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Missing in action at Independence (Part 2)

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In trying to understand the formal process leading to Independence in 1979 it is important to reflect on the political situation and actors at that time.  The decision to move a resolution in Parliament paving the way to Independence led to a rift in what was then dubbed the Unity Government. The Government was part of a unity arrangement that saw an accommodation between old enemies – the leaders of the St Vincent Labour Party and the Peoples Political Party. Having broken ranks with Mitchell and with many of his stalwart members sticking with Mitchell, Joshua with Cato, decided in 1974 not to run candidates against their respective parties.  PPP supporters were asked to support Labour in 10 of the 13 constituencies, with a similar concession by Labour, but only for the seats being contested by Ebenezer and Ivy Joshua.

Labour secured victory, with Joshua becoming Minister of Agriculture and by a sleight of hand facilitated by a constitutional change, his wife became Leader of the Opposition to deny Mitchell a position that was rightfully his. There had for long been tensions with that arrangement and things came to a head when Joshua opposed the move to Independence, stating that Cato was adopting a ‘unilateral approach’. This, he indicated in a letter to the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary on January 22. His refusal to withdraw the letter led to his office being declared vacant. Joshua’s position was that Independence should be preceded by a referendum or general elections. He reminded the Premier that his Peoples Political Party was “fully autonomous and duly constituted.”   In the debate in the House, he argued strongly for a referendum or general elections to “normalize the situation.”

The suggested date for Independence, January 22, 1979, turned out, as the Premier indicated, not to be a “practical proposition”.  Joshua then stepped up the tempo. A mass candle-light march and meeting on February 21 led to a demand for a “liberal democratic constitution” and a protest against the “railroading of the constitution” without considering the peoples’ amendments.

In March 1979, following a resolution from one of their mass meetings, he informed the British Government that the country was not ready for Independence. His request was for a referendum or “fresh consideration between Government, the Opposition parties and the United Kingdom government”.

Eventually, he decided on a trip to London in July, accompanied by his legal adviser, Bayliss Frederick. His position then was that the eruption of the Soufrière volcano had “placed the country in an economic position unfavourable to Independence.” A writ presented to the High Court by the NDP and PPP questioned the legality of the Independence resolution that had been passed in the House.  Justice Eardley Glasgow, in rejecting the writ, referred to it as “frivolous and vexatious and an abuse of the process of the Courts.” He declared that no resolution was needed to “enable Her Majesty to terminate the status of Association between St Vincent and Britain…”

The other party represented in the House was the NDP, with Mitchell having won his seat as part of the “Mitchell/Sylvester Party” dubbed the Junta. Other active players were Yulimo and the DFM. By March 1979, the DFM, led by Kenneth John and the PUC, headed by Carlyle Dougan, announced a merger and the formation of a new entity called the PDM, with Kenneth John as leader, Robbie Samuel as general secretary and Dougan and Parnel Campbell on the executive, an arrangement that was to hold until its first convention, scheduled for July/August. By July, another merger had taken place: The PDM and Yulimo became, with ARWEE, the UPM. 

To be continued next week – the positions taken by Mitchell’s NDP, Yulimo and DFM. 

 Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian

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