The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.
by Garth Patterson
If Errol Walton Barrow, PC, Q.C. was the Father of Barbados’ independence, then the Rt. Hon. Mia Amor Mottley, EGH, OR, QC, MP, a self-proclaimed daughter of independence, will forever bear the distinction of being the (single) mother of the soon-to-be Republic of Barbados. To be sure, the seeds of republicanism were not planted by her. That audacious idea was conceived by others who preceded her. But Ms. Mottley has most definitively germinated that seed; she has nurtured it in her womb, has brought it to term and will, in just over a month, give birth to this fiercely proud, independent-minded, new, small-island, Republic.
The speech that the Prime Minister delivered at the joint sitting of the House of Assembly and Senate to elect the first President of this nation was easily one of the most important and powerful speeches ever delivered by the charismatic and articulate leader.
Delivered in her usual inimitable style and aplomb and characterised by the depth of substance and eloquence to which we all have become accustomed, her speech’s import and power were made all the more poignant by the historic occasion on which it was delivered – the election of Dame Sandra Mason, GCMG, DA, QC, as our first President.
This significant milestone is just one, small, preparatory step for the long journey of nation-building that lies ahead. That journey begins in earnest when, on November 30, 2021, we proudly declare ourselves (yes, I am a Bajan; not born, but embraced) to be truly independent.
Free, at last. After 341 long years in the bowels of colonialism, including 200 arduous years in the entrails of slavery; after 55 years of orphanage by our colonisers; after far too many years of living in the shadow and subjugation to the will of foreigners. Free to determine our own destiny, to make our own decisions, to chart our own path, with nary an obligatory “by-your-leave”.
Some wonder what’s the big deal? What changes, in real terms, will this break with the monarchy bring about? To understand this, it is critical to appreciate the historical and constitutional context. Barbados attained independence by virtue of the Barbados Independence Act, 1966, an Act of the British Parliament. Our Constitution was enacted pursuant to an Order in Council, made by the Queen in 1966 pursuant to that Act.
When it came into effect on November 30, 1966, Barbados became independent – at least, constitutionally. But she remained one of ‘Her Majesty’s dominions’. The term ‘Her Majesty’s dominions’ signifies the independent or dependent territories under the sovereignty of the Crown. Barbados falls into the category of an independent territory under the sovereignty of the Crown.
Section 5 (Schedule 1) of the Interpretation Act 1978, UK, defines the term, “British possession” as, “any part of Her Majesty’s dominions outside the United Kingdom”. Barbados, as one of Her Majesty’s dominions, although independent since 1966, remains today one of Her Majesty’s “possessions”. The ordinary dictionary definition of the noun “possession” is, “the state of having, owning, or controlling something”. Literally and figuratively, therefore, Barbados is owned by the Crown.
In a historical context, Barbados, like the rest of the English-speaking Caribbean, is all too familiar with the concept of being owned; and we still bear the profound psychological and emotional scars of the vile and insidious institution of slavery that are indelibly etched onto our collective psyche.
The abolition of slavery and the emancipation of the slaves in the Caribbean in 1834, almost 200 years ago, served to free the bodies of our black ancestors but did little to liberate our souls. That journey, for the descendants of slavery, is one that is far from over.
So, what was the significance of Barbados gaining independence? If it was meant to represent Barbados’ emancipation from England, then it failed dismally, since Barbados remains a chattel of Her Majesty, in the same way that slaves were chattels of their white masters. When the institution of slavery toppled, emancipated slaves were liberated from the ignominy and indignity of being owned. By contrast, however, despite the advent of independence, the same could not be said of “independent” Barbados.
Section 1 (1) of the Barbados Independence Act declared that, from the date of independence, “the United Kingdom shall have no responsibility for the government of Barbados.” As such, Barbados was classified as one of Her Majesty’s dominions having “fully responsible status”. Section 4 of that Act effected modifications to other English statutes so as to exclude Barbados from the definition of “colony”.
The Independence Act ushered Barbados’ transition from colonialism to membership of the Commonwealth as an independent state. Constitutionally, however, it only meant that the United Kingdom had relinquished its right to pass laws for Barbados and had severed any financial obligations to her, but still retained the reigns of sovereignty.
In real terms, it meant that Barbados was no longer a British colony and would not be a dependent of the United Kingdom; although it still remained a possession of the Queen. In other words, still a “slave”, but left to fend for itself.
While independence assured Barbados’ right of political self-determination and was, doubtless, the crowning glory of Errol Barrow’s legacy, it nevertheless failed to deliver on the real promise that the word “independent” implies.
Despite his proclamation that Barbados was “satellite to none”, the reality is that, with the Queen as its sovereign, Barbados was inextricably tethered to the United Kingdom. That all changes, however, when Barbados becomes a republic. Barbados will, forever, cease to be a British possession, or form any part of Her Majesty’s dominions.
So, the enactment of amendments to our Constitution to facilitate Barbados’ transition to the status of a republic is not just a futile gesture or mere tokenism. It is the realisation of a promise made, symbolically, almost 55 years ago.
It represents, finally, the emancipation of a nation. And on that historic day, when Barbados becomes a republic, every Barbadian should rejoice and, like the immortal refrain of Martin Luther King, gratefully proclaim, “free at last, free at last . . .”
Garth Patterson Q.C. is a Senior Partner at Lex Caribbean. He was called to the Bars of Jamaica and Barbados in 1987 and the Bars of New York and St. Lucia in 1990 and 2011 respectively.