Wednesday, December 01, 2021

When will we follow Barbados?

Barbados became a republic last night, ending nearly 400 years of British colonialism:

After 396 years, the sun has set on the British monarchy’s reign over the Caribbean island of Barbados, with a handover ceremony at midnight on Monday marking the birth of the world’s newest republic.

As the clock struck 12, the Royal Standard flag representing the Queen was lowered over a crowded Heroes Square in Bridgetown and Carol Roberts-Reifer, chief executive officer of the National Cultural Foundation, made the declaration of Barbados’ transition to its new constitutional status.

Guests in the square applauded as Dame Sandra Mason was sworn in as president by the chief justice and took the oath of allegiance to her country. Hundreds of people lining Chamberlain Bridge in the capital cheered and a 21-gun salute was fired as the national anthem was played. Barbadian singer Rihanna also attended the ceremony and was declared a national hero.

Obviously, congratulations are in order. But Barbados also provides a model of how we could do it. They're a "twink republic": twink out old royalist terms ("Governor-General", "Crown") and replace them with republican ones ("President", "State"). The forms change, but the underlying structure remains the same, providing constitutional continuity and certainty. They even appointed their incumbent Governor-General as President, to ease concerns around political appointments and ensure norms around non-interference were continued.

This is the easiest pathway we could take to a republic. It avoids opening any cans of worms around relitigating constitutional norms (or rather, puts it off into the future when we can handle it without the distraction of a foreign monarch and her local personality cult), while making the change that really matters: ending the undemocratic institution of the foreign monarchy.

In Barbados, the shift was seen explicitly as ending colonialism and restoring the dignity of Barbadians. The obvious question for Aotearoa is when we are going to follow them, join the future, and live in dignity?