Log In

Reset Password

A duplicitous way to begin a mature debate on Independence

Secret report: David Burt, the Premier, and Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Perhaps bruised by previous efforts to bring about Independence for Bermuda, the Progressive Labour Party Government has taken a different approach with the release of the Corbin report.

But it seems unlikely that this effort will be any more successful than previous campaigns because the reasons for Bermuda remaining a British Overseas Territory have changed very little.

And if paying Dr Carlyle Corbin $50,000 to produce a report to tell Bermudians what they already know is a sign of the kind of prudent decision-making the government of an independent Bermuda will make, then that is reason enough to proceed with extreme caution.

That is what Dr Corbin’s report did take, even if it required 200 pages to get there; that if Bermuda wishes to change its constitutional status, there are no legal or administrative barriers to Independence remaining.

Still, two things stand out from the report. The first is in the commissioning of it, which was kept secret, as was the attendance of its commissioner, the Attorney-General, at several United Nations meetings on decolonisation.

David Burt, the Premier, explained that the reason for this was, in his words, that any discussion of Independence sets off kneejerk reactions which do not lend themselves to a “mature” debate.

Mr Burt said: “In Bermuda we cannot have mature conversations about self-governance, about modifying our constitutional arrangements and progress which are things which are mandated under the United Nations charters.

“So, from that perspective, I think it is interesting that we always … anytime anything is mentioned about alternate constitutional arrangements, that it creates a firestorm of controversy and criticism.”

Whether Mr Burt really believes that is immaterial. But it sounds very much like the kind of thing a parent would tell a child, and that patronising approach should be remembered. Once leaders set off on a path where they believe that the people who voted them in are not capable of making decisions, any number of dangerous actions can follow.

To a degree, Mr Burt is right. Independence — and it is worth noting that both the Premier and the Attorney-General have been at pains not to use the I word — does elicit strong responses. That is hardly surprising; a change in Bermuda’s constitutional position is a big decision with momentous potential ramifications.

That does not mean it cannot be debated soberly and in a measured way. But doing so requires that Bermudians not be patronised by their elected leaders. Instead, an honest and forthright debate of the pros and cons is required.

If Mr Burt was hoping to encourage a mature debate by using stealth to get the debate under way then he is a poor judge of human nature. Building trust requires honesty and fair dealing, not the commissioning of secret reports on the basis that Bermudians are too immature.

Of course, for those who have already made their minds up about Independence, it’s not really a case of arguing the merits of the case because the reasons for Independence are apparently self-evident.

For that reason, it is easier to assume that the reason the majority of Bermudians have opposed Independence in survey after survey, decade after decade, is because they have not been adequately educated on the issues, not because the reasons for opposing full sovereignty have any validity.

But the failed attempts to attain Independence in the past have also taught its latest proponents some important lessons.

The first is not to mention the the word Independence, but to talk about “self-government” and “sovereignty“ instead.

The second is to try to portray the process as an inevitable one. Thus, this is not something being driven by Bermuda but by the United Nations. And the United Kingdom is at fault for not educating Bermuda about Independence as mandated by the UN itself.

This quasi-legalese jargon is nonsense, but the intent is to both remove responsibility from the island’s leaders and to give the whole process a sense of being somehow required.

Indeed, in Dr Corbin’s report, he outlines several courses that Bermuda could take. There is outright Independence, but there is also incorporation of Bermuda into United Kingdom fully with all of the rights and obligations that entails. There is also associate statehood, in which a territory apparently has the right to make all of its own decisions, but can call on the former administrative power for help when things go wrong.

There is not space here to go into all of the detail of these options, except to say that all three have severe disadvantages and dubious benefits.

But what is left out of Mr Corbin’s report is the fourth choice — for Bermuda to stay essentially as it is; a largely self-governing jurisdiction on whose behalf the United Kingdom provides for external security and foreign relations. Nor is this relationship a static one. There is room for delegation of powers and modification of the arrangements as there has been since the Constitution was agreed in 1968.

Mr Burt, Ms Simmons and others would like to keep that quiet — perhaps they feel “the children” don’t need to hear that, since they might actually prefer it.

But it is an essential part of the debate. Mr Burt does not feel a mature debate can be had on Independence in which the pros and cons of the island’s current status, the timing of the issue and, yes, the emotions that apply to all sides of the issue are acknowledged and weighed.

But that is the only debate a democratic nation can have. Attempting to start the debate in secret and then to produce an incomplete report is not the way forward.

You must be Registered or to post comment or to vote.

Published December 12, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated December 11, 2022 at 3:58 pm)

A duplicitous way to begin a mature debate on Independence

What you
Need to
1. For a smooth experience with our commenting system we recommend that you use Internet Explorer 10 or higher, Firefox or Chrome Browsers. Additionally please clear both your browser's cache and cookies - How do I clear my cache and cookies?
2. Please respect the use of this community forum and its users.
3. Any poster that insults, threatens or verbally abuses another member, uses defamatory language, or deliberately disrupts discussions will be banned.
4. Users who violate the Terms of Service or any commenting rules will be banned.
5. Please stay on topic. "Trolling" to incite emotional responses and disrupt conversations will be deleted.
6. To understand further what is and isn't allowed and the actions we may take, please read our Terms of Service
7. To report breaches of the Terms of Service use the flag icon