By Ricky Browne
The Queen is set to lose about 300,000 of her subjects— not to the dreaded coronavirus pandemic, but to the decision by the Caribbean island of Barbados to relinquish the crown and to become a republic next year.
Losing Barbados in terms of population, would be like losing Newcastle or perhaps Nottingham, which by some estimates are about the same size.
Is this the beginning of the Queen losing more of her realms — city-sized states or not?
There are currently 16 members of the Commonwealth of Nations which are constitutional monarchies and have the Queen as their head of state — some are much larger than others. They include the former white dominions of Canada, Australia and New Zealand (though not South Africa) but also include several Caribbean countries.
The list of countries that have the Queen as head of state, apart from the United Kingdom are currently: Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, St Kitts, St Lucia and St Vincent in the Caribbean; the former white dominions of Australia, Canada and New Zealand, and the Pacific island countries of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. That is a total of 15 Commonwealth realms, plus the United Kingdom makes 16.
But that could be down to a total of 15 if Barbados moves ahead with its intention of becoming a republic.
An independent country since 1966, Barbados is one of the earliest British colonies overseas, having been claimed by the English from the Portuguese in 1625. In fact the Queen was in Barbados for its independence ceremony and has visited a few times since, her last visit being in 1989.
The North Atlantic island, which identifies as being Caribbean, has always maintained close relations with the former motherland, so much so that it is often referred to as ‘Little England’.
Barbados even has its own mini Trafalgar Square at the centre of its capital of Bridgetown, complete with a bronze statue of Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, but in an effort to down play that history, it was renamed National Heroes Square in 1999.
In fact, the statue was erected about 27 years before the better known statue in London’s version. But unfortunately for Horatio, he now looks set to go the way of the Queen, as the government appears to have approved its move to a less conspicuous location — in keeping with the fate that has fallen on many statues of heroes now deemed to be offensive.
Historically, the country was a famous — infamous even — first stop on the atrocious Atlantic triangular trade, which saw slave ships offloading some of their human cargo on the island before heading off to other Caribbean colonies in the British West Indies such as Jamaica.
The island is small at 431 square kilometres (164 square miles) and can be crossed from one end to the other in about 30 minutes by car. It is smaller than Hanover, one of the smallest of Jamaica’s 14 parishes, and it is also often claimed to be smaller than Hogg Island, an island of little other note at the mouth of Guyana’s Essequibo river. In Barbados’s defence, at 60 square kilometres, Hogg Island is really significantly smaller.
Barbados is also quite flat, and was ideal for the production of sugar cane — hence the need for African slaves. The importance of sugar cane to the economy and culture of the country is depicted on the nation’s coat of arms, with the motto ‘Pride and Industry’ (no prejudice).
Moving away from sugar production, the island economy is now dominated by tourism, and attracts mainly British visitors, despite sitting on doorstep of what is still the world’s largest market for tourists — the United States.
The island did start to tap into the US market more recently when Sandals Resorts International chain from Jamaica opened its first hotel there. A controversial move at the time, particularly as it is an all-inclusive, but it helped to diversify the tourism market.
In the 1970s Barbados was one of only a few regular scheduled destinations for the British Airways Concorde flights — helping to ensure that the island was not only top of mind for British tourists, but particularly for well-heeled ones. Today it is home to one of the 20 Concordes that were in existence, tribute to the fact that it was one of only four regular destinations for the supersonic aircraft, the others being New York, London and Paris.
Due to the predominance of the slave trade up to 1807, Barbados is a majority black country. But originally the island was colonized by Irish and people from the British Isles, many of them convicts, with the idea of having an economy based on tobacco. When tobacco gave way to the far more profitable sugarcane African slaves were shipped in to farm the crop.
As small as it might be, the white population of Barbados is larger than in other former British islands — once amounting to about 10 percent of the population, but now estimated at about five percent — as opposed to Jamaica where white people may only represent about one percent.
The three main racial groups have traditionally lived in a kind of self-imposed apartheid where the black, brown and white populations each have their own clubs and socialize mainly with themselves and choose to distance themselves from each other.
Indeed it is said that the former Royal Barbados Yacht Club lost its royal charter more than 20 years ago to become the Barbados Yacht Club because it did not have, nor did it want to have, any black members. It is possible that such a move did not endear the wealthier members of the white population to the royal family. Meanwhile in Jamaica the Royal Yacht Club of Jamaica still has its royal warrant.
Outside of yachting, each of the three groups are said to have their own polo clubs. Going out on the town, black or brown people might tend to not go to nightclubs known to be predominantly white, either because they don’t want to or because they may have trouble getting in. In fact, a nightclub by the name of Harbour Lights, where black people did not feel welcome, was known by many as Harbour Whites.
The island has a very well-educated population with practically 100 percent literacy. Its people are known to be less rebellious than Jamaicans, both historically and currently. This, Bajans say. is because they were the first stop for the slave trade so got to pick the best, and least volatile, slaves, whereas Jamaica as the last stop got what ever was left. Jamaican’s too say this, but with pride that they were of hardier stock and are in fact more rebellious and were harder for the British to control.
In fact topography also has a lot to do with the temperament of Bajans as opposed to Jamaicans. In Barbados there was not much option for slaves to run away from the plantations, as the island is small and flat. In Jamaica the mountainous terrain and larger size allowed some slaves to at least attempt to escape the plantations and find at least temporary safety in heavily forested areas.
Given that difference in temperament between the two peoples, it is quite surprising on the surface that Barbados will cut its ties to the British crown before Jamaica. And in fact Jamaica has expressed a desire to become a republic from as early as the 1970s.
But when it comes to action rather than just talk, the Bajans have loosened their ties to the former motherland at a faster rate.
The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) was set up in 2001 to act as a final appeal court for Caribbean countries that belong to the Caribbean Community (Caricom) to replace the UK Privy Council. Barbados joined the CCJ at its inception and eliminated the Privy Council as its final court in 2003. It is one of only a few English-speaking Caribbean countries to do so, even though all have contributed to setting up the court.
Meanwhile, its neighbour Trinidad and Tobago — a republic since 1976 — is the home of the court. But Trinidad still has London’s Privy Council as its highest court, as does Jamaica.
In the case of Jamaica there is a reluctance by many to fully embrace the CCJ partially because any effort to force the country to be tied to its Caribbean neighbours is viewed with suspicion — reminding them of the failed Federation of the West Indies. Many believe that the Privy Council offers a high quality of jurisprudence that can not be easily replicated by a newer court from a much smaller region which can perhaps more easily be politically interfered with. The political machinations of the West Indies cricket club, an earlier effort to tie the region together, may not fill many Jamaicans with confidence.
But that action by Barbados to leave the Privy Council showed that it was more willing to loosen its ties to Britain than the more independent-minded Jamaica.
Jamaica may yet become a republic, and it may decide to keep the proven and free-of-cost Privy Council. But the basic necessities of feeding its population while developing its struggling economy are taking precedence. In the minds of the people, it is already a republic, with few people seeming to understand that the Queen of England is also the Queen of Jamaica and is its Head of State.
This incorrect belief has been reinforced by the state since 2002, when the Prime Minister stopped swearing allegiance to the Queen when being inaugurated, but rather to the people of Jamaica. It has also been reinforced by the media, which consistently refers to Queen Elizabeth II as the British Queen, never as the Queen of Jamaica
Over in Little England, the current Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley has complete control of the Barbados parliament having won every seat in the house. The Barbados economy, usually seen as one of the strongest in the Caribbean, was and still is facing great difficulties, especially with its reliance on tourism during a time when virtually no one is going anywhere.
She has stated that Barbados will become a republic before its 55th anniversary of independence on November 30, 2021.
However, having said all this, there is many a slip between the cup and the lip — as has been proven by Jamaica several times when its prime ministers have expressed an interest in becoming a republic. Time will tell if Barbados actually does become a republic within the timetable that it has set itself.
It must be noted, however, that this is not the first time Barbados has given a deadline to becoming a republic, as back in 2015 it said it would do so within a year.
But with this prime minister in full control of the house, it seems much more likely to become a reality this time.
If it does, it will be the first of Queen Elizabeth’s constituional monarchies to become a republic since Mauritius in the Indian Ocean back in 1992.
The question is, who will be next? Could it be Canada to become a republic like its neighbour to the south? Or will Australia or New Zealand decide to become a republic and find a flag that doesn’t have the Union Jack in the top left corner?
Such a move by the larger countries might have a much bigger impact on the future of the British monarchy.
But many countries, Jamaica included, might not want to offend the Queen for whom there is still significant respect. It might be a different story when Prince Charles and his wife ascend to the throne. And in the case of Jamaica even more so when William and his wife accede to the throne.
In the case of Jamaica, Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh have visited the country several times during her reign, as has Prince Charles and more recently his son the charismatic Harry.
But as for the heir, William has never had an official visit to either Barbados or Jamaica, though he has had several to other countries to which he is destined to become king — namely Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
Its not for want of an invitation. After his marriage to Kate in 2011, his grandmother’s representative to the island — Governor General Sir Patrick Allen — invited the Prince to visit Jamaica.
“Jamaica? Oh, but its too hot!” said the man who is supposed to be destined to become the future King of Jamaica. He then promptly went off to the Seychelles for his honeymoon — not known for its cool climate. Like Jamaica the Seychelles is a part of the Commonwealth, but it is a republic and has no ties to the crown.
Almost 10 years after that invitation, the Prince has still not visited the island. With such a lack of interest, it really underlines the pointlessness of having an absentee Head of State who never visits your country, and it is unlikely that he will ever be King of Jamaica, or indeed most of the other 16 Commonwealth Realms.