High Court has blocked legal challenge to government’s decision, which allows referendum on the right to choose their head of state
Barbados is ready to ditch Britain’s Queen. For many in the country, the move has been a long time coming
In Barbados, as in Jamaica, the direct descendant of the British, and leading elected politician Portia Simpson Miller, have proved too popular. Together, with Pierre US Johnson, a powerful member of parliament for Barbados Labour party, Simpson Miller has won a series of elections since 2000, in line with an unwritten manifesto of seceding the country from Britain’s Queen and one’s allegiance to it.
Late last year, Simpson Miller talked of how she was working with the leader of Jamaica’s ruling Jamaica Labour party, Andrew Holness, to create a referendum that would remove the Queen from Barbados’s head of state. “I will not abide by the law,” she said, “so it is time we create a constitutional change.” The Caribbean island of 2.6 million people is due to hold a local election this month.
However, the leader of the Barbados Labour party, Mia Mottley, was more cautious. “It’s really not so much a referendum.” Simpson Miller was “working on something that will go before the referendum”.
Given the amount of talk over the past few years on the subject of territorial nationalism, the delay and the reluctance to call one may seem like another slow shoe drop on the issue, but it is worth remembering that the first federal state of British-ruled territories was set up in 18th-century Ireland. Federalism was an electoral bugbear for Ireland’s ruling party in the decades after the independence of the newly united island. It became a popularly supported model of local self-government around the world, particularly in former colonies. It is only one of the new political frameworks devised to coexist with Britain’s constitutional arrangements, but a model for others seeking greater self-rule. It is a notable development in Caribbean politics, especially in Britain, where Jamaican and British politicians have been resisting the rule of Jamaican politicians on at least four occasions. The momentum in recent years is for a British national model, but many islanders – and the majority of Caribbean voters – do not identify themselves as being part of Britain.
It is also a fact that voter turnouts are low in Caribbean elections. Part of this is a habit from the past, following the previous rule of strong nationalist parties. But polling also shows that the standard bearer for devolution in Barbados is constitutional nationalism. Still, in a half-empty bar, a pair of young tourists are watching a screen showing the E&Y financial services arbitration awards on a continuous loop. They have found justice, in a way, the rule of law, in Barbados. With it, the future of island voters is likely to be made clearer.