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Royal Bajans still?

Albert Brandford

Royal Bajans still?

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I, [name], do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.  – Oath Of Allegiance sworn by each MP in the 16 independent Commonwealth realms, including Barbados.
WITHIN A FEW DAYS, Barbados will once again welcome to these shores Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, third son of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.
Prince Edward, last here in November for a function in the Duke Of Edinburgh Awards programme named for his father, is representing his mother in a series of events in the region commemorating the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne in 1952.
Now relegated to seventh in the line of succession to the British throne, Prince Edward is therefore comfortably distanced from the pressures on those higher up the royal totem pole by politicians and other courtiers for favours from the British government.
It would be ungracious of me not to welcome Prince Edward to the island at this time, not only to perform his official duties, but also to savour once again the delights this paradise, once known as “Little England”, has to offer.
Still, it would be remiss of me not to mention that his presence here is also a timely reminder of some unfinished business involving the monarchy and stuttering attempts by past administrations to replace the Queen with a Head of State who is a Barbadian.
Some would probably suggest that constitutional change of such a magnitude cannot be a priority in the current economic climate (and they would most likely be right), but more especially so with a pivotal general election around the corner.
Certainly, having a Barbadian Head of State will not now be the focus of politicians fighting to retain, or regain, control of the reins of office at a time when people are seeing their standard of living being eroded and their very way of life under increasing threat.
So, it will be the economy, stupid!
Perform the rituals
Yet, it is perhaps a measure of how far we have come as a nation in establishing our own forms of governance that some of those who, a few short years ago, were having great difficulty in reciting the Oath Of Allegiance and swallowing the implications of paying homage to the Queen’s less than stellar “heirs and successors”, will this week have to suck in their stomachs, bite their tongues and perform the rituals.
In this matter, Barbados, to my mind, has not been well served by almost two generations of politicians since Independence in 1966, from their boastful but so far empty pledges to patriate the Constitution (which is still an order in council and not an act of the Barbados Parliament), to moving our system of governance from a constitutional monarchy to a parliamentary republic under an executive presidency.
Indeed, far from taking the ultimate step of removing the Queen as Head Of State, we have not even moved, as Jamaica has done, to symbolically change the Oath Of Allegiance – which some find so repugnant to our much vaunted Independence – from the British monarch to the “state” and/or to the “Constitution”.
Even in England itself, there has been some movement in this regard with a cross-party group of MPs campaigning to scrap the Oath Of Allegiance to the Queen – an oath whose origins in the 1215 Magna Carta will be about 800 years old in a few years – on a human rights basis and instead have their MPs swear allegiance to their “constituents and the nation”.
Both Barbadian major political parties are on record as being supportive of republicanism and, at one time or another, have committed to having a referendum on the issue before any change, although the current stance of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) may be in doubt given the flip-flop by its leader Owen Arthur on the latter.
Readers would recall that initially Arthur, as Prime Minister of Barbados, was all for a referendum.
In 2005, he said Barbados should switch to a republic because it is “secure in its own identity to have one of its own become its supreme Head of State”.
Indeed, the Arthur administration had originally laid a Referendum Bill in the House of Assembly on October 10, 2000, and as I recall it, had pooh-poohed concerns that the question was so phrased as to demand an emotional response from every patriotic Barbadian: “Do you agree that the Head of State of Barbados should be a citizen of Barbados?”
Yet by August 2005, his Government would table a refashioned Referendum Bill with an amended and extended question: “Do you agree with the recommendation of the Constitution Review Commission that Barbados should become a parliamentary republic with a Head of State being president who is a citizen of Barbados?”
It was a strange turn of events for a Prime Minister who had only in January of the same year dismissed the referendum call as a “false issue” when he insisted that there would be no referendum, but a week later on February 5 – without an explanation of why he had changed his mind so suddenly – said that a plebiscite was still “fundamentally valid”.
Like you, I’m still not clear today on what is Arthur’s true position, but I well recall his having said that as Barbados’ leader he would have fundamental problems swearing allegiance to a “King Harry” – a reference to one of the Queen’s “heirs and successors”.
“Heaven forbid,” he said, “but if Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth were to die; if Prince Charles and if Prince William [the latter of the infamous public wearing of the detested Nazi uniform and armband] were to die, I would have it as a fundamental difficulty swearing allegiance to King Harry. I really would.”
But it is not only in the BLP that there are misgivings about swearing such an Oath Of Allegiance since a while back one prominent member of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP), while supportive of the Queen, declared he would have problems with her “successors” but still called for republican status!
The late Barbadian diplomat and SUNDAY SUN columnist Oliver Jackman had a perceptive view of the issue, while noting that Arthur offered two quite distinct explanations of his reticence over constitutional change.
“On the one hand he states that he suspended consideration of the proposals made by the Review Commission because of the ‘divisiveness’ that surfaced in the public debate about the eventual move to republican status,” Jackman wrote.
Perceived ‘divisiveness’
“On the other hand, he has stated that the infelicities inherent in the Trinidad and Tobago model of republicanism (as witnessed by the endless series of unseemly squabbles between president and prime minister in recent times) had given Barbadians pause, in view of the fact that the system proposed by the commission was ‘based on’ the Trinidad and Tobago model.
“There are those, among whom I include myself, who strongly suspect that the crux of the matter lies in the perceived ‘divisiveness’ of a move to republican status.
“Let me put that in plain English. Too many of the BLP’s powerful white supporters, as well as a handful of black ones, were unhappy at the prospect of being symbolically set adrift from the ‘Mother Country’.
As a pragmatist and a politician delicately juggling his options about when to call elections in a period of economic and geopolitical uncertainty, he chose not to put his dog in that fight.”
As I said above, another election is coming, and sooner or later, both parties are going to have to show voters the pedigree of their respective dogs.
Many and varied have been the excuses, but we have none to blame but ourselves, for we should not in the year of our Lord 2012 be welcoming Prince Edward, a representative of our constitutional sovereign with a Joint Session of Parliament. Rather, our open arms should be welcoming him as just another ordinary, if wealthy, British tourist whom we would want to introduce to one of our multimillion-dollar beachfront villas.
• Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email [email protected]