10 October, 2010
The airwaves and the local newspapers this past week have been filled with talk of the need for Anguilla to seek independence from the United Kingdom. Anguillians have always been the most independent-minded West Indians, so the discussion is a healthy one. From the earliest days of colonialism we have had to make do on our own. Why not now?
No metropolitan power ever ruled us directly, until after the British Invasion of 1969. Alone among the seventeenth and eighteenth century colonies of the Leeward Islands, Anguilla elected its own Governor who was then approved by the Governor in Chief in Antigua. In the other islands, the Lieutenant or Deputy Governor received a patent from the Monarch. Not the Anguillian Deputy Governor.
No expatriate colonial elite, unlike our richer neighbours, lorded it over us. Our flocks of goats and fishing boats during the colonial period were at our own disposal. We were, the truth be told, throughout most of our history, too beggarly-poor. It took a long time before we had our own formally appointed Executive Council. Our first ExCo was established after the 1976 Constitution. Not even after we acceeded to rule by St Kitts in 1825 was there any real interference in the activities of the local Vestry that had always run Anguilla's public affairs.
No British Governor sat in any government house in Anguilla until Charles Godden was appointed Anguilla's first Governor in the early 1980s. Whatever gains we have made socially and economically in recent decades, it has all been done right here in Anguilla.
Today, it is arguable that Anguillians are better off and more economically and socially independent than some of the so-called independent States in the region. Though we are a British Overseas Territory, once we follow the law and the regulations, the British leave us alone to conduct our affairs.
Why then the loud boasts that we raise all our own revenue, and that he who pays the piper should call the tune, and, in recent days, the call that British supervision should be ended? Why all the hysterical talk now from certain quarters of the need to seek political independence from Britain?
The answer is: smoke screens and camouflage. According to what we have been reading in the press and hearing on the radio, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office seems to take the view that our governmental leaders have not been following any of the Constitution, the law, or the conventions of government in relation to borrowing. Their view appears to be that the new administration has ignored the rules, and gone off on a frolic of its own. The result has been an unfortunate division that has in recent days arisen between Government House and the local administration.
The British Minister for the Overseas Territories has been in Anguilla. He has asked for an explanation of the Chief Minister's signing a letter, apparently not authorised by the Executive Council or by the House of Assembly. This 9 July letter authorised our Social Security Board to negotiate a US$200 million loan. The government of Anguilla by law guarantees all Social Security borrowing. Such a guarantee of a loan requires conformity with the Borrowing Guidelines agreed years ago between Anguilla and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Anguilla has exceeded its borrowing limits and is presently in breach of the Guidelines. The Minister is supposedly quite miffed at our irresponsible actions. It is this incident that appears to have caused the UK Minister to question the actions of our government, and that has caused the resulting reaction by our leaders.
Whenever a country's leadership acts outside the law, when it has been shown to be self-destructing, when it becomes desperate to stir up a misguided following in its support, then the cry arises, “Let us join together against the foreigner in our midst. They are all traitors and will betray the nation! Out with the British!” A call for nationalism against “the other” is then seen as a unfiying force. The madness of it is that such ploys, obvious as they are, are so often successful. Then, confusion and chaos prevails over reason and common sense. Every sensible Anguillian hopes that is not what is happening here.
The call to patriotism, to standing united against the brutal British, has all the ring of the revolutionary catch-phrase, “Liberté, egalité, fraternité!” And of Hitler's insane tirades against the Jews. Few thinking persons in Anguilla really believe that we are fighting against some reactionary evil foreign regime. Anguillians will forget Dr Johnson's warning, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” at our peril. Have no fear. Most of us realise that the call for independence is no more than false patriotism, a smoke-screen designed to hide defects in governance.
So, let me answer boldly, and with no concern for the inevitable labelling of being a neo-colonial lackey, and a running-dog of the imperial British. No, Anguilla is not ready for political independence. Yes, the people of Anguilla are independent-minded and normally we can run our own affairs. No, this is not a normal time. No, the call for independence being made now is not being made to advance our interests. Yes, it is more likely being made to hide the incompetence and wrong-doing of our politicians. And, I mean the politicians of all parties, past and present.
Anguilla will be ready for full internal self-government, and subsequently for independence, only after we have put in place the essential building blocks of democracy. We will be ready to hand our fates over to our local politicians, of whatever stripe or colour, when the British at last permit us to place in the Constitution the checks and balances and the watchdog institutions that will permit the people to hold those political leaders to account when they go astray. It isn't enough that the Constitution be amended in some hurried “reform”, and some legislation be cobbled up and passed without real discussion. These institutions must be working and functional. In my view, they must be proven to work for at least one full generation before we go independent if we are to be sure of our civil rights.
Until that has happened, we would prefer not to bare our necks to the sword of vindictiveness held above our heads by small-minded politicians who derive pleasure from lording it over us the ordinary people, knowing that we have little or no redress under our present system of government.
If we want to learn what victimisation really is, let us go independent like Antigua and Barbuda or St Kitts and Nevis did without a Constitution designed to protect the citizen against political and administrative abuse.
Until that time, when we have the institutions of democracy in place in our Constitution and in our law, we surrender what little protection being a British Overseas Territory affords us at our peril.
No, we are not receiving any grant in aid from the British government and taxpayer, and, yes, we raise all our own revenue ourselves. Yes, the piper calls the tune. But, no, we do not have to join the chorus when the song is out of key.
No, we are not yet at that much-to-be-desired point of being ready for political independence from the United Kingdom.