A campaign of independence by stealth

  • The i-word: Junior Minister of Home Affairs Jason Hayward brought up the issue of independence in early September (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

So which is it? Is the Government seriously considering the i-word or not? You may recall that the Junior Minister of Home Affairs, Jason Hayward, who also happens to be the president of the Bermuda Public Services Union, was the first government official under the Burt Administration to publicly mention it on September 4 when he said: “We have to now look at independence as a viable option for our people so we can set our own agenda, so we can create our own system and so we can see our people get ahead.”

You may also recall that it took seven full days before anyone from the Government actually denied that the i-word was being discussed by the Government. Interestingly, it was the Minister of Economic Development and Tourism, Jamahl Simmons, who shot down the utterances of the Junior Minister of Home Affairs, not the Premier, when after being questioned by a participant at the Bermuda Captive Conference on September 11, he said: “The position is this; it was not in our platform, we have not discussed it.”

A very definitive statement. However, when the junior minister uttered the i-word, many in the community believed that this was just the utterance of a person unskilled in the art of diplomacy wearing his BPSU hat and not the hat of a junior minister — that is a topic for another day — but others saw something else: a trial balloon to gauge the reaction of the wider community on the matter. After all, government-appointed senators are directly answerable to the Premier. This feeling was heightened after comments attributed to the Premier at the Progressive Labour Party black-tie gala on November 18, when he deliberately uttered the i-word in his speech, albeit to the PLP faithful. Coincidence? I think not.

Why do I say this? Well, less than a week later, on November 24, the Premier said in a prepared statement to the House of Assembly in relation to his trip to London to attend an Overseas Territories conference, “the priorities for this year will highlight issues such as upholding our right to self-determination as enshrined under Article 73 of the United Nations Charter and that this continues to apply to the peoples of overseas territories, as the UK’s obligation”.

The fact is Britain is not in breach of any legal obligations relating to Article 73 and, more importantly, no UN treaty or resolution has ever gone on to insist upon independence; rather it is encouraged where it is the express desire of the peoples of the territories in question. So if “we have not discussed it [independence]”, why mention it in a scripted statement at all?

Further, in response to questions by MP Trevor Moniz about whether the Premier had intentions to take Bermuda to independence, the Premier reportedly laughed off questions and said that MPs should not be surprised to hear discussions about cutting ties with Britain, and that he was “endlessly amused” by opposition inquiries into the matter.

He went on and said that the Opposition should focus “on its own agenda rather than that of the PLP” — ripe considering that the Opposition’s job is to focus on the Government. The glaring omission is any reported outright denial from the Premier. In my experience, there is no such thing as coincidence when it comes to David Burt, who is absolutely deliberate in everything he does.

Interestingly, the person who has been suspiciously quiet on the matter has been the Minister of Home Affairs, Walton Brown. Or has he? Brown was, after all, a lone voice for many years when it came to independence, and it is arguable that his activity as Minister of Home Affairs is designed to try to create a constitutional crisis.

Thus far he has presented one Bill to the Governor that restricts human rights and another one is on its way that reverses rights gained in respect of same-sex marriage, which by the way is legal in Britain — or, as the minister was quoted in Parliament as saying on October 6, our “colonial masters”.

The amendment to the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act 1956 was signed into law and I suspect when the Domestic Partnership Act passes, this too will be signed, since no Governor wants to be in the middle of a constitutional crisis by refusing to. I should also add that Brown has taken the position that those who are granted status are more likely to vote in a referendum against independence, which helps to explain why the PLP is so anti-immigration. It has more to do with independence than it does about anything else.

So when you start to listen, to really listen, and consider the various contradictory statements made by a junior minister as opposed to Cabinet minister — and then the words of the Premier and the actions of the Minister of Home Affairs — it would seem that the i-word really is on the agenda. It is being discussed. It is and remains an integral part of the PLP’s desires and wishes.

The PLP’s constitution is clear at Article III, which says that the party is “to serve as a vehicle in moving Bermuda to independence by political education, information and public meetings so that the people of Bermuda can be fully informed of what independence for Bermuda means, and the party will work towards achieving the necessary electoral reforms, which are preconditions for Bermuda achieving nationhood”.

The electoral reforms referred to in the PLP constitution have long ago been carried out. So perhaps clarity can be given to allay the concerns of many that the campaign for independence has already begun? For the Premier to be “endlessly amused” is dangerous. Questions relating to Bermuda’s constitutional future should not be treated so dismissively as some cheap parlour game.

I am betting that the next election will be based on independence. I also am betting that the election either will be solely on that issue — that was the method reportedly preferred by the PLP in January 7, 1994 — or an independence referendum will be held the same day as an election.

This is not far-fetched. The stealth campaign for independence has already begun.

Michael Fahy is former Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Tourism, Transport and Municipalities