If at fifth you don’t succeed…

privyCCJToon

With the extraordinary exception of the Mia Mottley phenomenon in Barbados, Gaston Browne of Antigua & Barbuda and Keith Mitchell of Grenada are currently the two most electorally-popular prime ministers in the Caribbean. A scant eight months ago, both Browne and Mitchell led their respective parties to resounding general elections victories, each claiming 59% of the popular vote. Gaston Browne’s Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party won 15 of 17 constituencies, while Mitchell clean-swept his way to all 15 of Grenada’s seats. Incredibly, Mitchell’s 15-nil triumph was the third time that he’d led his New National Party to a clean-sweep at the polls (1999, 2013 and 2018)

Alas, with all of their recent electoral support; with all of their overwhelming mandate; with all of the State’s publicity and propaganda machinery at their disposal, both Browne and Mitchell were unable to convince their fellow citizens to support referenda that would replace the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

It’s not that they couldn’t convince voters to clear the ridiculously-high 67% threshold necessary to amend that provision of the Constitution. The failure was more abject. They couldn’t muster a simple majority. Both leaders failed to get half of the electorate to even vote, and failed to convince half of those voting to support the CCJ.

Fifteen years after the establishment of the CCJ, nine years after the failed referendum in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and 57 long years after the idea of Caribbean integration was put to the vote in Jamaica, the region is still waiting for its first direct popular mandate to step beyond the boundaries demarcated by colonial constitution-writers.

Browne and Mitchell have proven, once again, that the surest way to frustrate any progressive initiative in the Caribbean is to hold a referendum on the subject.

noccj

This is not a blog posting about why people should vote in favour the CCJ. After the defeats in Antigua and Grenada, there will be no opportunity for anyone in the Caribbean to vote on this matter for another decade or two. The “why should I support the CCJ” debate is politically moot, or at least dormant, until 2030 or so.

Further, anyone who has tried to convince an opponent of the CCJ to change course must surely realize that it is a fool’s errand. There are six types of opponents to the CCJ:

  • Those who are afraid of, or reluctant to embrace change
  • Those who don’t trust Caribbean people to build their own institutions
  • Those who passionately prefer all things foreign, white and wonderful
  • Those who are naked political opportunists
  • Those who are indifferent to the issue, or confused by the competing propaganda
  • Those who have been misled by someone from the one of the first five categories

Despite my most open-minded best efforts; despite giving every benefit of the doubt; despite taking their arguments seriously and being on guard against charges of being dismissive, condescending or smug, I have yet to find one CCJ opponent whose opposition is rooted in high principle or strong logic. They all fall within one or more of those six categories.

The problem with these categories is twofold. First, it’s mighty hard to argue with fear, learned helplessness, self-hate, raw politics or indifference. Second, the CCJ opponents never admit to being in one or more of these categories. Sometimes, they don’t even admit it to themselves. Instead, they litter the discourse with all sorts of spurious straw men that mask the fundamental logical deficiencies of their opposition.

So, for example, we got the argument in Grenada that one couldn’t support the CCJ because the Government wouldn’t let future election petitions go to the CCJ. Of course, current election petitions can’t go to the Privy Council either, but that apparently doesn’t matter.

Or, you hear that the local magistracy or high court is underfunded and undermanned. But the underfunding occurred while the Privy Council held sway, not the CCJ. And the day after the referendum, the lower courts in Grenada and Antigua & Barbuda are no better funded or staffed.

Or, you hear that Caribbean politicians will interfere with the Court, while ignoring that the CCJ is the institution most insulated from political interference in this hemisphere. While US Presidents campaign on their ability to directly select partisan judges to push their agenda, and have those judges approved or rejected by elected politicians in party-line votes, CCJ justices are as far removed from the political process as possible.

Or, someone belches forth an example of some obscure local judgment that was overturned by the Privy Council, as an example of the superior justice afforded by the Lords in London. Of course, if the highest upheld every single judgment from a lower court, the appeals process would be irrelevant. Indeed, what is shocking is the low percentage of Caribbean cases overturned by the Privy Council.

