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One small step can lead to one giant leap

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It is difficult for me to express how pleased I am with the action by the House of Assembly to amend the colonial Oaths of Office for parliamen­tarians to reflect the dignity of an independent people.

For me, and all others with a sense of national pride, it has been a perpetual shame to hear our representatives having to swear allegiance to Her Majesty, the Queen of England.{{more}}

Worse, the Oath also required that one should swear such allegiance to “her heirs and successors” as well. So, our Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and entire complement of Parliamentarians have pledged their allegiance even to a two-year-old Prince George of the House of Windsor, not to us, our country or its Constitution.

Even before I go further, I can already hear the nay-sayers, belching about the supposed irrelevance of the amendment to the Oath. “Not a priority at the moment”; “we have more important things to do”; “that does not change our constitutional status” are sure to be among the negatives. To those, the more extreme will add all the ridiculous charges made during the 2009 constitutional referendum.

Unfortunately, they can’t eat their cake and still have it. The Government, in piloting the amendment through the House, took pains to re-emphasize that the Queen of England is still our Head of State, duly approved by our electorate in the referendum of November 2009, and therefore those spurious charges and rumours are even more ridiculous today.

What is significant is that at least our Parliament has taken “one small step”, to quote the American astronaut Neil Armstrong, on his moon landing in 1969. By so doing, at least our parliamentarians can maintain some sort of dignity when being sworn in to office, and we, the people, can formally hold them accountable, since they would have sworn allegiance to our country, its Constitution and our people.

When Neil Armstrong made that utterance in 1969, he went on to complete the sentence by saying “one giant leap for mankind”. To draw an analogy here, it is my fervent hope that the changing of the Oath would lead to “a giant leap” for us all in terms of our constitutional and governance procedures. Looking through my notes from the constitutional reform process spearheaded by the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC), of 2003/9, I noted that one of the first issues raised at the initial public consultation, held at the headquarters of the National Trust, on Tuesday, June 3, 2003, broadcast live, was that of “the removal of the Queen of England as Head of State”. Very significant, I found.

In its Final Report to the House of Assembly, dated September 28, 2006, the CRC concluded (paragraph 45) that:

“The overwhelming majority who favour the end of the British Monarch as our Head of State, point to several factors:

(a) The need to complete the process of national independence and self-determination;

(b) The fact that outside the Caribbean only very few former British colonies which are now independent have kept the Crown as head of State, and almost all of which former colonies are members of the Commonwealth;

(c) The need to ‘repatriate’ our Constitution;

(d) The fact that there is almost no emotional connection between the younger generations of Vincentians at home and the British Monarch……

(e) The need for the psychological emancipation from colonialism so as to enable to forge a distinct Caribbean identity and civilization.

We have therefore recommended a change to republican status.”

Tuesday’s amendment to the Oath by Parliament does not remove the British Monarch as Head of State; it does not change our Constitutional status; it does not make SVG a Republic; but it is one small step along that road, the initial pebble beginning to roll downhill. It is a pity that once again our Opposition parliamentarians have put narrow partisan interests before the national ones and did not see it fit to be associated with the move by attending to the business of Parliament and voting for the change.

That small step in freeing our MPs from the humiliation of having to swear allegiance to a foreign power, even to the extent of that person’s toddling “successors”, may be small, but it in no way belittles its significance. Parliament must now have the courage to commit itself to furthering the process, to revisit constitutional reform once more. It does not have to be the root-and-branch process attempted last time, for we must have learnt important lessons from 2003/9.

But we can recommence the process of “repatriating our Constitution”, of embarking on the road of “psychological emancipation” and forging our proud Caribbean identity as a solid contribution towards building our Caribbean civilization.

Let the “small step” become a “giant leap!

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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