A grassroots movement could spark the Cabinet to take the lead on independence if island-wide talks reveal enough support for the cause, political sources have claimed.
It was believed that interest in a formal break from Britain had grown in recent months and restless voters wished to prompt government leaders into action. The Progressive Labour Party told The Royal Gazette its sights were set on an independent Bermuda, but the vision was not shared by a majority of residents.
A public forum on the topic scheduled for next week at the Bermuda Industrial Union is thought to be one of several that could gauge support.
Cordell Riley, a statistician among the five panellists listed for the event, explained: “It was said to me this has to be a grassroots movement.
“If it’s a grassroots movement, so there are different shoots at different areas in the island, the Government will start to take notice and say, we have to take the lead on this and have something formal, such as a commission.”
He added: “When the people do not see the Government move in the direction that it would like, people start to take it on their own initiative.
“If there is significant support, it starts to grow and that’s when Government will come in and either take the lead or shut it down.”
Mr Riley welcomed the opportunity for a “healthy” discussion and said he planned to cover the potential costs of independence as well as “irrational concerns” about Bermuda going it alone.
He said: “I am aware that people are talking about independence more, particularly with what’s going on in the UK with Brexit, and the impact it would have on Bermuda.
“Also with regards to the economic substance Bill that was passed, and was seen as something that was perhaps enforced upon Bermuda.
“We hear other talks, in terms of we have a Governor from the UK, he appoints a British police officer as Commissioner, and I’ve even had officers tell me privately there seems to be an increase in recruitment from the UK.”
Mr Riley said that although he had yet to conduct a poll on independence this year, results from earlier surveys over the past decade suggested about two thirds of the population, between 60 and 67 per cent, were opposed to a split from the UK.
He added: “I don’t think at this point there is a significant movement towards independence.
“I think there are people saying, ‘Let me have a look at it’, but that doesn’t mean you can’t educate people, that people won’t change their minds.”
One source agreed that talk of independence among PLP supporters and the wider community had increased.
The source said: “There seems to be more interest around the issue from more rank-and-file members, there’s a little buzz.
“I’m not saying it’s a groundswell, but more than it has been in the past couple of years.
“A grassroots group may indicate that this effort is not just coming from the top down but from the bottom up.”
Another observer told the Gazette that there was a perception among some people that the PLP leadership was not doing enough “to push the independence agenda”.
The source added: “They took the view that we’re going to proceed, party or not, by putting together like-minded people to get out and drive the issue.”
It was thought that a non-partisan group could test the temperature of the country before approaching government leaders.
The source said the aim would be to indicate to ministers “it’s time that you take the independence issue and move it along ... otherwise there is an independent group who will drive this issue and the party will be embarrassed into moving ahead”.
A PLP spokeswoman said on Friday: “Independence remains a core value of the Bermuda Progressive Labour Party and we do envision a day when Bermuda will become independent.
“At this time, however, the people have shown no indication that their feelings on this matter have altered.
“What is clear, however, is the people of Bermuda’s desire to see greater fairness, greater opportunity, more affordable healthcare and a better quality of life, for themselves and their families.
“While we fight to tackle those issues, we will continue to educate our people on the benefits of independence and continue to push for our vision of an independent Bermuda, that one day we believe more Bermudians will share.”
The PLP’s constitution states that the party’s purpose included it would “serve as a vehicle in moving Bermuda to independence”.
However, the subject was not included in its 2017 General Election platform.
Jason Hayward, a PLP senator and the Bermuda Public Services Union president, said after the party’s landslide victory two years ago that it was time to “look at independence as a viable option”.
A week later, Jamahl Simmons, then the Minister of Economic Development and Tourism, dismissed the suggestion when he told the Bermuda Captive Conference: “It was not in our platform, we have not discussed it.”
David Burt, the Premier, explained in the House of Assembly in November 2017: “Independence is inside of the PLP’s constitution, so whenever we have a meeting that matter is discussed.”
Yet he confirmed the following May that although the “groundwork in constitutional reform” should be laid to allow for self-determination in the future, “independence is not part of our current mandate”.
Phil Perinchief, a political scientist and former PLP attorney-general, was also among the list of speakers for next week’s talk, which was advertised to be held at the BIU headquarters from 6pm on August 22.
He explained: “I hope to discuss with the panel and the attendees the issue of self-determination, what it means in the lead-up to it and apprise the group about international relations and how we might make our own way in the world with the 193 other independent countries in the UN.”
Mr Perinchief added: “I’ve heard the rumblings from different quarters and I would fight for independence or self-determination anywhere, including Hell.
“I believe that all right-thinking and ambitious people should fight for self-determination and independence because it’s the ultimate expression of who we are and who we would want to be as human beings, in concert and harmony, with other free and loving human beings.”