Or, you hear that the Privy Council guarantees justice for the small man in the Caribbean, when the truth is that the quest for justice ends short of the Privy Council for all but death-row inmates or the wealthiest litigants. No one else can afford the trips to the UK and the high end lawyers needed to argue a Privy Council matter.

And so on.

Looming over all of it is naked partisan political opportunism. In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Constitutional reform process began with the support of the Opposition and the bipartisan agreement that the CCJ should be our final court. By referendum day, the opposition was arguing about Venezuelan allies, the condition of the road networks, and printing fake money with Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves’ face in place of the Queen’s, telling people that their currency will be devalued. Recently, the New Democratic Party in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, formerly pro-CCJ, reversed course and rejected Prime Ministerial latest overtures to embrace the court.

In Grenada, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) was pro-CCJ while in office, but anti-CCJ in opposition. So too Antigua’s United Progressive Party (UPP), which championed regional causes generally and the CCJ in particular, until they dissolved into a set of contradictory and nakedly political attacks, while simultaneously maintaining the lukewarm non-position that supporters should “vote their conscience.”

When Ralph Gonsalves championed Constitutional reform in 2009, opposition politicians criticized him for piling too many reforms into the referendum.

But when Gaston Browne pushed the single issue of the CCJ, he was told that it could not be accepted without a laundry list of other requests for reform.

Keith Mitchell, to his credit – and to his great frustration –tried it both ways: a multi-issue referendum in 2016 and a CCJ-only referendum in 2018. Both failed.

Indeed, it is fair to say that the main impediment to CCJ adoption in the Caribbean is not the ignorance of our electorate; it is the immaturity of our politicians. And that ain’t gonna change any time soon.

So, no. I’m not going to argue for the CCJ. Been there, done that, for the last 13+ years.

My message is different: We’ve tried referenda. We’ve failed. We’re a generation away from trying that method again. But there is another way. No matter how unpalatable that way may be, it’s the only realistic remaining option on the table for those who support the idea of Caribbean justice and independent Caribbean jurisprudence.

But first, some numbers:

referendumtable

Across four referenda in three different OECS countries, the pro-CCJ vote has been between 43 and 48 per cent. Jamaica’s 1961 referendum on continued membership in the West Indies Federation wasn’t about the CCJ, but it’s level of support – at 46% – places it in the same range of other failed Caribbean integration efforts.

(Don’t feel bad, Caribbean brothers and sisters. In the Brexit referendum – essentially a rerun of Jamaica’s 1961 federation referendum – the “remain” vote was only 47% in England. In 1999, when Australia held a referendum to break from the Queen and become a republic, only 45% agreed. Maybe it’s an island thing)

In Grenada and Antigua & Barbuda, referendum turnout was abysmal in comparison with elections of just a few months before. Voter turnouts in the referenda in Antigua and Grenada were 34% and 28% respectively, as compared to 2018 election turnout of 76% in Antigua and 74% in Grenada. Even in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, where referendum turnout was a relatively robust 53%, that level of participation was still 10% and 10,500 votes shy those who came to the election one year later.

In Jamaica, the Federation referendum drew 100,000 fewer voters than the election that took place seven months later.

What does all of this mean?

It means that Caribbean people are far more likely to turn up for general elections than for referenda on constitutional reform. It means that, for 57 years, high-minded appeals to “Caribbeanness,” consciousness, the logic of integration and “breaking free of colonial bondage” have all foundered in the rough waters where principle and partisan politics intersect. It means that, after 15 years, no Caribbean country has managed to join the CCJ in its appellate capacity by way of referendum. The countries that appeal the to CCJ as those jurisdictions’ “apex court” – Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Guyana – all got there by way of legislative action, not referenda. It means that Antigua & Barbuda, Grenada and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines would have to increase their “pro-CCJ” referendum numbers by a whopping 20-plus percentage points to meet the 67% threshold required to replace the Privy Council.

Not gonna happen anytime soon.

But there is another way.

