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Another ‘Royal’ visit


In the year 1969, a racehorse, bred at the famous Barnard stables at Orange Hill in St Vincent, won the prestigious Trinidad Derby emerging as the top three-year old racehorse in the southern Caribbean. That horse was named, ‘Royal Visit’, in honour of the visit of Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom, titular Head of the Commonwealth who had visited the Caribbean, St Vincent and the Grenadines included, in 1966.{{more}}

I was a teacher at the time, though luckily not among those who had been given responsibility for shepherding schoolchildren out to visit the royal couple. My attitude then had been one of indifference, but by the time another royal visit came about, in 1972, that indifference had turned to outright rejection and indignation. The ignominy of continued colonial rule and the growing opposition to it by young nationalists like myself, accounted for our protests. Yet, there was little doubt that the expressed indignation was partly based on matters to do with Mustique and the reputed activities there of the royal visitor, Princess Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth.

2012 is forty years removed from 1972, and undoubtedly the local context has changed, though the current debate on race by some persons in the media, ranging sometimes from the sublime to the ridiculous, seems to want to revive a bit of the racial overtones of the 1972 era. A royal visit to independent St Vincent and the Grenadines in 2012 does not quite provoke the same emotional responses, on one side or another, as a 1972 visit, nor are the social activities of the Wessex couple as widely publicized as those of Margaret of the House of Windsor.

In fact, many Vincentians probably never even knew (or care much) anything about the Count and Countess of Wessex. What is significant though, is our continued acceptance of the British monarchy. We still say “the Queen” in reference to the Queen of Britain, not even acknowledging that there are other “Queens” (in a monarchical sense) in other countries, and kings as well. There are monarchs on the thrones of some European nations, Spain, Netherlands and Sweden being examples. Kings and Queens are also present on the African continent, even though most of us can only think of Emperor Haile Selassie as an African monarch. The behaviour of some of these African monarchs hardly enamour them to the rest of us any more than that of some of the scions of the British monarchy.

Interestingly, only Canada and the Caribbean in the western hemisphere retain vestiges of monarchical rule. The United States overthrew Britain’s colonial hold almost two and a half centuries ago, while the brutal excesses of Spanish colonialism caused a Latin American revolt, to the extent that even though Latin American nations still retain close ties with the kingdom of Spain, all of them have opted for their native Heads of State under the republican system.

The United Kingdom defends its retention of the monarchy by claiming that it has social benefits as a unifying force and anchor of stability, while bringing in economic benefits in that the monarchy and its trappings attract tourists in significant numbers. Increasingly though, this retention of a hereditary Head of State is coming under attack in Britain itself, with calls for the abolition of the monarchy and its attendant House of Lords. Scotland, one of the countries in the Kingdom, is to hold a referendum on independence next year.

So, the British state sees value in retaining a monarch. What is there in it for us? Why do we persist in our allegiance to “Her Majesty, her heirs and successors”? When the monarchy was imposed against our will, we had little choice, but the opportunity to choose was presented to us in 2009, and we REJECTED it. We continue to try and hold on to the coattails of the British judiciary, in the form of the Privy Council, even while the British are “flouncing off” on us. They have even changed the Privy Council to the Supreme Court, but her Majesty’s “loyal subjects”, as we like to be called, will not give up our subservient status.

There is nothing wrong in welcoming representatives of a foreign and friendly Head of State, nor is there any basis for personal animosity to Queen Elizabeth and her relatives. But to be duty bound to do so is unacceptable in the 21st century. Staying away from the ceremonies may soothe consciences, but it does not solve the problem. We must change the nature of the relationship and get our own representative Head of State. The constitutional battle must be pursued to its successful conclusion.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.