are organised on an island or regional basis, run local competitions within their geographical areas. The sport became particularly prominent following independence in 1960, being adopted and promoted by the Socialists as an example of Plough Islander cultural heritage, and virtually every town, settlement, or community has at least one cricket club. The senior national cricket team, known as the Foxes, ranked first in the 2019 Test season among Full and Associate GCF members, and reached the semi-finals of the 2020 World Trophy competition, held in Liventia.

See also

Acknowledgments

The author wishes to thank the people of the NS Sports community for their feedback while this was written - so many of whom provided advice it would be hopeless to thank you all, but in particular Mriin, The Royal Kingdom of Quebec, and Recuecn who commented on early drafts, as well as Ko-oren and The Sherpa Empire for being wonderful company and inspiration.
Additional heraldic advice provided by Zwijnenland, additional political advice provided by Farfadillis, and additional pointless advice provided by Krytenia.

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Plough Islands cricket team

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