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Caribbean politicians and CCJ advocates – myself included – have been seduced by the romance of “the people” breaking decisively with their former colonial masters and collectively deciding to throw off their remaining shackles and take up the mantle of self-determination. Our leaders – disproportionately lawyers with formalistic legal training – have dutifully read our constitutions, seen the 67% hurdle, and tilted unrealistically at the windmill of reform by referendum. Recent legal gymnastics – aimed at interpreting away the referendum requirement and placing reform before local parliamentarians – will be a difficult sell to electorates that have already rejected the CCJ in referenda.

But the focus on the romance of revolution or the requirements of referenda ignores the most fruitful potential avenue for removal of the Privy Council – sustained political advocacy to the Government of the United Kingdom.

In other words, the governments of the Caribbean should travel to UK, seek a meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May, and collectively request that the Privy Council stop hearing our appeals. Faced with such coordinated request, May – who is both looking to save money and gain friends in the UK’s post-Brexit reality – will no doubt come to realize that a Privy Council release would be a “win-win” for her, domestically and internationally. The Privy Council itself has already loudly expressed it’s desire to stop hearing our cases.

With the UK-assisted departure of the Privy Council, Caribbean states would be forced to select a new apex court. The CCJ would be the only game in town.

The idea of Caribbean leaders trekking to No. 10, hat in hand, to ask Miss Theresa to issue their free papers and let them off the plantation, will be anathema to the same heroic revolutionaries who conceived of and advanced the cause of a home-grown Caribbean court. But the revolution has failed. Our uprising was thwarted from within.

If the objective is noble, heroic failure, then we can wait another generation or two and try again; resolutely banging our head against the wall of referendum until it finally collapses, through inexorable attrition.

But if the objective is not heroism, but freedom, all we gotta do is ask. Politely, and with distasteful deference, we have to say:

Prime Minister May, you of all people know the difficulties of achieving policy objectives via referendum. How’s that Brexit thing going, by the way? Our countries inherited constitutions and institutions from the UK at our independence that are proving quite difficult to reform and remove.

 You can help us.

 Every year we burden British taxpayers with the cost of hearing scores of Caribbean cases This resources – human and monetary – are better spent charting a post-Brexit course for the British people. Various Privy Council lords have long hinted that it is time for us to stop loitering on colonial premises. We agree.

 Plus, we’re wasting money. We’ve all already paid in full for this Court, but we’re not using it. I know how much you – and your friends in Europe and the USA – hate when we islanders spend money frivolously. Help us to be more responsible.

 The countries of the Caribbean – mostly Commonwealth countries, and many of whom are realms of her majesty – would be highly grateful if you could facilitate our move to the CCJ by advising Her Majesty to terminate Privy Council ties with her realms. Our gratitude will no doubt translate to stronger ties and support as we move forward as mature allies in the post-Brexit era.

 Thank you, and big up Elizabeth for us, please. We love her dearly.

We have experience with this path. No English-speaking Caribbean country reacquired their independence through revolution or referendum. Instead, we sent small delegations of politicians to the UK to negotiate the terms of our departure. If popular opinion was the basis for independence, there is a fair chance we would still be colonies. In SVG, future-prime Minister James Mitchell was a fierce opponent of independence, saying we were “safe as sardines” under British rule. In an opinion poll taken in Jamaica on its 50th anniversary of independence, a whopping 60% of Jamaicans said they would be better off as a colony. Back then, our leaders didn’t trust immature politicians to conflate independence with potholes, paycheques and propaganda in a referendum. Back then, our leaders led. They flexed their still-developing diplomatic muscles, traveled to the seat of colonial power, and skillfully negotiated the terms of our departure.

vc_independence_1979

First Vincentian Prime Minister R. Milton Cato signing the documents in 1979 to secure Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ independence from the UK

It would work again.

When May then throws open the plantation gate and allows us to cross the final threshold of colonial paternalism and step into freedom, it will matter little that our liberation was earned through obsequious submission instead of revolutionary exercise of the democratic franchise. It will not matter whether we threw them out or they threw us out. What will matter is that our countries would be free of the Privy Council, and free to build and mold a uniquely Caribbean jurisprudence, befitting our characteristics and our status as free and independent societies.

