16 August, 2007


Don Mitchell is Opposed to a Referendum. Have you read this thread on the AnguillaTalk Forum? The author claims to be confused and disturbed. I do not know why. I have repeatedly made the point on radio and in print. I have given my reasons each time. To summarise, there are at least two principle objections to deciding on a new Constitution by holding a referendum in Anguilla. Excuse me if you have heard or read this before, but I want to be pellucidly clear.

One, a referendum can only be held under a law which provides the rules. In the absence of a law, there is no way to hold a referendum. A law is necessary to control how many times people vote, or where they vote. In an unregulated referendum, all the problems our Elections Act was put in place to avoid would be able to raise their heads. We have no tradition of holding referendums. Utter confusion would reign. The Swiss hold a referendum on practically every law they pass. They have been doing this for hundreds of years. It is hardly surprising it works well. You can be sure it is governed by a Swiss law. It is countered that we held a referendum before. We can hardly call the 1968 public meeting in the Webster Park, which resulted in a show of hands to adopt the revolutionary Constitution, a real referendum. The event is called a “referendum” in all the literature. That is just a polite expression. If the proposal is that we hold a meeting in the Park to show our approval of the new Constitution, I would have no objection to that. No new Constitution can be adopted without the consent of the people. It is essential that our people show their approval, in overwhelming numbers, of any proposed new Constitution. I believe this can be achieved by going village to village, house to house, if necessary. The proposers of any new Constitution must convince us that the people approve. The British have told us that is a requirement for them before they consent to any new Constitution. This is not an impossible condition to meet. The whole island is not much bigger than a village. The scandalous way in which the 1976 and 1982 Constitutions were snuck up on us must never be repeated. The great suspicion with which constitutional reform is met in some circles in Anguilla must be laid to the clandestine way in which the British and Anguillian Governments of the day pushed these reforms on us without first ensuring they had the support of the public.

Two, referendums have been tried in the West Indies before, and have a poor success rate. The most famous one was the referendum in Jamaica in 1961 on the future of the West Indies Federation. The government of Norman Manley urged the people to vote Yes on the Federation. That government was sinking in popularity, for different reasons. The Bustamante party saw an opportunity to win power by opposing the Federation. They urged their supporters to vote No, for purely political reasons. The government lost the vote. The Federation came to an end. Not that there was any real reason why the Jamaicans should have voted No. It was just that the people would have voted against whatever the government told them to vote. Ever since that, no government in the West Indies has put an issue to the electorate. If I have missed some minor referendum somewhere in the West Indies, you can be sure that it will turn out to have been proposed by an overwhelmingly popular government. A referendum, under our system, will only be put to the people by a government that has a sense that it has the massive support of the people.

How will we prevent what happened in Jamaica from happening to us in Anguilla?

Can I be blamed for suspecting that the people who propose a formal referendum on Anguilla’s new Constitution have a hidden agenda?


  1. "Principle objections"? "Principle is not an adjective. Please correct this before Mrs. Mitchell sees it. She will be horrified.

    The people count on your leadership not only in how to be ethical, but how to spel.

  2. You say, "The proposers of any new Constitution must convince us that the people approve. The British have told us that is a requirement for them before they consent to any new Constitution."

    I thought we assembled such information when the Constitutional Committee too advice from the people. Apparently that wasn't enough, so your Commission replaced the Committee and again took advice from the people. The views of the people were then put in an excellent and comprehensive report.

    I thought the purpose of this report was to guide our elected leaders. Instead, they have come up with a long list of things in the report with which they disagree. These are the views of these seven elected men and are clearly not the views of the people.

    If, as you say, the British will approve only those changes that arise from the consent of the governed, why have our legislators done this? Just to show us they don't have to do what we say, as if they were angry children in a school yard? I don't get it.

  3. In my opinion a Committee met to amend our Constitution. No meeting has ever been organised to write a new Constitution. Note the difference.

    We are discussing two fundamental different issues.

    Amendments is not the same as a New Consitution.

  4. Don:
    Even though I am a belonger I will always be an "outsider", so I am very hesitant to suggest anything on your web site. I learned long ago that the government really doen't want any input from anyone except themselves.
    I read your daily blog, and think you are doing a great service for Anguilla. Keep up the wonderful dialog.


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