Sir James warns – Don’t tamper with Constitution
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October 23, 2009
Sir James warns – Don’t tamper with Constitution

Former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell does not think that after 30 years of Independence Vincentians are wise enough to write their own constitution.{{more}}

Furthermore, he is warning that once he is alive, he will not allow changes to the present one to be made, not even by members of his own party.

Speaking at a “Vote No” outdoor rally hosted by the New Democratic Party (NDP) in Calliaqua on Saturday, October 17, Mitchell described thirty years in the life of a country as a “very small period” and said the present constitution, given to this country by the British, had evolved from centuries of thinking and experience.

“It is not a question of 30 years that we have been independent. That is not the point. The wisdom embodied in that original constitution came about in the evolution of the parliamentary system. Kings were killed, archbishops’ heads were chopped off, and all kinds of things happened to put the rights as they were put into that constitution,” Mitchell asserted.

However, the man who founded the NDP 34 years ago did not always have a favourable view of the existing constitution. In the months leading up to political Independence in 1979, Mitchell, then an opposition member of parliament, wrote to the British government in an effort to delay the granting of Independence. That letter was published in the Vincentian newspaper of Friday, July 6, 1979.

The letter, dated July 3, 1979, was addressed to the Hon. Nicholas Ridley, Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London. In it, Mitchell said the Independence constitution was “unsatisfactory, and does not provide the basis for stability in this country.”

Thirty years later, he is adamant that it should not be changed.

“We are going to vote No with this constitution, and let me tell Mr. Leacock, if you get into parliament and think you are going to interfere with the constitution we have here, I coming out to deal with you, too!”

Mitchell was referring to NDP Senator St. Clair Leacock, who during the debate on the proposed new constitution on September 3, said there were “significant improvements” in the proposed new constitution over the present one.

“Nobody touching this constitution when we vote no. We voting no, and nobody coming to interfere with it while Son Mitchell alive!”

Sir James Mitchell’s letter to London

Hon. Nicholas Ridley,
Minister of State,
Foreign and Commonwealth Office,

3rd July, 1979

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your message informing me that you have fixed the date of 27th October for St. Vincent’s Independence.

That date is less than six weeks from the fifth anniversary of the last general election in 1974.

The Soufriere volcano has not returned to dormancy, nor has life in St. Vincent returned to normality after the recent violent eruptions that dislocated our country. Observations last week have recorded a growth of the volcanic plug by 150 feet in two days.

It is unfortunate that you have not seen the wisdom of holding a properly constituted conference to hear the views of the Parliamentary Opposition in St. Vincent. For the record, I do trust that you will not refer to our one-hour discussions over cocktails at a Caribbean beach resort as any constitutional dialogue with the Opposition, particularly as you stated on that occasion that you had not yet had time to study our Constitution.

I consider your proposed amendments to our draft Constitution to be mere tokenism.

Under the present circumstances St. Vincent therefore will not be proceeding to Independence in a spirit of unity. That opportunity was lost when Her Majesty’s Government chose to ignore our offer, since repeated, “that the New Democratic Party will support Independence when we are satisfied that the appropriate procedures have been followed and that the Constitution for Independence is one that we can advise people to accept.”

The existing draft is unsatisfactory, and does not provide the basis for stability in this country.

That you should fix a Constitution and an Independence date without consultation with the Opposition, and while the Soufriere volcano is erupting, and in the twilight

of the Parliament’s life, abundantly demonstrates your anxiety to be rid of your responsibility here in any fashion.

Yours truly,
J.F. Mitchell
New Democratic Party