Wolf in sheep’s clothing
Carlyle Corbin, the author of the Options for Sovereignty report, cannot be said to be an impartial or benign scholar of sovereignty, given he is himself an advocate of self-determination. It is OK to be an advocate and, perhaps, that is even a noble career. Notwithstanding, even he recognises that the issue of self-determination rests with the people. In his own words speaking on colonisation, “these arrangements that exist are never meant to be permanent. They are always meant to be a transition to something that is permanent that will give us permanent status. And what that may be is determined by the people”. (source: Pacific News Centre).
Being determined by the people is optimum. We live in a modern world where the right of every person is to be respected, and the best way of determining the will of the people is through a plebiscite that tests their disposition or pleasure on any issue.
The subject of independence for Bermuda is not a remote topic; it is one that most Bermudians have at least an opinion for or against. Leaders cannot claim to be naive: they would be in denial not to have a general sense of the disposition of the majority of the population on the subject of independence, particularly after a referendum in 1995, and a petition with 20,000 signatures in 2000 in favour of a referendum if independence is introduced.
In fact, it would need to be a “trick” to bypass the clear indications that most Bermudians do not want independence right now or, at a minimum, would want to be included in any decision. The Progressive Labour Party would be disingenuous to avoid a referendum by introducing the subject under the guise of sticking it in a platform and not propose it as a single item — even if Dr Corbin says it is a legitimate method. His opinion cannot override or represent the popular opinion of the Bermuda population on which method to achieve self-determination.
When Britain decided to leave the European Union, it was done by way of a referendum. Anything less — such as, for example, the desire or wish of a party or party leader — would have been a slight on the masses of British people. It should be of concern to Bermudians because at the moment Britain is head and shoulders ahead of Bermuda in the democracy arena. We had a taste of that, by comparison, in leadership selection at the PLP delegates conference, not too long as the British Conservative Party chose a new prime minister. Ours had about 150 selectors, which excluded the majority of members and supporters, while it would have been a few hundred thousand Tory members that would have voted first for Liz Truss and then for Rishi Sunak after his predecessor’s short-lived reign.
Any idea of independence if the PLP were to lead would be significantly compromised by its narrow idea of democracy. We would just be removing any protective rails or oversight and call it independence when in fact it would be a tightened grip by the PLP constitution over the lives of the Bermudian people under a structural autocracy.
The only thing on earth that resembles the PLP constitution is that of China’s and the Communist Party. It would be no coincidence because the constitution was written by a professed communist, the infamous Geoffrey Bing, a leftist British parliamentarian who also wrote the constitution for Kwame Nkrumah, of Ghana.
Oh, but that was years ago — the point is, today the PLP has not evolved from then. Its idea of inclusion and democracy is pegged to the pressure-group tactics applied by the civil rights movement of the 1960s. It has not occurred in its ethos that Bermuda is a country of 60,000+ people, racially diverse with an electorate of 42,000, and that every life is of equal value.
The first step for Bermuda towards self-determination should be democratisation. Until and unless there is a visible commitment towards an open and transparent participatory democracy, beware.
It is true that since the development of the United Nations and its efforts of decolonisation, there have been 70 or 80 countries and more than 750 million people that have achieved sovereignty. But too many of them devolved into dictatorships. There is no direct correlation between sovereignty and freedom. If good, firm democratic principles are not formed at the base of the move towards sovereignty, what emerges will be a reflection of that weak foundation.
It is imperative that in whatever format the education occurs on the subject of sovereignty that democracy and its variants are taught. Particularly with the PLP, which seems to believe that election victory and gaining power is the most important feature of a democracy.
I, too, would love to see constitutional evolution and a more mature status. The entire subject requires sober thought. Do we wish full sovereignty and total separation from Britain? And if so, why and for what goal? Or should we have some form of interdependence or associated statehood? Whatever the answer is, it should not merely be a political objective driven by political will without the expressed will and intellectual input of the people. Nor should it be copycat or pretend to be some form of retaliation for being subjects of colonialism because we have enjoyed a form of constitutional freedom unlike many other colonies. So where we are and what we have become, in large part, has been our direct responsibility. Britain has been urging us to become more democratic; for example, it near insisted we have an ombudsman to the objection, as I recall, of Dame Lois Browne-Evans, who said something along the lines of “that’s what the courts are for”.
Britain is not the enemy. If anything, ignorance is. We need to become enlightened about constitutionality and the rights and protection of freedoms for our people. If and when we have a clear vision of the world we want to live in with those freedoms, and knowing how to protect them, we can remove any of the obstacles that prevent us attaining our fullest development. Anything short of that is a trick and a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The call to democratise is a higher call than sovereignty. If someone calls for sovereignty on the one hand and does not offer a clear democracy on the other, they are indeed that wolf in sheep’s clothing.