TO THE KINGDOM OF BARBADOS we go to find out what kind of latest trickery Barbadian republicans are up to. The Island's governing elite are apparently planning a referendum, concurrent with the next general election, that will give politicians a blank cheque to write a new constitution. Now don't you wee citizen subjects concern your pretty little heads with the details now; let us experts worry about the finer points of constitutional republican government. All you need to do is ditch the monarchy, show the Queen of Barbados the door, and we'll take care of the rest.
That's a risk I'm not sure I'd be willing to take. Barbados has the highest standard of living outside Canada and the United States, than anywhere else in the Americas. Is it really an historical accident that all three benefited immensely from their British colonial beginnings? Yes we can all stand proudly on our own independent feet now - as we've all proven - but how independent are we if we delegate the country's governing heritage and supreme law to a tiny group of decision-makers who will have the unfettered power to make the whole thing up again as they see fit? Professor Flint at Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, paints a scary picture:
But as we understand a referendum, the details of any change proposed are put on the table before the people vote. The Barbadian government is trying to reverse this. The Barbadian people are first to vote, and only then, will they be allowed to see the details. They are being asked for a constitutional version of the blank cheque. Such plebiscites were often used in nineteenth century France to install or to confirm a dictatorship or authoritarian government. That is why the Australian Founders decided on the Swiss style referendum. This is where the people see all the details before they vote. Australia’s republican movement hates this – the cat is out of the bag before the people make their decision. What wise people the Australian Founders were. They knew the sort of devious people go into politics."If you don’t know, Vote No". It has a powerful ring to it. I can't think of a more winning campaign slogan for the No side than that.
So why doesn’t the Barbadian republican government come out and say it wants a republic with a president, how this president will be elected and what are to be his powers? Why doesn’t the Barbadian government ask the people whether they want yet another politician?
Probably for the same reason that Australia’s republicans wanted two words removed from the 1999 referendum question. One was “President.” The other, believe it or not was “republic.” Even Australia’s press, campaigning vigorously for a republic, could not stomach that. But clearly, polling and focus groups had told Australia’s republicans that these words were on the nose with Australians.
Asked to explain why the Barbadian government had not consulted the Opposition, the Deputy Prime Minister said "These are decisions made by the executive." She is not talking about some administrative measure; this is the supreme law of Barbados. Asked why the government was hiding the details of what it proposed to do from the media, and the people, the Deputy Prime Minister said the Government felt it "presumptuous to so do in the absence of a determination on the Republic".
I cannot recall a more ridiculous or unacceptable justification for government secrecy. Just what is it in the republican constitution that has persuaded the government to keep it under wraps? The Barbadian media and people would be justified in being highly suspicious of the government’s intentions, and reacting accordingly. As one of our highly regarded Australian commentators said at the time of the 1999 referendum: “If you don’t know, Vote No.”