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A modernised democracy is essential for real independence

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James Ahiakpor, author of The Economic Consequences of Independence: The Case of Bermuda, commissioned by the Fraser Institute in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The report on self-determination is out now, so obviously the Cabinet has reviewed it and deemed it fit for public consumption.

Although Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General, claimed the report did not make any recommendations, the report’s conclusion, sprinkled as it is with quotations from anti-colonialists like Kwame Nkrumah and Frantz Fanon, leaves no doubt that it was anything but a call for independence.

I read Dr Corbin's report and fully understand that with his pedigree on subjects like sovereignty it would be difficult for him to be totally impartial.

For that, I recommend reading The Economic Consequences of Independence: The Case of Bermuda by James C. W. Ahiakpor, who was commissioned by The Fraser Institute in Vancouver, British Columbia and published in 1990.

Dr Ahiakpor is from Ghana. His report similarly made no recommendations but gave clear indicators of what, aside from the legalities of self-governance, are the contributing factors that go towards making independence a success or failure. From his perspective, it's not Independence that leads to success or failure, but government performance and the policies they adopt that are the difference between those independent jurisdictions that succeeded and those that failed.

Aside from the conclusion, Carlyle G. Corbin's report was largely a picture of the legal status of Bermuda's position with Britain in several areas of our manner of governance and entitlement, with some comparisons with other non-self-governing dependent territories.

In describing our deficiencies in the areas of full independence, particularly the large degree of delegated responsibility the Bermuda Government does carry, Dr Corbin says: "At the end of the day, a democratic dependency is oxymoronic since a dependency cannot, by definition, be a model of democracy — even if the arrangement has been modernised to appear more acceptable. If the power imbalance between the cosmopole and the territory remains unchanged, then any argument of ‘modernisation’ is illusory.“

What the consultant failed to acknowledge is that without a modernised democracy that has evolved, independence will also be illusory. Some people call the latter "flag independence".

The journey of independence within what was known as the British Commonwealth was different for many of its dominions. Countries such as Newfoundland, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, the Free Irish and Canada gained their independence after four years of negotiation in 1931, although total autonomy in writing its own laws and constitution did not come for Canada until 1982.

It is obvious that race was a huge factor in the different modalities toward independence in the darker territories. Indian independence resulted in the formation also of Pakistan and Bangladesh, which came as a result of an unsustainably bloody protest.

Africa and the Caribbean had to climb through civil and human rights movements with independence as a tool and means towards those aims, which was very different from the other White dominions which were established on the premise of equality. The darker nations had to fight to attain that status.

Bermuda in that regard is an anomaly with a majority Black population but a significant White population and a cross-pool of DNA. The identity crisis is seen when compared with other jurisdictions across the globe in our mixed views of self-determination. One segment, albeit small, sees independence as emancipation, while a substantial portion view sovereignty as an area to tread with care, reason and maturity. Yes, there are extremes at both ends of the political spectrum, from those who want independence now to those who say never, but I think the largest body is in the middle who would do whatever makes the most sense.

If you consider the subject of sovereignty, you have to raise the question of the objective. For example, the United States of America was the first country that sought and gained independence from Britain. The objective for their move to independence is spelt out in their new Constitution when it declared ”We consider that all men are created equal and entitled to certain inalienable rights“, etc and built the Constitution that begins with ”We the people”. There was a reason why they needed to separate themselves from from the unwritten constitution of Westminster.

I'm reminded of a conversation held with a Russian lady recently when she said: "Putin is worse than Hitler in the sense that at least Hitler had a goal, but Putin is fighting for no apparent goal.“ It's similarly one thing to seek independence for a reason such as to do better or to become greater. However, to become independent just to be independent with no aim of being better or greater, is meaningless at best and fraught with difficulty and a major upheaval at its worst.

Options: the Corbin report raised the possibility of associate statehood with the United Kingdom. (Photograph by Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

The report did touch on the subject of equality, which has never happened to date in any serious debate. Bermuda has never discussed the idea of associated statehood. We have either entertained the positions of status quo or independence. What would associated statehood look like? How would it affect, positively or negatively, such things as the economy, education, employment, or our legislature and role within the United Kingdom?

If the goal is to attain equality, then a debate on associated statehood could be a realistic and meaningful starting point. Whether it is even a realistic possibility is unknown, but worth asking.

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Published December 08, 2022 at 7:55 am (Updated December 08, 2022 at 7:55 am)

A modernised democracy is essential for real independence

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