05 December 2012


by Rev. Dr. H. Clifton Niles
Published by anguillian 

Rev. Dr. H. Clifton Niles

Much has been said and written in recent times about independence for Anguilla. Some speak as though it can be achieved within a year or so, while others argue that it will take a very long time to achieve, if at all. Still there are others who think that independence is not a viable constitutional option for Anguilla. Despite all the talk, not much real progress is being made and not much will be made in the current atmosphere and with the current approach.

The basic question driving the independence move is this: “Will Anguilla and Anguillians be better off by remaining an Overseas Territory of Britain or by becoming an independent state?” Put another way, the central issue is: “Will it be more advantageous for Anguilla to remain a colony of Britain, with all the attendant “limitations” and privileges”, or will it be better for Anguilla to embrace the daunting challenges and opportunities which will undoubtedly come with self-determination and independence?” This is a very weighty matter which cannot be addressed in any adhoc, light and cavalier manner. Neither should it be dismissed as a “pie in the sky” idea. Let us therefore take the issue of independence for Anguilla seriously and study it properly. Our future wellbeing is wrapped up in it.

Let me be clear and state up front that I believe this issue of independence for Anguilla should always be an option on the table until it is achieved. However, anyone who is sane and realistic will have to admit that true independence is not an attainable goal in the next one or two years. Given where we are as a colony today, and what needs to be done, more time is needed to reach the goal. I firmly believe though, that with wise and mature leadership and with prudent planning, meaningful independence can be attained by 2020 DV. By meaningful independence I mean, in part, real national self-determination which is grounded in self-reliance and full respect for democracy – especially the separation of powers – and the supremacy of the rule of law.

Despite all the hype over independence the fact is that to date, there has been no meaningful national discussion of the pros and cons of independence as it relates to Anguilla. Further, there has not been any real or effective dialogue with the British on the subject. I venture to say that there will be no independence for Anguilla unless there is that national debate followed by a national decision and the bilateral dialogue. Independence is a very important step, with consequences which are so far reaching for every citizen, that it behooves us to ensure that everyone who calls Anguilla “home” has ample time to understand the implications of independence, and then to participate in deciding the way forward. This cannot be rushed in a few weeks or months and so the sooner we begin the process of education and dialogue the better.
Map by Wikipedia

I have heard mention of the 1980 Anguilla Act and the understanding of some persons that under this Act Anguilla can move into independence without a national decision through a referendum. While the word “referendum” is absent from the 1980 document, it speaks of an Order in Council, and historical precedence dictates that there must be a referendum. In addition, the British authorities have made it quite clear, in more recent times, that Britain is not opposed to any Overseas Territory choosing to go independent – and if a territory so chooses, the British authorities will help that territory achieve its goal. They have been equally clear that such a choice must be a definite wish of the people expressed through a referendum. Even if the British were not so clear, the people of Anguilla would wish to use the instrument of the referendum to decide the issue. No one party, be it government or opposition, can presume to usurp this basic right of the people.

I want to believe that we are all in one accord on this basic right; if not, I wish to say to any who think otherwise: “Stop wasting precious time. There will be no independence for Anguilla without a referendum.” As Anguillians we take independence seriously and a referendum cannot be optional in this matter.

I wish now to make some suggestions that I believe could be helpful, if they were discussed more broadly and taken on board as part of the “Roadmap to Independence.”

FIRST:Embrace the fact that independence is a serious matter and is the business of every Anguillian. We must do all we can to make sure that everyone is engaged even if everyone is not for it. Get rid of all party grandstanding and rise to the level of true patriotism and nationalism. The fact is that if independence is a good thing for one it is good for all of us, and if it turns out to be a curse it is a curse for all of us. I call on all our politicians and loyal supporters to allow the greater national good to supersede your (less than perfect) party loyalty. There is great virtue in dialogue and in debating differences of opinion in a civilized respectful manner. Great gains are made through dialogue.

SECOND: Redirect our time, energy and effort to ensure that the present Constitution is qualitatively updated before the new Governor assumes responsibility. I believe the advantage of having the new Governor assume office under an updated Constitution can be readily seen, and would be a major victory step in light of the fact that independence is some years away.

The draft Constitution which was presented to the Government in February 2012 already proposes many changes in our governance, which very likely will become features of an independent Constitution. Implementing these changes in governance will provide useful experience and preparation for the time of independence. Pull out that draft, tweak it and adopt it. It would be better than going for another 6-8 years with the present inhibiting one.

THIRD: Commission immediately a comprehensive study of Anguilla’s readiness for independence. Such a study should report on, among other things: (a) the overall state of the island’s readiness (or lack thereof) for independence in 2020; (b) adjustments needed to existing institutions and laws etc., so that they can be truly democratic and serve a new era; (c) new and additional necessary things which need to be in place in any independent state in this modern world; (d) a suggested “Roadmap to Independence 2020,” or some more appropriate date.

FOURTH: Embark on a national programme of education which will culminate in decision-making by way of a national referendum. Informing this programme of education will be the report of the study which was commissioned earlier. Everyone must be prepared for the new future.

FIFTH: Engage the British meaningfully in independence preparations. This must be a very important aspect of the process, recognizing that they have long experience in this. When negotiations begin at this stage, it must be very clear from the start that independence is the clear and freely expressed wish of the people of Anguilla, that there is the necessary political maturity among our leaders, along with sound economic preparation, infrastructural sophistication, and a superior level of appreciation and respect for law and order from top to bottom.

I believe that if negotiations with the British can begin with a clear demonstration of these things, any reservation or reluctance on their part will have to give way. It has been stated more than onceby British officials that while they will not stand in the way of any Overseas Territory wishing to become independent, they will not encourage it. I call upon all our politicians, administrators and leaders to demonstrate, by your maturity, judgment, thoroughness and objectivity, that Anguilla is ready for a new future.