What Barbados’ Republican move means!
BARBADOS’S MOVE TO Republican status has created quite a stir in the region, with some heads of government urging others to follow suit.
It was as if this move was something new. Guyana did it in 1970, Trinidad and Tobago in 1976 and Dominica in 1978.
I cannot recall that excitement being present when each of them made their move. Is it because we have long nicknamed the country “Little England”, Barbados being one of the earliest slave colonies? Some persons keep making the foolish statement that we had an opportunity to do likewise but blew it away. We must remind ourselves that the issue of removing the Queen as Head of State and replacing her by a Vincentian president, was one issue among a host of others that formed part of a referendum that failed.
If my memory serves me correctly there was no strong objection to the removal of the Queen as head of state. There were however differences over how the President should be selected. Should it be by a parliamentary vote or by a national vote or something to that effect?
Prime Minister Mottley’s two third majority in parliament obviously assisted the passage to Republican status since it needed such a majority to approve a constitutional amendment. But the issue of declaring Barbados a republic without first changing the constitution did not go down well with some persons. Historian Woodville Marshall, who was one of three persons invited by the Republican Transition Advisory Committee to share their expertise was critical of the process. Marshall who is all for the change felt that it was necessary to first deal with the constitution, calling for a process of public education, which in his view was the democratic way to go. Was the haste necessary? Perhaps it was the surest way to go. A public opinion poll in 2015 suggested that the monarchy had 64% support while 24% favoured a Republic. That was six years ago, and perhaps public sentiment has changed. Well, we always considered Barbadians as being very conservative although I do not entirely share that view. But one might not be wrong in suggesting that there might be a significant number in opposition but who have remained quiet for the simple season there was no visible voice or symbol with which to channel their views. Sir Garfield Sobers might not be a typical Barbadian but he stands out as a national hero. He was opposed to the move although occupying a prominent place at the ceremony. He said “it will be a sad day for a lot of us” because the Queen was very much loved. Of course, the issue is much bigger than love for an individual.
But what follows next? What does it in essence really mean? President Sandra Mason stated that, “Today we set our compass in a new direction.” Prince Charles not to be outdone told Barbadians, “Tonight you write the next chapter of Your Nation’s story.” Is there really going to be a new direction that has meaning for the Barbadian people?
What will be new? It must be something more than a ceremonial head of state.
We wait to see. It might also be interesting to follow the discussions on the new constitution whenever that process begins.
And what for the rest of us? Prime Minister Holness of Jamaica has already said in response to a call by former PM Patterson to follow suit, that any such move has got to be more than a symbolic gesture.
We wait for his move that will go beyond symbolism! As for SVG, we are so divided that we might just draw or perhaps, fire a blank.
There is a view in the region that the Queen is there to protect us. If that view still prevails, for me that is a good reason to get rid of the queen. Only we can protect ourselves or should I say, only us can protect us!
● Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian