I was invited by NTN to participate in ‘A Panel Discussion on Independence’ with Rick Wayne and Peter Josie.
I don’t know why anyone would think I would not have accepted, but I did – and readily so.
First, it would have allowed me to say a few things about Independence that aren’t that well known but are documented parts of our history, in some cases understandably, in others simply because we naturally tend to brush aside uncomfortable aspects of our lives or parts of our history that we simply wish to forever forget.
Like how I supported Independence, while my allies in the Labour Party violently opposed it.
I was a member of the Workers Revolutionary Movement (WRM), a small political entity with more muscle than its size and well-established links island-wide by 1978, when Independence was the main bone of political contention between the SLP and the UWP.
The results of the 1974 General Elections — the hatched formula for the UWP’s victory, which Rick revealed in his book on Saint Lucia ‘It’ll be Alright in the Morning’ – had spelt the beginning of the end of the party’s two decades in office.
The 52-day 1976 Public Service Strike that led to the passage of the Essential Services Act proved the end was even nearer and the UWP resorted to pursuit of Independence as an election strategy, setting December 13, 1978 as it’s targeted date, ahead of the 1979 elections.
The decision to make Independence an election campaign issue in a two-party state so politicized what ought to have been a national issue that the nation never recovered from its still-birth.
The SLP had the UWP on the run, with Odlum and Josie in the lead, opposing Independence for reasons ranging from ‘We’re not ready yet’ to ‘Not Under Compton.’
The British eventually stayed the UWP’s hand at a conference at Lancaster House with representatives of the two parties flown to London, where the date February 22 (which has absolutely no historical significance) was pulled out of a Cork Hat and made Saint Lucia’s Independence Day.
But even though the SLP got the upper hand in the pre-Independence brouhaha, WRM adopted a principled position in support of Independence, issuing a public statement headlined ‘Independence: A Necessary Step for National Liberation’, in which we argued that it did not matter which party led the island into independence, what was most important was that we ended colonial tie, became a sovereign nation and joined the United Nations (UN).
Naturally, that did not go down well with our Labour comrades, some of who called us ‘Flambeau Souceurs’.
Independence came (on February 22) in the most unfortunate and reluctant ways: more-than-half the nation opposed on partisan political grounds, the midnight February 21 flag-raising ceremony held under tight invitations-only security, an Independence Day fire at her Majesty’s Prison (The Royal Gaol) on Bridge Street and the first National Independence Day Parade at Victoria Park largely boycotted, save for compulsory attendance by students and uniformed groups like scouts and guides alongside police, fire and prison officers.
But Independence did not save the UWP’s election hopes.
By the General Elections on July 2, 1979, thanks to the lowering of the Voting Age (from 21 to 18) enough youth had registered to vote for the first time to make a decisive difference on Election Day, in a poll in which the UWP had been on the ropes for more than a year.
Besides, the Iranian Revolution took place eleven days before (February 11), followed by the Grenada Revolution (March 13) – which all but cooked the UWP’s elections goose.
Election Day came less than five months after Independence Day and the Labour Party won 12-5, sealing the fatal blow to the UWP 15 years after it first took office after an election it did not win on its own, but as an alliance against the SLP, which had won every election since Adult Suffrage (Universal Voting Rights) was introduced in 1951 and had won the 1961 elections with nine of the ten seats contested.
It’s hardly been taught to the present post-Independence generation that the June 1964 General Elections was a contest between the SLP and an alliance of two other parties, National Labour Movement (NLM) and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP); or that the UWP was created just months before (in April) after the two Bousquet Brothers, Allan and JMD – elected Labour MPs – resigned and contested as ‘Independent Labour’ candidates.
Having shared that bit of raw pre-election Saint Lucian election history 15 years earlier, I would have light-heartedly (but with crystal clear intent) eventually gravitated to a muse about how ‘Times can and do change even the best and worse among us…’ — by referring to those related days back then, when Rick, batting for Sir John, coined the unforgettable cojoined phrase to describe the UWP’s conjoined ‘Enfents Terribles’ as ‘odlumanjosie’; and recalling how, after the Labour Party’s 1979 victory, Peter Josie confidently declared from the Castries Market Steps: ‘Massa Day Done!’
I still can’t find words to explain why the Josie who taught an entire generation to appreciate its Blackness and its African ancestry would today be quoted as having said publicly that ‘Saint Lucia is not yet ready for a Black Prime Minister…’
As such, I might have asked Peter during the ‘Panel Discussion on Independence’ if he really did say so, whether he was serious and – depending on his answer – what had happened to the Peter the Great we thought we knew; or who the Dickens had taken the peter out of Josie.
And I might have asked Rick what’s different now versus back when he was Premier John Compton’s Press Spokesman and Editor of the UWP’s ‘Vanguard’ newspaper…
But alas, the interview happened without me…
I guess we’ll never know, but that’s for another show…