Is Secession The Issue? Is Secession The Answer?

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During this post-independence season, I wish to share some thoughts on the issue of political representation, of secession as a consequence, and of a way forward. I would hope they would serve as seeds to germinate into a new discussion and a new vision among Kittitians and Nevisians alike.

Our Holy Bible records that when there is a lack of vision the people will perish. True vision does influence our understanding of what is possible and what will be tolerated in the short term based on a hope that has been cultivated for what the future will hold.

The mode of thinking that got us into a problem cannot be the mode of thinking that will get us out of it. If the intention is to create a better state of affairs instead of just another state of affairs, then a higher (more virtuous, more truth-based) way of thinking has to be used. A vision of a more perfect order of things, a more perfect (desirable) reality will change our perspective. This in turn will enable us to see new possibilities, and to think differently.

With respect to political representation in St Kitts-Nevis, the model that was always used involved a legislative chamber that consisted of an unequal number of seats for St Kitts such that politicians never need the input from Nevis in decision-making and to govern. This is compounded by the fact that there are five established political parties, yet not one of them operates on both islands – worst, none has sought to create with any other any meaningful points of understanding or cooperation (on-going) aimed at strengthening the union. If 5 siblings lived under the same roof in the same manner in which these parties interact with each other, there would be no happiness in the house.

Let us consider the electoral arrangement for Nevis’ local governance.  We have 5 parishes and 5 elected representatives to the Nevis Island Government (NIG) – one per parish. However, let’s imagine a different scenario. Let us imagine the NIG with 11 representatives, of which 8 are assigned to St George and St James, and 3 assigned to the others. You can begin to feel how disharmony may be able to gather root. Someone, however, may say that the population in St George and St James may justify that arrangement. Let us accept that as true. Up to this point in our imaginary scenario, there can conceivably be not a problem. Agreed – but this would remain true only for the short-term. Now, let’s add some more elements.

Further imagine: There is absolutely no one party that operates in both sections.  The parties that do exist (however many you imagine) operate either in St George-St James or in St John-St Paul-St Thomas – this aspect of the scenario is critically important. In our imaginary scenario it does not matter why the parties limit themselves to their respective sections of the island. It does not matter what the respective virtues or strengths of each section or the peoples of each section are. Be assured that, in this scenario, the people of St George-St James will eventually begin to feel superior to and more important than – and will marginalise – those of St John-Paul-Thomas. Eventually, the politicians will do likewise.

I will use some 2001 Census results for Nevis to help make this concept point clearer. The 2001 St George-St James’ population is 4370. This has to grow to at least about 17968 (an increase of 13598 or over 311%) while the St John-Paul-Thomas’ population of 6738 has to remain unchanged in order for the above imaginary scenario to be actualised. This means the population of St George and St James each has to increase by about 6800, which is more than the 2001 St John-Paul-Thomas’ population.  (St Kitts 2001 population is 35217.)

Normal settings for Nevis suffice with a simple “one man, one vote” and one representative per parish, but this scenario (with the 8 and 3 seats) falls so far outside its normal settings that there could not be equitable (think “optimal”) representation without implementing additional measures to make it (the representation) fair .  However, though we looked at an imaginary scenario above for Nevis, ironically it is actually real for us in the Federation. To help us make a better connection with current reality, imagine St Kitts is represented by St George-St James while Nevis is represented by St John-Paul-Thomas.

Why is all this important? For three reasons. It is important to drop the assumption that equal representation always implies equitable representation. This is a situation that is so critically important that it cannot be overemphasised. There is a need to grasp an actual visualised concept that requires intervention beyond the mere equal representation in order to have true equity. It helps to know there are actual working political systems in other counties in which additional steps had to be taken to ensure the populace was equitably (not merely equally) represented.

Secondly, we need to understand the difference between equal and equitable representation so we can begin to understand what additional steps may be necessary to get from the one to the other. And it illustrates a situation that requires us to go beyond mere equal representation in order to have equitable representation. We need to know that when there is an actual difference, we cannot be satisfied with mere equal representation because anything short of genuine equitable representation will breed social unrest of some form.

Thirdly, our visualised concept uses an “imaginary scenario” which is merely a unique twist of perception of our current reality in St Kitts-Nevis to spur our minds into a clearer understanding of our national politics – that we do not have equitable representation. St Kitts may feel she has adequate representation, but there are values and virtues more highly prized than adequate representation. We will all continue to remain the poorer, St Kitts included, as long as true equity is not attained and maintained.