At this point, it’s the only way.

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8 thoughts on “If at fifth you don’t succeed…

  1. Well, like you saw my comment after the results of the two recent referendum failures. I said the only strategy left is to ask the British Government to stop hearing our cases…..I could not have argued as eloquent as you did in this piece, but it is the only way. I think the lobbying effort should start now. The only challenge would be how do we change the constitutional requirement for a referendum. We surely would need a constitutional amendment that would require a two-thirds majority. Can we create a law that supersedes the constitution in this aspect? As a layman in law, I think not.

  2. I’ve missed your writings!
    But I disagree. if we can’t get it together at home, we do not disserve to be free of this white man justice. maybe these referendums will be a wake up call to the countries of the caribbean.

    • Hmm… I was ready to mount the platform for change by calling for Prime Minister Gaston Browne to complete the appointment of the Constitutional Reform Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Dennis Byron, former CCJ President, n his deputy former PM n current ‘Conscience Voter’ Baldwin Spencer, but ur eloquently written n logical piece has me re-thinking. Problem is PM Theresa May cannot withdraw that entrenched constitutional provision, and we are pigheaded enough to say “if no UK Privy Council, then not another Caribbean court”

      • Ah, an esteemed legal luminary! A fierce fighter for the Caribbean Court of Justice! A former Attorney General! And the first QC ever to comment on the Firm Meditation blog! Welcome and greetings! Condolences on the recent Antigua & Barbuda referendum. But, as your PM correctly said, we accept the voice of the people as the voice of God.

        I’d taken a decision to not reply to FM commenters, but I think in this case I can make an exception 🙂

        I defer to you completely on all matters legal. But my thinking on your comment goes like this:

        1. The Privy Council (on the British side) is a creature of legislation, not constitution. Starting with the Judicial Committee Act of 1833 (modified in 1843, 1844, 1851, 1853, 1876, 1871, 1877, 1895, 1908, and 1915), there is a legislative mandate to hear appeals to His/Her majesty from the “colonies and plantations.” That’s a legislative fix on the UK side, in my opinion. I think the Tories can change that in parliament.

        2. As you well know, the Privy Council is sick of us. Remember that famous 2009 Financial Times article from 2009 headlined “Privy Council hampers Supreme Court” (https://www.ft.com/content/3c5b14a6-a61d-11de-8c92-00144feabdc0), in which:

        “Lord Phillips, president of the new Supreme Court, said he was searching for ways to curb the “disproportionate” time he and his fellow senior justices spent hearing legal appeals from independent Commonwealth countries to the Privy Council in London”

        “The president questioned whether some Privy Council cases, which have ranged from Jamaican death row appeals to fights over press freedom in Bermuda, needed to be heard by a panel of five of Britain’s most senior judges.”

        “Robert Hazell, director of The Constitution Unit at University College London, said it was a “minor public scandal” that judges in the country’s top court spent almost half their time on business “of no interest to anyone in the UK”.

        He said: “If they didn’t spend time in the Privy Council, the justices of the Supreme Court could hear almost twice as many cases coming up from the UK legal system.”

        … So we know they want to get rid of us. Can’t be any clearer than that.

        3. Once they leave, the provision in our constitutions mandating appeals to the Pricy Council is a nullity. We can’t appeal there if British legislation says they can’t hear our cases. No jurisdiction.

        4. At that point, our highest court would be our respective courts of appeal in the OECS, Trinidad, Jamaica, Bahamas, etc. Since hardly anyone can afford an appeal to the Privy Council, the court of appeal is already as far as 99% of our cases go at the moment anyway (Antigua and Barbuda averages less than one decision per year from the Privy Council)

        5. Then, I think we can alter our appeals course legislatively. There are a number of ways that could be discussed further — from replacing the then-defunct Privy Council to legislatively inserting the CCJ between the Court of Appeal and the Privy Council (so the Privy Council remains “on the books,”but no appeal lies). There are ways, I think, to get it done. That why people like you are around to guide us through the fog!

        Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. Like father, like son: Constitutional subversion Vincy-style

    [T]hey know in their hearts and in their consciences that history is going to damn them [those who voted “no” in the 2009 St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) constitutional referendum] and that history is going to be generous to those of us who have sought to hold aloft the noble banner of all the principles and ideas enshrined in the new constitution” (Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister, SVG, December 2, 2009).

    ***

    The resounding failure of the two constitutional referendum, one in Antigua/Barbuda, the other in Grenada on the same date, November 6, 2018, and on the same issue – replacing the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the final appellate court in these two CARICOM countries brought with it much hand wringing and recrimination nearly all focused on four issues: (1) the backwardness and ignorance of a “dammed” electorate; (2) poor promotion by CCJ supporters; (3) lies and distortion by opponents of change; and (4) the alleged impossibly 67 percent bar needed to amend the relevant sections of the two countries’ constitutions.

    None of the “yes” supporters gave even grudging acknowledgement to the overriding consideration of those who voted “no” or refused to vote (the majority): they could not support a court they did not trust, a perfectly reasonable and acceptable, even if unfounded, motive based on the well-established legal principle that, “Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.”

    According to Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua/Barbuda’s High Commissioner to the United States, the eventual outcome of voting “no” with be that:

    “Now it looks like the eight sovereign states of the Caribbean – and their ‘independent’ peoples – will have to wait for the British Privy Council to tell them to go (something that has already been forewarned by Privy Councillors). And what an ignominious way that will be to scurry to the CCJ.”

    Sir Ronald may be correct, but this does not give him leave to highlight the word “independent” as if abandonment of the Privy Council would ever make the eight holdout CARICOM countries any less dependent than they now are on legitimate handouts from overseas individuals or bodies and unsavory alliances with and aid from regional and international outlaw regimes or other reprehensible bodies.

    More important, Sir Ronald ignores the potential lobbying efforts of those on his side of the debate, namely possible attempts by countries like St. Vincent and the Grenadines to beg the Crown to show them the door, a contemptible and subversive process if there ever was one.

    This effort would be championed by the father and son team of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves and his son, Camillo Gonsalves, SVG’s appointed Minister of Finance and the favoured heir apparent to his aging father.

    Having lost the 2009 referendum portion of his effort to totally revamp the constitution and highly critical of the high referendum requirement, the Prime Minister revealed in a 2014 conference in Jamaica that:

    “… he never realistically expected that his government would succeed in achieving a two-thirds majority in the referendum. Nevertheless, he pressed ahead with the referendum, hoping that it would be possible to secure a simple majority vote. This, he believed, would have provided him with a sufficient democratic mandate to invoke the constituent power by inviting the British Government to amend St Vincent’s Independence Constitution in the same way that it had been created, that is, by an Order-in-Council of her Majesty” (Derek O’Brien, “Formal Amendment Rules and Constitutional Endurance: The Strange case of the Commonwealth Caribbean,” The Foundations and Traditions of Constitutional Amendment, Richard Albert et al, editors, Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2017, p. 307).

    Absent in Professor O’Brien’s revelation is the fact that acceptance of the Independence Constitution followed a national citizen referendum in 1979 which legalized the two-thirds amending formula based on free negotiations between the then government of SVG and British Foreign Officers. But the Prime Minister was willing to overlook this inconvenient fact along with the equally inconvenient requirement for a referendum to effect constitutional change by a direct back door appeal to her Majesty.

    Following the losses on Antigua/Barbuda and Grenada on November 6, Ralph Gonsalves son is urging that the same undemocratic back door policy be persued:

    “Caribbean politicians and CCJ advocates – myself included – have been seduced by the romance of “the people” breaking decisively with their former colonial masters and collectively deciding to throw off their remaining shackles and take up the mantle of self-determination….
    But the focus on the romance of revolution or the requirements of referenda ignores the most fruitful potential avenue for removal of the Privy Council – sustained political advocacy to the Government of the United Kingdom.
    In other words, the governments of the Caribbean should travel to UK, seek a meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May, and collectively request that the Privy Council stop hearing our appeals…. With the UK-assisted departure of the Privy Council, Caribbean states would be forced to select a new apex court. The CCJ would be the only game in town.”

