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Premier is kicking the Independence can down the road

Veteran activist and politician Rolfe Commissiong (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

First of all, I have never believed that the Premier – a man that an older relative of mine who was on the front line of Bermuda’s racial and civil rights battles once described as “coming across as a little weak to me Rolfe” - had any intention of pursuing Independence despite evoking as such, over the speculation or leak two years ago that the Governor would not give assent to the then pending cannabis bill. Even then most people had a choice of labelling that curious announcement as either naïve or terribly cynical. I would take the latter.

As anticipated, led by Bermuda’s Anglo community and those black Bermudians who mimic them, the racist paranoia like clockwork went into high gear with a distinct “the natives are restless” cast to many of the public comments. Again, I postulate but what country in modern history suddenly goes to independence because of a failed bid to gain the royal assent on a cannabis bill?

That in contrast to the response to the speculation around the proposed cannabis bill last year before it was tendered. They now are running desperately in the other direction using such terms such as self- government when it is clear that they are now as expected seeking only to claw some additional powers from the colonial power the UK. In other words, independence without Independence.

The other piece of evidence that this was all some cynical political marketing exercise – his chief talent - was the fact that around, more than a year ago, the same time the Central Committee of the Progressive Labour Party devoted over an hour successfully getting a motion adopted that would essentially ban the use officially at party or government level of respective members using or applying the word Independence when representing the party or government publicly.

Instead, as if they were being clever, one could only use the term sovereignty. You can’t make this stuff up. Subsequently that is all you have heard from even MPs like Walter Roban who should know better. They are all, like parrots, using this term in the hope that those opposed to Independence would not get too upset with them by using the allegedly incendiary term independence.

Most people who have studied this issue know that constitutionally a country or colony cannot achieve sovereignty without first achieving Independence. And to achieve full sovereignty, they would then have to declare itself a republic, which would in our case as it was recently in Barbados remove the UK’s monarch, King Charles III and replace him, as is the case in Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Guyana, Suriname have done - just to reference the Caricom region - with a Bermuda citizen as President and as head of state.

So we went from talking about Independence for a blink of the eye to the use of the term sovereignty to now being relegated to the underwhelming self-government tag.

I led the Bermuda Independence Commission delegation that entered into discussions with the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2006. That delegation was composed of Dame Lois Brown Evans who delegated that leadership to me and which I counted a distinct honour. Black business leader Donna Pearman was the third member of that delegation. And as former Premier W. Alex Scott who had the foresight and courage to establish the BIC knows all too well, nothing has changed in the interim.

The British then, as is the case now, are not going to relinquish any substantive power outlined in the constitutional order they imposed upon us decades ago in 1967, if only because that leaves them vulnerable to contingent liabilities. If the Premier and Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General, believe that the UK will move beyond the delegation of their powers by way of the signing of entrustments, let’s say in the area of internal security and foreign affairs, they are kidding themselves.

But of course the Premier, the cynical one, already knows that. Similarly on the other side of the political spectrum the British historically have always rejected - unlike the constitutional model of the French who have fully integrated their overseas territories as a constitutionally integral part of the French state - to do the same. So for example both Martinique and Guadalupe send elected members to the French assembly. The two Caribbean islands are viewed as constituent departments of France ….

So what then is left? A Bermuda-born Governor? Nope, a vanity at best. The most you will get is what you have now, a Black Governor but a British one. Clearly, it’s either that or Independence. I don’t fault Mr Corbin and his efforts. I first met him decades ago and he is very much qualified to produce what he produced. The fault lies with a generation of leaders in the PLP who do not know the history of Bermuda, including black history. Nor do they really support Independence - save for rhetorically when convenient - but feel they must act as if they do.

Because if they did support Independence, they would be arguing for it and not indulging in this type of political obfuscation and cultural schizophrenia - another example of kicking the can down the road again by Mr Burt. He has kicked so many cans down the road, including the living wage, that is hard to keep track of them any more.

If we were serious about Independence, right after 2017’s election we would have put in place the systemic changes that are a necessary precursor to a more sustainable, equitable and united independent Bermuda. The public policies that I have accused Mr Burt of kicking down the road over the last six years are the same ones that are the foundation to the types of long overdue systemic changes which are the precursor to independence.

That is what they should be focusing on, not this exercise in technocratic hubris as an empty substitute for real leadership.

The only thing I will perhaps agree with in this regard is the fact that I too believe that the constitutional and political framework first erected in the mid- to late 1960s reached the end of its shelf life as of 2020’s election where over 10,000 voters who had voted in 2017 had disappeared from the polls only three years later. The PLP lost over 4,000 voters in this regard who did not turn up at the polls with the OBA seeing a 5,000-plus drop in support.

We need a reset and I believe it is at hand over the next two election cycles but I doubt that process will be kind to either the PLP or the OBA (UBP), which were both born during that 1960s period.

The other key thing which is still relevant today that came out of our discussions with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London as members of the Bermuda Independence Commission was the considered view of the UK that if Bermuda did decide either through a referendum or general election process to become an Independent nation, they would not sign on to it at a subsequent constitutional conference in the absence of a decision to granting citizenship to all long-term residents.

Bermudians need to understand that status is not citizenship, which is another term as noted that our politicians are prone to wield erroneously. Ultimately, that may be a way to reconcile the still open wounds around the issue of immigration as it relates to Black Bermudians. Immigration was racialised and weaponised by the UBP from the late 1960s through to the late 1980s by the granting of status grants to overwhelmingly white Anglo migrants so that Black Bermudians of my parents’ generation and my own were marginalised in terms of opportunities within the society.

The migrants of today, however, do have legitimate expectations they should be able to secure their long term futures on the island, but only, in my view, within the context of a new constitutional and political reset of Bermuda along the lines that my political mentor LF Wade put forth shortly before his untimely death.

Contrary to some on island, there are those who routinely assert that Independence is not necessary because we now live in an interdependent world. They neglect to mention that while it is an interdependent world, it is one comprised of independent nations making decisions in their own interest and having the freedom to do so without the interference of foreign powers asserting their prerogatives from over 3,000 miles away.

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Published December 19, 2022 at 7:54 am (Updated December 20, 2022 at 5:22 pm)

Premier is kicking the Independence can down the road

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