OK, better late than never, but here's my take on Sir John Swan's recent comments to Rotary.
Let's face it, love him or hate him, when Sir John Swan speaks Bermudians (and others) listen. And speak he did.
Sir John's speech recently to Hamilton Rotarians was certainly fiesty, albeit clumsily in its delivery at times. But we'll forgive him for the lack of polish, he's been out of the speech giving game for awhile.
Much of what was said has been covered before in a variety of forums, but when our highest profile and long-serving former Premier with everlasting clout (regardles of his acrimonious final chapter with the public) chimes in after a period of self-confessed restraint, people sit up and pay attention.
No doubt the usual lineup of Sir John's supporters and critics will chime in with the usual comments, ascribing all sorts of motives, some probably correct others probably not, but what will be interesting is to see the knock on effect of this.
At its core, setting aside the well-known examples of Government ineptitude and scandal which he cited, Sir John's speech was a challenge.
It was a challenge to the PLP to clean up their act, to the public to start holding their politicians feet to the fire, to the media to not be intimidated and to the community groups and the business community to speak out.
This could be an opening of flood gates to a less restrained more vocal public in holding politicians accountable for their actions. There have been a steadily rising chorus calling for everyone to stop sitting back while the affairs of the island are so badly managed and unpopular initiatives are rammed down our throats.
So from the perspective of criticising the PLP Government, I'd say the effect could be a freeing up of community restraint/deference to think the best about the Government less than any real insights.
The other quite stinging criticism Sir John made was against the UBP, on the thing that the party just can't seem to shake, which is the racial albatross.
Sir John has taken some whacks at the UBP along these lines in the past, and I posted my impressions back then (follow this link and go the bottom and work your way up from Dec. 29th to early January posts). His comments really haven't changed much this time. They were just more cutting.
So do I agree? Not really.
A little background: my time in the UBP began after the 1998 election loss. I don't have any insights into what went on before then. My experience since '98 is that any suggestion that black members perspectives/interests are dominated by whites is just off base.
To start with, the majority of the UBP MPs eligible to elect the party leader (only MPs have a vote) are black. There are 6 white MPs out of 14. What white leadership is in place could be blocked by the black majority. In fact, I attended a meeting for the first time in awhile recently (too many kids at home!) and I was one of 3 whites in a room of about 20 MPs and candidates.
It's really a catch 22 situation. The UBP gets criticised for having a white leader but is attacked if race is used as a consideration in candidate/leadership selection.
At the end of the day you've just got to make the choice and let the chips fall where they may. The criticism is coming regardless: either there's a white leader or a black leader for window dressing. The party can't win on that, so you just got to accept it and move on.
But, numbers aren't everything. Do a minority of whites hold undue sway or force their agenda through by other means? I just haven't seen it, nor have I seen Sir John around.
That's not to say he isn't in contact, but he's certainly not around in any meaningful way. That's not a criticism, I just wonder who he's talking to and where he reaches that conclusion from?
If the UBP were a party trying to advance a white agenda - whatever that might be - or using blacks to advance white interests, I wouldn't want any part of it.
To me, the UBP's 'struggle' with race is not a negative it's a plus.
Why? People from different racial backgrounds bring different experiences with them, and an inevitable and healthy tension arises when those are all thrown into the mix. That's a good thing. It creates some anger and resentment, it creates some public disputes, but they're the same issues that need resolving throughout the community.
The internal discussions that the UBP has around race have been the most eye-opening I've ever participated in or observed. The main reason (I think) is that everyone gets along and understands that the discussions, which get very heated, are a genuine attempt to develop understanding and share experiences.
But it's not easy. It can be uncomfortable. Participating can be intimidating, but as long as the motives are in the right place then the conflict is productive.
Having a caucus of one race isn't going to produce nearly the quality of discussion and depth of experiences that one with a diverse membership of races, genders, ages, professional backgrounds will.
The UBP's got that, it's not perfect but they've got it. The PLP don't, and don't want it.
My hope is that the community would have as honest and open a discussion about race as the UBP does internally, usually when you least expect it.
I also wish that the UBP wouldn't be so worried about having and leading that discussion externally. It's healthy, because everyone is trying to reach a mutual understanding and respect.
Does it mean that unanimous agreement will be reached? Absolutely not. Does it mean the political opportunists aren't going to take the easy and predictable cheap shots? Yep.
But we can all learn from each other. And that's worth it.