Last Lap to Independence
Grenada achieved its independence on February 7, 1974, making the matter of Independence a talking point particularly in St Lucia and St Vincent. The St Vincent Labour Party referred to it in its 1974 Election Manifesto, but little was done until March 1978 when the Cato/Joshua Unity Government collapsed. It was a strange entity with the Leader of the Party being a Minister of Government and his wife Leader of the Opposition. After Cato’s indication to the British Government of his readiness to move to Independence in the shortest possible time, Joshua followed up with a letter stating that his party was not in favour of Independence. After his refusal to withdraw the letter he was relieved of his ministerial position and the ’unity government’ was no more. What followed was a resolution on Independence in the ‘House’. The government invited the Opposition, Trade Unions, and other organisations to submit memoranda for inclusion in the Independence constitution, the Premier urging the people to become involved in the debate. James Mitchell the representative for the Grenadines expressed concern about the absence of ‘long range’ plans for economic independence and expressed the view that the British government was unlikely to grant Independence without elections or a referendum since the constitution was ‘raped’ in 1975 to make Mrs Joshua Leader of the Opposition. Ebenezer Joshua wanted a referendum or general elections before Independence. In a Press Release he stated, “To hasten to Independence therefore, with neither foundation or (sic) framework with blind eyes is to invite consequences fraught with real dangers to the broad masses of the people”.
The St. Vincent Union of Teachers (SVUT) was quickly off the mark. At a National Convention held in early April it drew up suggestions for a new constitution. That same month Premier Cato and AG Arthur Williams went to London to discuss procedures for the move to Independence. The debate meanwhile was heating up with discussions at the Nurses Hostel on the initiative of the nurses and also at the University Centre. Letters from individuals also appeared in the Vincentian newspaper. A deadline of May 31st was given for the submission of constitutional proposals, which many felt was too short a time. The SVUT and James Mitchell wrote seeking an extension that was initially rejected. On May 19th at the initiative of the SVUT a meeting of individuals and organisations agreed on the establishment of a National Independence Committee (NIC) with Henry Williams as Chairman and Yvonne Francis-Gibson as Vice Chair. Seventeen organisations were present when this decision was made, among them the Taxi association, Lowmans Community Development Organisation and Ecumenical Study Group. By the second meeting held a week after, 30 organisations participated. The NIC requested an extension of the deadline for submitting proposals. Government eventually agreed to July 31, while August 20 was the time they were hoping for. The NIC submitted proposals to the Clerk of the Assembly on the deadline date, with a copy hand delivered to the Premier.
On September a Government delegation left for England without representatives of the Opposition. An effort to include the Chairman of the NIC made a mockery of things since he was only informed by telephone on the actual morning the delegation was leaving. There was not even an indication of the agenda. The NIC which opted for a Republican constitution had put in a lot of work trying to meet the deadline. The Minister of State in the British Commonwealth Office had reported around the time that the delegation left and that the main objective was to consider amendments to the Constitution. Premier Cato before leaving had said that what was needed was to deal with matters of defence and external affairs. That was very instructive because those were the two areas the British kept when they granted the Statehood Constitution. (To be continued)
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian