Jamaica a republic: Time has indeed come

Diane Abbott

Sunday, January 22, 2012

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THE announcement by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller that she wants to move forward to having a Jamaican head of state is very appropriate in the 50th year of Jamaican Independence.


It is important to stress that it will in no way threaten the strong political, economic, cultural and social links between Britain and Jamaica.


The first thing to bear in mind is that it will not mean Jamaica leaving the Commonwealth. There are a number of republics that remain happily in the Commonwealth. Notable amongst them are India, Dominica, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. The fact that they are republics has in no way weakened their ties with Britain. Most of the practical benefits to Jamaica from the British link come from membership of the Commonwealth. This can continue.


The ties between Britain and its former colonies have remained largely because most of the first generation of Commonwealth leaders studied in Britain. But this was a more important psychological link than whether or not the Queen was the head of state of those countries.


However, over the years, the ties have weakened mostly because of the inexorable tide of North American popular culture and the rise of alternate economic powers, notably China.


Of course, there remains a huge sentimental regard for the Queen amongst ordinary Jamaicans. My own mother was typical in this regard. Portia wisely reflected this when she made a point of saying how much she personally loved the Queen.


This affection for the Queen has some historical basis. Jamaican slaves regularly appealed over the heads of their own planter class to the British monarchy for justice. They saw the monarchy as their protectors against the harshest aspects of chattel slavery.


I became a member of the British Parliament in 1987. My mother was obviously thrilled. But I have no doubt that the highlight of that year for her was the opportunity to attend the State Opening of Parliament and see the Queen in person wearing her ceremonial robes and glittering crown.


Some Jamaicans might worry that the British will feel that it is a snub if Jamaica chooses to become a republic. In fact, I suspect that if most British people were asked they would assume that Jamaica is already a republic. Scotland is reaching the climax of a long campaign for its own independence. If a country that forms part of the British Isles can contemplate becoming a republic, why not Jamaica?


Jamaica finally becoming a republic would represent a coming of age for the country. Ideally it should be done on an all-party basis. Admirers of Jamaica all over the world will wish Prime Minister Simpson Miller well in steering the Jamaican ship of state into the safe harbour of republic status. The time has come.


Diane Abbott is the British Labour party's shadow public health minister


www.dianeabbott.org.uk



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