I'd like to start by saying how disappointed I am that I wasn't invited to participate on BIC.
Secondly, for all those who think UBP members won't state where they stand on the big issues, I think Independence was dumb in 1995 and even more stupid in 2004/5.
Ok, so why would the UBP choose not to participate in the BIC? There are two real schools of thought about whether to participate or not. But before we go into that let's just review how we got here.
Put yourself in the Premier and the PLP's shoes. Alex Scott, the Accidental Premier, was thrust into the Premiership without a mandate and a divided team. Over his first year he went from high ratings post-Fabian to abysmal levels of approval - a level it took his predecessor four years to reach. His signature accomplishment (or lack of it), Berkeley, has been an unmitigated disaster, his Social Agenda was a flop, he's done nothing for housing, Renee Webb kicked his ass left right and centre and everyone knows he's out of his league and desperate for something to keep him on top.
So what were his choices? The most obvious was to change the subject. What is the best thing to: simultaneously change the topic, rally his disenchanted base, guarantee (he thought) the UBP would get distracted and off of their winning formula of the past 12 months, and divide them interally while uniting his fragmenting Parliamentary team?
He grabbed for the same issue that John Swan did when he had nowhere to go. Alex figured Independence would be his saviour - and the UBP's downfall.
So he launched the campaign 9 months ago, and where did it go? Nowhere. Why? Because the UBP didn't play ball. The PLP expected the UBP to divide internally, fly off the handle about Independence, drop their agenda of housing, seniors, empowerment, race relations, and become consumed with a non-issue that two-thirds of the electorate don't want, and those who do don't see as a priority.
Ok, so back to where we are today.
The Premier makes an offer to the UBP for one member on his Bermuda Independence Committee. Should they participate or not?
Let's start with the case for participating (in no real order):
1) Participating would put someone on the inside to report back. Well maybe. But to be honest, that committee is going to spring more holes than one of Alex Scott's lame excuses.
2) The UBP could help shape the direction of the committee and influence its outcome. If you buy this one I've got a Causeway to sell you. This committee will produce the report Alex wants. And if they don't he'll send them back until they do - or he'll bury the report. If you really believe that this committee, despite their best intentions, can produce a report recommending against independence you're dreaming.
3) The 'we want a referendum' constituency needs a voice on the committee. The committee hasn't been tasked with answering that question. They've been charged with researching the pros and cons.
4) The UBP castigated the PLP for boycotting the 1995 referendum and should participate this time. Well, only if you think this is a legitimate exercise, which it isn't. But regardless the UBP haven't said we won't participate in the discussion, they've said we won't be on this committee.
5) Independence is the biggest issue out there. Well, not according to the majority of the population. Most people want the government to focus on the issues supposedly being addressed in the Social Agenda. The PLP have been talking up independence and watching their numbers fall. Why hitch should the UBP hitch their wagon to this kiss of death.
Maybe there's a few others, but these strike me as the major ones.
The case against participating:
1) 60% + of Bermudians don't want independence and the vast majority of the rest don't see it as a priority anyway. So why participate in something no-one wants? The UBP is with the majority here, it's the PLP who have to do the convincing. Let them.
2) By participating, the UBP is lending credibility and legitimacy to a fraud of an exercise. I'm with this one. This thing is a complete sham and the Premier knows what he wants. This BIC has been created to put lipstick on this pig as well as create a sense of inevitability. The only person who benefits from the UBP's participation is Alex.
3) Independence is intended to be a distraction to take the UBP off of the things that have hurt the PLP and benefited the UBP. Yep, absolutely. It isn't a coincidence that the Premier launched this when he was getting hammered with bad news, and took 9 months to take step 1. The PLP would like nothing more than the UBP to become consumed with independence and stop talking about the issues that the vast majority of Bermudians care about - and the PLP continue to fail on.
4) The UBP would be prevented from contradicting the recomendation of the BIC if their participated. Well, yes and no. They could produce a minority report, but the outcome is pre-determined anyway. The UBP has much more flexibility on the issue outside of the BIC than they do internally.
5) The BIC reports to Cabinet not Parliament. The committee should report to Parliament on such an important issue and not Cabinet (ie. the Premier first) and the UBP should not support this.
6) The UBP was offered 1 seat on a committee of 13. Not quite a sincere offer to participate is it?
Again, there's more I'm sure. But these are the big issues I think.
Ok, now to dispel a few misconceptions out there.
- The UBP are looking for payback after the PLP boycotted the UBP's 1995 referendum. Nope. Sorry. This isn't payback, and it isn't even a parallel. The UBP have just said they won't participate on this first stage committee. The debate hasn't really started, there's plenty of opportunity to be heard when the time is right, if it ever happens.
- The UBP is hugely internally divided over Independence. Nope again. Sorry to disappoint. I've participated in, and listened to, a number of UBP conversations, both group and individual on independence. No-one, not one person I've heard, supports a general election as the method to determine independence. Everyone supports a referendum, and I'd say the party is heavily against Independence - much more so now than in 1995. A number of prominent UBP members who were ardently pro-independence in 1995 aren't interested now, particularly with the UK passport benefit that we know have.
- The PLP are for independence. Nope (I sense a pattern here). The party may have an official position of wanting it, but the membership isn't so sure. Lots of PLP members are against independence or ambivalent, many don't support doing it via an election and others absolutely don't support Alex's pursuit of it.
- The UBP don't know what to do and have their heads in the sand. Nope. The party knows exactly what it is doing. The reason the whole debate hasn't even moved forward is because the UBP didn't come to the wicket 9 months ago. Alex expected the UBP to become hyper-focused on independence and play on his turf - except they didn't and we all know Alex and this PLP crowd couldn't organise an orgy in a whore-house. Thus, 9 months of nothing.
- People are out collecting petition signatures and the UBP is doing nothing. Nope again. The UBP isn't doing nothing, they're just not on this committee. Collecting signatures for the petition will be very valuable when the Premier tries to ram it through with an election and bypass the electorate.
Ok, so I know all this isn't going to appease some people, because the word 'Independence' to many UBP supporters and Bermudians causes them to flare up like a grease fire - but as soon as they realize it's just another false start they die down until the word is spoken again.
I see very few positives to participating and I think it plays right into Alex's hand as presenting this exercise as legitimate and of value. It isn't. The public are overwhelmingly against this, they don't need to be told what to think, the PLP need to listen for a change and not lecture.
But let's use our heads here and realize that Alex wants nothing more than the whole island to talk about nothing other than independence for the next year or more. Because every word written or spoken on the topic is less time and print spent on corruption, mismanagement, lack of accountability, inaction on housing, crime, seniors, healthcare, education etc.. The UBP have been killing the PLP in Parliament and in the public for many months now. Why should they abandon a winning formula to play Alex Scott's game?
Grant Gibbons and the UBP are absolutely right to continue with their own agenda, and not get distracted by the PLP's shell game. The people actually care about the issues the UBP are talking about, and the party is gaining credibility, rebuilding and becoming the voice for an ignored majority. To become distracted with the non-issue of independence would be a huge mistake and throw away all that has been accomplished in the past 6 years, but particularly in the Alex Scott era.
There will be plenty of opportunities and time to tackle this. But there's no need to lose the plot now and play right into Alex Scott's hands. The PLP have been practically begging the UBP to talk about it and take a position, because they don't know how to sell it on its merits. No-one cares.
Remember, only about 20% of Bermudians want independence. So why spend 90% of our time talking about it?
Therefore, in the spirit of taking my own advice, you'll see very little further comment (you might have noticed little over the past 9 months) on independence.
I'll be focusing on the issues that count. And if you want to hold the PLP accountable and get them voted out you should too. Independence is a distraction not an issue.