    Of course, this attempt, if successful, would only be the first step in gaining full control over the amending procedure, the second being the nullification of the referendum requirement, while the third would be the introduction of one-party rule.

    Long live the revolution!

  4. Too bad that you are so thin skinned that you cannot entertain any opposition to your undemocratic position on our beloved constitution that you had to delete my reply.

    May Almighty God have mercy on your wicked soul.

  5. I regret that I was dead wrong about a independence referendum in 1979, an assertion made on at least a dozen credible internet sites. In fact, there was no such referendum among any of the Associate States which were awarded independence by a British Order-in-Council accepted by the political leaders and other elected representatives of those Associate States. According, find below a revised version of my polemical reply to Minister Gonsalves polemical essay that will shortly appear on other Caribbean sites:

    Black voters don’t matter: Constitutional revolution Vincy-style

    [T]hey know in their hearts and in their consciences that history is going to damn them [those who voted “no” in the 2009 St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) constitutional referendum] and that history is going to be generous to those of us who have sought to hold aloft the noble banner of all the principles and ideas enshrined in the new constitution” (Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister, SVG, December 2, 2009).

    ***

    The “damned” have again risen from the dustbin of history in Antigua/Barbuda and Grenada on the same date, November 6, 2018, and on the same issue: replacing the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the final appellate court in these two CARICOM countries.

    And once again there was a torrent of damnation, hand wringing, and recrimination nearly all focused on the same tired four issues: (1) the backwardness and ignorance of a “damned” electorate; (2) poor promotion by CCJ supporters; (3) lies and distortion by opponents of change; and (4) what Camillo Gonsalves, the Minister of Finance in his father’s SVG government, has called “the ridiculously-high 67% threshold necessary to amend that provision of the Constitution” in the two countries’ constitutions.

    This last assertion is the most ridiculous of all because around the world constitutions, whether homegrown or not, are deliberately written to make them difficult to change so as to prevent their impulsive or authoritarian subversion – as has been contemplated twice now in SVG, as shown below — and because the governments of Antigua/Barbuda, Grenada, SVG and other CARICOM countries freely negotiated and democratically voted to accept their amending formulae and other provisions decades ago.

    Likewise, none of the “yes” supporters gave even grudging acknowledgement to the overriding consideration of those who voted “no” or refused to vote (the majority): they could not support a court they did not trust, a perfectly reasonable and acceptable, even if unproven, motive based on the well-established legal principle that, “Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.”

    Regardless of these two explanations of resistance to change, Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua/Barbuda’s High Commissioner to the United States, has opined that the eventual outcome of voting “no” will be that:

    “Now it looks like the eight sovereign states of the Caribbean – and their ‘independent’ peoples – will have to wait for the British Privy Council to tell them to go (something that has already been forewarned by Privy Councillors). And what an ignominious way that will be to scurry to the CCJ.”

    Sir Ronald may be correct, but this does not give him leave to emphasize the word “independent” — in the same way self-proclaimed Vincentian community activist Renwick Rose always disparagingly marks the name of “the Queen” with similar quotation marks – thereby highlighting the first issue of the alleged backwardness and ignorance of those so imbued with a colonial mentality that they are still begging to be ruled by the law lords of Her Majesty’s Privy Council.

    How could such a sentiment have any currency except among those so insecure about their own status that feel moved to falsely imply that abandonment of the Privy Council would ever make the eight holdout CARICOM countries any less dependent than they now are on begging for handouts from various overseas organizations and individuals, striking unsavory alliances with regional and international pariah regimes and outlaws, and shamefully selling their very birthright – citizenship – slave-auction fashion to the highest bidder for a few pieces of silver?

