Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Time to Discuss Independence

Whenever a politician raises the notion of national independence for Bermuda there is a predictable flow of negative commentary. Even though independence is the natural political framework for countries and the democracy we all claim to hold so dearly is only fully realized as a sovereign state,  there are those in this country who would have you believe the quest for independence is both unnatural and unpalatable. Untrue.

We need an open an honest examination of our future constitutional relationship with the United Kingdom. We need this for the simple fact that Bermuda’s interests and the UK’s interest do not necessarily run in tandem. Some of us prefer to remain ostrich-like on this issue but such a divergence of interests can lead to policies that fundamentally weaken Bermuda.

We saw this most dramatically two years ago when Prime Minister Gordon Brown , speaking before finance ministers of the G20 countries stated, “the old tax havens have no place in this new world” and indicated his intent to pursue a common tax policy. Although mislabeled and misunderstood, Bermuda was included in that category. As a British Overseas Territory, without the ability to speak on the international stage without UK permission, our very financial foundation was threatened as the Prime Minister pursued what he saw as the UK’s best interests.

Almost ten years ago Bermuda initiated a challenge to the Isle of Man over a satellite slot. Again, solely because of our constitutional status, the UK Office of Communications represents both territories before the International Telecommunication Union, the global body which administers satellite assignments. This is truly mind-boggling. In an area which represents a potential growth opportunity for Bermuda we lack the capacity to clearly articulate and advocate our own interests. We are required to rely on the protective role played by our benevolent administering power, the United Kingdom.

The success we continue to enjoy in global finance has much to do with the concerted, collaborative effort of government and the private sector in Bermuda and in spite of the challenges thrown us by the UK. There are those who will quickly respond that these policies were UK Labour policies now completely rejected by Prime Minister Cameron’s administration and that Bermuda is in a much better position. This is immaterial. Should Bermuda’s decision about its constitutional future be contingent on the vagaries of British politics and the sensibilities of its leaders?

One argument advanced by the anti-independence advocates is that “now is not the time.” Whenever I ask when would be the right time I am usually met with silence. This issue of our ability to best pursue our financial interests in the international arena will not go away and given all that we see going on there will likely be more challenges on the horizon. This is the time to consider what tools, what structure we need to strengthen our economy. 

The economic case for independence is one part of what should be part of a far more extensive dialogue we have on Bermuda’s constitutional future. We have long since passed the era of revolutionary roads to independence where nationalist ideology and anti-imperialist rhetoric sufficed as the clarion call. The principle, though, of real self-government—not merely internal self-government—remains valid. This is what needs to be addressed.  We should not delude ourselves into thinking we can determine the right time for this discussion to take place, as if the rapidly changing world has no bearing on our destiny. The time is now and it requires your full participation.

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