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A COLLEAGUE suggested, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I believe, that Barbadians on the whole paid little if any attention to last Thursday’s independence referendum in faraway Scotland.
The comment was based partly, I think, on our perceived greater affinity with the Irish which certainly extends beyond the shared scatological pronunciations.
And after a moment’s reflection, I agreed – up to a point. For surely, the outcome of the referendum would have little or no impact upon our own constitutional arrangements with Westminster and a “yes” vote would likely have had only minimal contact with any economic associations with Scotland.
But it is from the mere fact that there was such a constitutional referendum that Barbadians, especially the “republicans”, might draw some lessons, particularly on how to conduct the political exercise known as a referendum.
The use of that word, even in casual conversation, tends to excite certain sections of our small society, and we have seen that the passions of the “republicans” and the “monarchists” can reach quite high levels.
I think the protagonists on both sides, now that the dust has nearly settled on our last stab at a referendum, would agree that it was handled pretty badly by the Owen Arthur Administration.
And despite any protestations you might hear to the contrary, republican status by way of a referendum was one hot potato that the late David Thompson was not going to allow the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) to handle and it is a fair bet that none of his successors will either.
As the Scottish exercise made abundantly clear, there has to be an overarching reason for staging the plebiscite that appeals to a people’s sense of reason rather than simply to their base emotional instincts. Further, the benefits of any such drastic change must be pellucidly spelt out, that is, in a manner that can be easily absorbed at all levels of the society.
A campaign for independence has first and foremost to be about the pursuit of the glory and pride in nationhood. But as one newsmagazine writer observed: “After religion, the phenomenon of nationhood might be the most understudied and underappreciated by the kind of people who run the planet.”
“What does nationhood mean? What does it mean to be a people? Is it merely a self-interested bargain between parties, or does it mean something more?” asked Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, who is an entrepreneur and writer based in Paris, and a frequent columnist at The Week.
For the past 48 years and even earlier, it has been drummed into the heads of Barbadians that “Independence” was a symbol of national pride.
It seems to me, from this distance, that the Scots who voted to stay within the four-nation United Kingdom, did not, as the cliché goes, “get the nationhood memo”.
The Father of Independence, Errol Barrow, consistently and persistently warned Barbadians not to allow themselves to be bribed by Governments with their own money. By eschewing the opportunity for nationhood by voting against independence, the Scots seemed to be have been beguiled by the slick currency of promises of greater self-rule, tax-raising powers, complete control of domestic spending and other prizes.
They should have listened to Errol Barrow.
No doubt, the local “monarchists” who rejoiced at the fumbling by the Arthur Administration over the republic issue, will now use the Scottish result to gird their loins in anticipation of any resurgent republican sentiment.
For those who are minded to rekindle the issue, one of the key lessons that emerged from Thursday’s exercise was that the benefits of republic status must be so clearly stated as to be able to override the latent emotionalism and sentimentality that surrounds our Gracious Queen among the monarchists.
Further, there are those will not be swayed by simple appeals to patriotism and the symbols of nationhood and full independence. They will have to be the subject of an intense and extensive education campaign which would be aimed ostensibly at the general populace.
A good place to start, perhaps, would be with a serious national movement to get our lawmakers to patriate the Barbados Constitution which after nearly 50 years of Independence remains an Order-in-Council of the British Parliament and not an enactment of the Barbados Parliament.
Oh, and by the way, republicans, when you finally persuade the political directorate to pursue the change of status again, please suggest to them they draft something less insulting than the pathetic: “Do you agree that the Head of State of Barbados should be a citizen of Barbados?”
• Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent.