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Missing in action at Independence (Part 3)

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The Independence issue led to the collapse of the Cato-Joshua “unity government”, but it was well known that tensions existed within the “shotgun marriage” as Kenneth John described it.  Mrs Joshua was then Leader of the Opposition, although her party, the PPP, had thrown its support behind the Labour Party, which did not, in 1974, contest the seats of the two Joshuas. Mitchell’s NDP was formed in 1975 and incorporated senior members of Joshua’s PPP. In his autobiography, Beyond the Islands, published in 2006, Mitchell said little about Independence. He referred to the challenge in court of the legality of the Independence resolution and drew attention to the timing of Independence, claiming that the country had not settled down following the Good Friday eruption of 1979. But this was really at the end of the process, which had started with a resolution of the House in March 1978.  

Mitchell was initially of the view that Britain would not grant Independence without a referendum or general elections because of what he referred to as the raping of the Constitution in 1975. He held on to a statement by Ted Rowlands of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that the main objective of the London Conference was to consider amendments to the Statehood Constitution and argued that the London Conference appeared not to have been called based on the resolution of the House. He, therefore, questioned the usefulness of proposals submitted for a new Constitution and reiterated his position that a referendum or general elections should precede Independence. The Opposition, he declared, should not be a rubber stamp “to sanction something that has been done without proper consultation”, and he was unwilling to pledge his support before the court decided on their legal challenge.

He indicated to Ted Rowlands, in a February 14, 1979 letter, that he was standing with the entire Opposition and requested a fully constitutional conference in London to settle the terms of the new Constitution. The draft Constitution was unsatisfactory and did not provide the basis for stability in the country. Once they were satisfied with the new Constitution, they would give their blessing to the process. He had concerns, too, about the provision for Fundamental Rights, State of Emergency, Appointment of Leader of the Opposition and having citizenship as an entrenched provision. He noted that no concessions were given to the country’s economic needs.

In a letter to Nicholas Ridley (Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) on July 3, 1979, he stated, “That you should fix a Constitution and an Independence date without consultation

with the Opposition and while the Soufrière is erupting, and in the twilight of the Parliament’s life, abundantly demonstrates your anxiety to be rid of your responsibility here in any fashion.” But the draft Constitution had arrived since November 28, 1978.

Vincentians were critical of the approach of the Cato government on an issue as important as Independence. The editorial of the Vincentian of February 16, 1979 lamented that no serious consideration was given to the proposals of the 18 organizations represented by the NIC.  The big question was, should one fail to support Independence on that basis? The March 10, 1979 issue of the TREE, organ of the Democratic Freedom Movement, stated, “Joshua day by day shows more clearly that he is a relic of the past. And there is Mitchell? Any leader who dares to stand up in the House today and even appear to oppose Independence for whatever reason, must be joking.” Yulimo, like others, was not satisfied with the behaviour of the Government, but it supported the principle of Independence and disagreed with those who opposed Independence. It considered it a “dangerous position to take”. (To be continued)

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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