THE PEOPLE of the United Kingdom are in the final stages of their preparations for the final rites over their sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II who died last week. She has been succeeded as Head of State and Head of the state religion Church of England, a curious relic in today’s world, by her first son Charles.
Charles is also the Head of State of St Vincent and the Grenadines, our local Governor General being his representative. His constitutional authority was confirmed in the national referendum of 2009 when Vincentians voted in a majority to keep the British monarch as our official Head of State.
The death of the monarch has generated both grief among millions of British people and generated sympathy for the ruling family.
However, much focus, after the funeral will fall on Charles, the future of the monarchy itself, and even the Commonwealth of Nations which he now heads.
There is no doubt that Elizabeth’s long tenure has brought benefits to Britain, certainly its ruling classes, and provided much stability in the post-war years. It has also helped to generate a good deal of goodwill for an institution which is largely outmoded in the modern world. It would be true to say that no other monarchical institution is as well-known globally as that of Britain. There are monarchs in South and West Africa, Europe and South–East Asia for instance, but these are not as globally known and recognized as those of the United Kingdom. In fact our own people speak of “the Queen” as though Britain’s monarch is the only one in the world.
Yet beneath this veneer of adulation, it is clear that more and more nations are opting to move out of the orbit of foreign sovereignty and to put in place measures to indicate their own national suzerainty.
Even our neighbour Barbados, long regarded as so close to the UK as to be called “Little England” has taken the plunge to remove the British monarch as Head of State, instituting a home-grown one.
Several other Caribbean nations have been making noises of similar moves, even before Barbados, but are yet to take the plunge.
Our country was brave enough to attempt to make the break in an ill-fated and over-ambitious root-and-branch referendum on the constitution in 2009. Significantly fears about the repercussions of a break with the British monarchy was a major factor influencing the outcome. A glorious opportunity is now provided with the changing of the guard in the UK.
In a little over a month’s time we will celebrate our 43rd anniversary as a sovereign nation. The fact that a foreign monarch, the King of Britain, continues to be our Head of State is something that we Vincentians need to seriously address before we attain our 45th anniversary of independence. The power to do so lies in our hands.
Our craftily conceived Constitution binds us to a process of a referendum. We must learn from our experience and ensure that the choice to be made is a single one – the removal of a foreign monarch as Head of State and both parties in Parliament are obliged to put national interests above all else, standing as one on this vital issue.
As is required by our constitutional links, there is an official mourning period and common courtesies are being extended.We extend our condolences to the British people in their period of mourning and look forward to moving on with the exercise of our own sovereignty.