Did the Bajan PM Mia Mottley start a revolution?

By Patrick Green

Opposition Leader Mia Mottley

Before November 30th this year, the island of Barbados will become the first country in nearly thirty years to remove the Queen as head of state, following Mauritius in 1992.   This will result in Barbados using the republican system of government to govern the island.   It had already replaced the British Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final court of appeal.

Starting December first, Bajans will have a president as its head of state and bring to end, a process that has been rolling since 1979.  The move will also coincide with the 55th anniversary of Barbados’ independence and was no doubt timed judiciously.  The current governor general, Sandra Mason, has been nominated to be the island’s  first president.

With Barbados out of the sovereignty of Queen Elizabeth, the number of countries left has dwindled down to 15, with only eight nations from the Caribbean.  The Caribbean islands are St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Grenada, St Lucia, and Jamaica.

Queen Elizabeth II during a visit to Jamaica in 2002

Prime Minister Mottley chose parliament over referendum

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Prime Minister Mottley, one of the most powerful leaders in the Caribbean, has chosen to ratify the decision by her parliament, instead of going the route of a referendum.   The latter would require a majority of Bajans to say yes, while in parliament, a two-thirds majority would be needed.  A referendum has always been the route considered by Barbados since the Forde Commission report was sent to parliament in 1998.  It was postponed twice however; in 2003 because of the dissolution of parliament and in December 2007 because of “concerns raised by the Electoral & Boundaries Commission,” according to reports in Nation News.

But with a super-majority in parliament, Prime Minister Mottley can do anything she wants.  And that was exactly what she did on July 27th.  She told Bajans “that on November 30 this year our great nation which we love shall become a parliamentary republic.”  This follows on the heels of forming a ten-member Republican Status Transition Advisory Committee, headed by retired economist and diplomat Marion Williams.  And just like that, the Prime Minister used her impregnable parliamentary power to push through the government’s agenda without the vote of a majority of Bajans.

Three referendums successful against the Queen

Interestingly, of the eight referendums held to decide the fate of the queen, only three have been successful: Ghana, South Africa and Gambia (second one).  St. Vincent and the Grenadines was part of the losing set when their referendum was defeated by 12 percent in 2009.  Trinidad and Tobago went through parliament with a new constitution in 1976 and Guyana did the same with a constitutional amendment 1970.

The question we now ask is, by her action, did Mia Mottley start a revolution that is destined to reduce the British Kingdom’s commonwealth of nations even further in this decade?  Jamaica’s former prime minister, Portia Simpson-Miller placed the item on the agenda in her 2012 inauguration speech to the country.  Since then, the subject has gained traction.  Both parties have talked about having a Jamaican head of state and even promised a referendum on the matter.  In July 2020, fifty-five percent of Jamaicans said the queen should go, while thirty percent wants her to remain, according to a Bill Johnson poll in the Jamaica Observer.

Earlier this month, the Bahamas government said it would replace Queen Elizabeth on its $100.00 bill with former governor-general, Arthur D. Hanna.  Is Bahamas sending a message?    Apart from Jamaica none of the other Caribbean islands have overtly or covertly indicated that they will change their head of state.  Of course, we know that this could change.  St Vincent and the Grenadines tried once already.  Will they draw inspiration from Barbados and try again?

Caricom Reparations Commission 

In 2013, CARICOM established the Caricom Reparations Commission to “prepare the case for reparatory justice for the region’s indigenous and African descendant communities who are the victims of Crimes against Humanity (CAH) in the forms of genocide, slavery, slave trading, and racial apartheid.”  The British Empire, headed by the Queen, benefitted significantly from the slave trade in the Caribbean.

It is also suggested that the revelation by Meghan Markle about racism at Buckingham Palace in her interview with Oprah in March, has caused many to rethink their relationship with the monarchy.  So too is Prince Harry’s wearing of a Nazi uniform to a party in 2005.

Will the action by Barbados and CARICOM, along with the current public apathy trigger motivation from the other islands?  Incidentally, all the remaining islands are members of CARICOM and the Caribbean Court of Justice.

As the saying goes, “every tub should sit on its own bottom” and that leaders of a country (ceremonial or not) should be of the people.  We look forward to the ensuing discussions and wish Barbados every bit of success on this bold move.

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