Continuing the  political conversation
Dr. Fraser- Point of View
May 19, 2023

Continuing the political conversation

Before I get to the topic, I intend to raise today I want to congratulate the SVG Teachers Credit Union on its 45th anniversary. I do so because I was Treasurer of the Union when we began the process of starting the Credit Union following discussions about ways to relieve the stress felt by Striking Teachers in 1975. Having agreed on establishing the Credit Union, Julian Jack one of the teachers affected was selected to attend the Coady Institute in Nova Scotia, Canada and on his return to head the body.

Incidentall, I later attended that same Institute and did a Certificate programme in Social Development. Membership is now open to all Vincentians, and it is good to know that it now has over 13,000 members. So, congratulations.

The Political Conversation

Following the 2009 Referendum I had reacted to Ricky Singh who was critical of the Vincentian electorate of having voted to retain the monarchy.

As I remembered it the main argument over becoming a Republic was how the President was going to be selected. Moreover, Vincentians were provided with multiple issues and had to make a single vote, accepting, or rejecting the proposed constitution. Issues relating to land met with strong objections and another was the power of the Prime Minister. Prime Minister Gonsalves had on assuming office declared that prime ministers had too much power. This had caught the region’s attention and he was celebrated. By the time of the Referendum our PM was himself accused of assuming too much power, in fact, to the extent that the Vincentian public felt that to get anything done they had to go to the Prime Minister.

I remember later when PM Kenny Anthony of St. Lucia delivered a lecture here, he stated that matters which were being decided by our Cabinet should never have reached that body.

So, getting a new constitution that would have addressed the problems and concerns of Vincentians made many persons sceptical of what was being proposed. The Referendum then did not provide us with any sense of the general feeling of the public about the monarchy, since there might have been many who felt attached in whatever way to the monarchy but never voiced their feelings openly. We are still left with the Westminster constitution that was handed to us minus some of the checks and balances which exist in England from where it came. As it played itself out in our countries, it was as Selwyn Ryan described it a matter of “Winner Takes All.”

Barbados divorced itself from the monarchy buoyed by the governing party controlling all the seats in parliament. They are now beginning to look at their constitution. The recent Coronation, a “celebration without a conscience” to use the words of MP Saboto Caesar has sparked discussions, particularly in Antigua, Jamaica, St. Kitts/Nevis and the Bahamas about ridding themselves of the monarchy. In SVG the matter has been rather low-keyed with only a few voices attaching significance to the matter. In fact, Caesar’s piece which I quoted in last week’s column seemed more focused on reparations than on any move from the monarchy with all its extravagance. Jamaica is suggesting 2025 as the year when it will finalise its move but has already begun discussions and education around the issue. I listened to an interview by a Canadian CBC reporter with students from one of Jamaica’s girls high schools and was quite impressed with their understanding of some of the issues. One of them said that they needed their own Caribbean identity, and the presence of the monarchy was impeding it. The important point is that a conversation is underway.

In the movement away from Colonialism we were always behind. While most of our neighbours opted for Associated Status in Association with Britain in 1967, we did not make that move until 1969. With Independence we were also late. The move started with Grenada in 1974, followed by Dominica in 1978, St. Kitts/Nevis/Anguilla in 1983, and St. Lucia in February 1979. We achieved our independent status in October of that year, but Antigua was to follow in 1981. We were faced with partisan political issues and of course even in 1979 it was delayed by the volcanic eruption of that year.

The silence so far following the Coronation of King Charles 111 suggests that we might be behind again in making that move. There is a lot of political talk around, but it happens to be on partisan political issues, with the belief that changes in government would be necessary to create a climate that would facilitate a greater unity of the Vincentian people and provide an atmosphere for us to see ourselves as Vincentians first and not as politically partisan actors. There is obviously a lot of work to be done in mending the country and getting us to act as Vincentians working for a better SVG. It is a tall order and will not come just like that. Civil society needs to become more involved and get rid of this too politically partisan climate. The work has to begin now. It is our task which includes ridding ourselves of a King/Monarch. Now is 2023, not 1763!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian