Premier’s Question Time: talk of independence just won’t go away

  • More than a slip of the tongue: David Burt’s speech acknowledging the 50th anniversary since the first General Election under the Bermuda Constitution had too much talk of independence to be ignored (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

    More than a slip of the tongue: David Burt’s speech acknowledging the 50th anniversary since the first General Election under the Bermuda Constitution had too much talk of independence to be ignored (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

On December 4 last year, I wrote an opinion that was headlined “A campaign of independence by stealth”, in which I reminded the public about a number of utterances by high-ranking Progressive Labour Party members since the July 2017 election making thinly veiled references to independence.

Rather than repeat all of them here, I will begin by reminding you of the following paragraph from that opinion, given the Premier’s speech at the Special Sitting of Parliament of May 22:

“[On November 24, 2017] in response to questions by MP Trevor Moniz about whether the Premier had intentions to take Bermuda to independence, the Premier reportedly laughed off questions and said that MPs should not be surprised to hear discussions about cutting ties with Britain, and that he was ‘endlessly amused’ by Opposition inquiries into the matter.”

So six months ago, the Premier essentially dismissed the idea that independence is on the agenda, as did you may recall, the Minister of Economic Development and Tourism — quite the about face. Perhaps this is explained away by Britain’s directive that we legislate for public beneficial ownership registers by 2020, failing which it will be done for us? Or the asinine treatment by the Premier towards the incoming [Bermudian] chief justice? The next big appointment is that of the Commissioner of Police, so watch this space if the appointee is non-Bermudian or perceived by the Premier to be non-Bermudian.

So what is all this really about? Why is the Premier so keen on continuing to dedicate so much airtime to the talk of independence, despite an apparent one-liner to this newspaper that independence is not on the agenda? Why, when all polls in recent memory show that more than 70 per cent of voters are against independence?

All we can do is speculate and consider whether it really is in the best interest of Bermuda to pursue independence. So let’s begin with a number of questions for consideration, given what now appears to be a not-so-stealthy campaign for independence by the Premier:

1, Is the Premier misrepresenting the truth when he says independence is not on the agenda?

2, Is the Premier feeling in such a strong political position with a 24-10 majority in the House of Assembly at present that he believes he can now carry the independence torch forward and go down in history as the first Bermudian Prime Minister — or president, depending on whether or not the PLP wants a republic?

3, Is the Premier desirous of a housing upgrade from Middle Road to Langton Hill?

4, Is the Premier talking about independence to appease the PLP faithful because he feels threatened, given the many promises made in the last election that have not yet come to fruition?

5, Is the Premier of the belief that bitcoin and fintech industries will be the third economic pillar of Bermuda’s economy that will be the ultimate extra source of income to stabilise us if [when] international business flees our shores to places such as the Cayman Islands because of independence [discussions]?

6, Does the Premier believe that the ratings agencies will maintain our existing credit ratings if [when] independence is fully pursued?

7, Does the Premier believe that our international business partners, who contribute the largest portion of GDP to Bermuda, think that independence is a good idea?

8, Is the Premier naive enough to think that international business will remain in Bermuda if its perceptions of stability are rocked upon independence and the British flag is lowered?

9, Does the Premier believe that the Privy Council should be the final place of appeal of Bermuda court judgments — again, given his obvious distaste for anyone making decisions about Bermudian matters that he insinuates are not Bermudian?

10, Does the Premier believe that the failure to properly declare his intent is helpful for business stability?

11, Does the Premier understand that many businesses are in Bermuda because they feel secure in their [misplaced] perception that Britain would ride to the rescue if there was a default in Bermuda’s debt repayments?

12, Does the Premier believe that independence should be decided by way of a General Election or referendum — this is important, given that in 1995 the PLP preferred an election and the biased Bermuda Independence Commission said it could find no instances of independence being decided by referendum?

13, Should an independence referendum be 50 per cent plus one of at least 50 per cent of registered voters or a higher threshold of turnout?

14, If the PLP dared to hold a referendum, would it keep it separate and distinct from a General Election date so that lines are not blurred in respect of “party v independence”?

15, Does the Premier intend to make the next General Election all about independence in the hope that voters dissatisfied with the One Bermuda Alliance will vote PLP no matter the consequences of independence for them?

We need an unequivocal statement about the Government’s intent; not grandstanding and emotionally charged, nonfactual speeches.

The Premier said: “It is my hope that while Bermuda is challenged by the neocolonialism from Westminster, that all Bermudians, white and black, PLP and OBA, can relax our political tribalism long enough to realise that if we do not meet the threat posed by the UK Parliament’s latest actions, that we in Bermuda may not have the means by which to write that final chapter.”

That will never happen when government ministers make their feelings clear about how they feel about certain “tribes” — the Premier’s words, not mine — in our community. These types of “coming together” statements are almost bipolar, given what else we are forced to contend with on a daily basis.

I am not anti-independence. What I am against is simply using the politics of emotion in respect of such an important matter. We can at least “come together” and lay out the pros and cons, and explore every avenue, but this may prove impossible in a climate of fear and retribution. And, more importantly, we will not “come together” just because the Premier hopes we will.

Leading by example is the first step and accepting Bermudians as Bermudians, regardless of their place of origin or skin colour or sexual orientation — all areas that the PLP has shown utter contempt for in recent years.

In 2006, the left-wing American Council on Hemispheric Affairs said that Bermudian independence was “like a mackerel lying on a dock under moonlight, stinking while it shines”.

It went further and said: “The advocates of independence must come up with decisive arguments proving that independence will overwhelmingly benefit the nation and its citizenry, or must, in good conscience, surrender their fight. The issue must not get in the way of confronting enduring economic, social and political matters that need to be solved in a timely fashion, if the island is to thrive: housing, public health, education, an overly narrow-based economy, and the need to rehabilitate tourism.”

I could not have put it better.

Michael Fahy is a former Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Tourism, Transport and Municipalities, and Junior Minister of Finance under the One Bermuda Alliance government

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Published May 29, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated May 29, 2018 at 7:38 am)

Premier’s Question Time: talk of independence just won’t go away

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