One important learning outcome that can come from these three insights for us here at home is that more (hopefully enough) of us can become sensitised enough to know what changes would be meaningful and what would be band-aids with no substantial impact so we can hold our politicians to become true statesmen with an agenda for the genuine benefit of both islands.

Also, St Kitts-Nevis may be the only country in the world in which none of its political parties has full country coverage. This is really so important that it cannot be overstressed. Among other things, no party can claim a national mandate on anything even if it wins its full offering of seats – and therefore should not be allowed, by itself, to make nationally binding decisions.  Because of this, and because we are separate islands with different historic dynamics, the case can truly be made that we are not really a homogenous people. Thus that which is Nevisian aught to be part of the decision making process – not merely vocalised during the formalising process in the National House after a Cabinet of Kittitians would have decided.  (Please reread this paragraph.

For decades before independence Nevis groaned under the burden of non-existent/insufficient representation. In all these years our plea went unnoticed because we were numerically insignificant within the context of the political model we inherited. We are still using that model, and we are still, in large measure, being ignored.

When Nevis is compared to St Kitts-Nevis, it comes out much more favourably on the scales of population, of land size, and of economic significance than does Hawaii when it is compared to USA on these same scales. So does Hawaii feel inferior to, or ignored by, the Federal Government of the USA (or any of its mainland states)? No. Because their model is based on equitable representation, and centuries of history has proven that when it is absent social unrest always occur.

Now, with increased political agitation from Nevis, we are certainly at the crossroads when we must have the political will to create for ourselves a new model that will have a new function – that of equitable representation based on sincere empowerment and goodwill for and from all sections of the populace. We should not be making cosmetic (band-aid) changes to our current model – we cannot make it do what it was never designed to. Form follows function, and the current structure we are using is the “form” that was determined by (followed) the “function” of equal representation only.  We have to pursue equitable representation, and then together fashion a new structure (form) that supports it.

What then are our options for going forward? We can continue to operate within the vision that produced our current political model (and problems) and that has been socialised into our thinking patterns. The options within that vision are (i) nothing – no change needed, (ii) hoping for a coalition government opportunity, (iii) negotiating to obtain an improved working relationship between politicians on both islands, (iv) secession – whether now or sometime in the near future when the economy is stronger.

Our new higher vision would provide another option for action:  (v) comprehensively rewrite the Constitution as it relates to the political model of representative government. This could cause us to comprehensively socialise our people into a more virtuous and harmonious way of interacting with each other. It must be noted that this option goes much further beyond the implied option of making this country a true federation by giving St Kitts its own local island Assembly – a suggestion which I very seldom hear, if ever I did. This new vision, with its new possibilities, needs to spread among us and then be seeded to our politicians.

Secession, as allowed in the Constitution, is the path of least resistance for Nevis at the moment. If we separate ourselves from St Kitts and leave on less than perfect/loving terms then we would have failed ourselves (yes, ourselves) – unless now we are continually rebuffed on all our efforts to improve our political model of governance, and thus to build the framework for goodwill and growth. I invite readers to cut a path with a new vision and encourage others to walk alongside you in a journey of discovery that empowers everyone equally. Most importantly, let us not make a decision based on dismay with St Kitts because they too are victims of a model of governance that does not engender healthy interactions. With the current model, if Nevis had a population of 35217 and St Kitts had 11108, we would have treated them the same way they are treating us.

I am proposing we lift our inner sight to a higher vision. This gives us the option of embracing higher virtues and seeks nobler goals in how Kittitians and Nevisians interact. We can take our current struggles and make of it a golden opportunity to lift the quality of hope and life in this corner of the world. We can see ourselves, as the old fable goes, as the workman who was simply at a job for living wages or as the workman who saw himself as contributing to building a cathedral for posterity.

I am inviting and challenging my fellow-countrymen to embrace the following noble goal: Demonstrate to our Caribbean siblings that disagreeing siblings can lift their sights and with new vision create a path that improves relationship, enhances representation, and strengthens society. Let us move in sync with the new times that value cooperation over competition and demonstrate that regional unity, not more fragmentation, is desirable enough to delay the instant gratification of secession. Let us set a precedent that will renew the region with the hope that Caribbean Federation may yet still be possible. The urgency of its necessity will take root only after the vision of its possibility is fully received.

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