    The monotonous “yes” side “down with colonialism” rallying cry rings hollow because everyone knows, CCJ membership or not, that we have long seen the de facto neo-colonization of our CARICOM countries by regional and international hegemons like Cuba, Venezuela, and China, on the one hand, and because the promises of self-sufficiency and prosperity following “independence” from Great Britain have been not only unrealized but are totally unrealizable, on the other.

    We are more dependent than we have ever been, only now our patrons, internal and external, are as numerous and diverse as they are dubious and dodgy.

    No wonder that in a 2011 opinion poll in Jamaica on its 50th anniversary of independence, a whopping 60 percent of people said they would be better off as a Crown Colony; only 17 per cent said their crime-ridden, poverty-stricken nation would be worse off were it still under British rule.

    In short, regardless of CCJ membership, we are still dependent colonial societies in everything but name: the British overlords have merely been replaced by homegrown, regional, and international ones like the hated International Monetary Fund. The emperor has no clothes.

    More important, Sir Ronald ignores the potential future lobbying efforts of those on his side of the debate eager to subvert the will of the people as expressed in these referenda, namely likely attempts by countries like SVG to beg the Crown to throw their very own “damned” people under the bus of resistance to constitutional change, a contemptible and subversive process if there ever was one.

    This effort is destined to be championed by the father and son tag-team of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves and Camillo Gonsalves, SVG’s Minister of Finance and his presumptive heir apparent.

    Having lost the 2009 referendum portion of his attempt to totally revamp the constitution and contemptuous of the high referendum requirement, the Prime Minister revealed in a keynote address at a September 11, 2014 conference in Jamaica that:

    “… he never realistically expected that his government would succeed in achieving a two-thirds majority in the referendum. Nevertheless, he pressed ahead with the referendum, hoping that it would be possible to secure a simple majority vote. This, he believed, would have provided him with a sufficient democratic mandate to invoke the constituent power by inviting the British Government to amend St Vincent’s Independence Constitution in the same way that it had been created, that is, by an Order-in-Council of her Majesty” (Derek O’Brien, “Formal Amendment Rules and Constitutional Endurance: The Strange case of the Commonwealth Caribbean,” The Foundations and Traditions of Constitutional Amendment, Richard Albert et al, editors, Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2017, p. 307).

    There were no referendum approving the 1979 constitution, or the constitutions of the other Associate States, for the simple reason that the British government, eager to rid itself of its Caribbean financial and political burdens, clearly recognized that even 50 percent public support would be unattainable, as the 2011 Jamaican poll suggests.

    Our homegrown political elites strongly agree.

    Following the losses in Antigua/Barbuda and Grenada on November 6, Camillo Gonsalves, unwilling to wait for the British Privy Council to show us the door is urging that the same demeaning, undemocratic, and underhanded policy of his father by arguing that:

    “Caribbean politicians and CCJ advocates – myself included – have been seduced by the romance of “the people” breaking decisively with their former colonial masters and collectively deciding to throw off their remaining shackles and take up the mantle of self-determination….

    But the focus on the romance of revolution or the requirements of referenda ignores the most fruitful potential avenue for removal of the Privy Council – sustained political advocacy to the Government of the United Kingdom.

    In other words, the governments of the Caribbean should travel to UK, seek a meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May, and collectively request [read: “beg”] that the Privy Council stop hearing our appeals…. With the UK-assisted departure of the Privy Council, Caribbean states would be forced to select a new apex court. The CCJ would be the only game in town.”

    Translation: Black voters don’t matter.

    This attempt, if successful, would only be step one in subverted the amending procedure, the second, aided by compliant and likeminded courts and CARICOM itself, being the abrogation of the entire referendum requirement by whatever means necessary, while the third would be the introduction of one-party Cuban-style rule.

    Damn the people, damn the constitution, damn the likelihood that two-thirds of Vincentians would vote in any opinion poll that they would be better off today as a British Crown Colony, but long live the bloodless revolution!

    Thank goodness our Caribbean people, tutored in the school of hard knocks where they have been fooled and manipulated time and again by the likes of this father and son, have been conscious enough to reject constitutional manipulation time and again. Too bad they weren’t given the same choice to vote for the poisoned chalice called “independence.”

    ***

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