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On the wrong side of history (Constitutional Reform –Part 5)

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History has a way of repeating itself, particularly in the field of politics. That much strikes me when I consider some of the arguments advanced by those opposed to the current constitutional reform process. I can’t help but recall a similar “NO” campaign waged three decades ago as our country was about to move towards Independence. Then, like now, it was said that neither country nor people were “ready” for Independence and all kinds of reasons put forward to justify continued colonial rule.{{more}} 30 years later we are much in the same situation except that it is constitutional reform which is the issue at hand.

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves may be treading the line of political caution in his recollection of the pre-Independence shenanigans by our politicians, but there is no doubt in my mind that the gross political irresponsibility displayed by those on both sides of the Parliamentary divide in 1979 is partly responsible for the constitutional burden we have borne since then. On the one hand, there was the incumbent Labour government, oblivious to the call for a democratic, participatory approach to the task of framing an independence constitution, leaving today’s generation to have to complete that which could have been done one generation ago. On the other, the Parliamentary Opposition, both PPP and the James Mitchell NDP seemed more concerned with denying Cato’s Labour the right to lead this country into independence than with ensuring that the appropriate constitutional frame was put in place.

Any unbiased examination of our political history would reveal that both these political forces resisted attempts by the broad-based civic society movement to include them in the National Independence Committee, rather concentrating their efforts in having the British government prolong colonial gestation. In so doing, all three Parliamentary entities placed their own narrow political considerations above those of the constitutional needs of our society as a whole. Had they done their duty, this generation may well have been spared the efforts of today to have to rewrite our political and constitutional history.

Instead of riding the anti-colonial tide, both Ebenezer Joshua and James Mitchell, politician titans in their respective ways, found themselves on the wrong side of history, where independence was concerned, appealing to the colonial powers to delay the independence march. Sadly, 30 years on, Mitchell’s NDP again finds itself in that position and the resurrected Sir James finds himself still wedded to the colonial umbilical chord. Amazingly, among his arguments against approving the new constitutional proposals, is an argument for retaining the British Privy Council as our final Court of Appeal.

In so doing, Sir James does not argue solely on the grounds of expediency as some are wont to do, his is an argument highly offensive to national pride and dignity. In the 21st century, a veteran political leader advances the insulting assertion that much of what is “of lasting value” in the Caribbean is that which has been bequeathed to us by British colonialism. In other words, it is the British who have given us “civilisation”. While he may have been speaking on a NDP platform, I refuse to believe that such a backward view is shared by NDP leader Arnhim Eustace and company. Mitchell’s view is tantamount to a denial of the contribution of our own historical experience in the Caribbean and a reinforcement of views and attitudes grounded in slavery and colonial oppression.

This negation of our historical being finds expression in a lack of confidence in our own capabilities. We cannot rely on judges of the impeccable character of our own Justice Adrian Saunders and company to dispense justice for us. No, we must forever beseech Lord Willy-Nilly and company to do so. We cannot be entrusted with charting our own future, others are more capable of doing so. That psychology of dependence will take us nowhere and is at the root of all opposition to the unknown. It is like the house slave warning the field slave not to run away from the plantation and its umbrella of “civilisation”.

Three decades ago, it found expression in the fear of moving out of colonial umbrage; today it is manifest in the fear of meaningful constitutional reform. Both are flip sides of the same coin. Both place their proponents ON THE WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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