When new members of parliament swear an oath to the Queen it is not ceremonial. It is a ceremony, of course, important and often moving. But its core is substantial. It is an oath to respect and uphold our constitutional order.
The Queen of Barbados (or the King, as the case may be) is the head of state, in whose name governments govern and in whose person, constitutionally speaking, all sovereign authority is invested. As such she is the font of all law and justice.
And yet her role is itself tightly bound by law: the office may be hereditary, but it carries duties rather than privileges. The system of constitutional monarchy under which we are governed is the legacy (colonial) of a long popular struggle to constrain arbitrary power and to safeguard liberty ( for her/his subjects) under the law.
Swearing allegiance to the Queen and her heirs gives us the right to change the oath. With this in mind why do successive governments in Barbados choose not to do so?
Temporary Senator, Delisle Bradshaw, takes the oath of office before Governor General Dame Sandra
The oath – which is a constitutional requirement for MPs, and a legal obligation for new citizens and many officials within our system of government and justice – is a pledge to respect the deepest and highest principles of the Barbados Constitution. And those principles include the right to freedom of belief and conscience, democratic participation and the working of change by peaceful and democratic means.
When new MP’s swear an oath to the Queen, they are not promising to personally serve an 88-year-old woman who lives in Buckingham Palace. To take the oath does not mean that you are a monarchist. It means that you recognize and accept the Barbados system of democratic, rights-based government, which the Crown is supposed to symbolize. That constitutional system includes the absolute right to advocate and work for the rewriting of the oath – and even to bring about the end of the monarchy itself. So why have successive governments not made the move to rewrite the oath, pledging allegiance to the people of Barbados?
Want a constitutional monarchy with, say, the governor-general as the head of state? An elected head of state? No head of state? Want to write the Queen out of the oath, or get rid of all oaths? You can take the oath to the Queen, and then work for that. To do so will not offend the Queen, the law or the Constitution. Working through violent or illegal means would be a failure to bear true allegiance, as promised in the oath. But to advocate legally, non-violently and democratically for a change in Barbados’s laws or system of government, including even the abolition of the monarchy? To do so would respect the Constitution that the monarchy represents.
Should the oath to the Queen be rewritten? The Constitution, like the oath itself, neither demands nor forbids it. It leaves that question to the only people qualified to decide: Barbadians and their democratically elected governments.
Your MP has been elected to represent you, yet when they take their seat in parliament they will pledge their allegiance to the Queen. In this democratic age that’s just wrong.
The Barbados Parliament is the democratically elected body that represents the interests of Barbados and its people, makes laws for Barbados, and holds the Barbados Government to account.
Despite being elected by you to represent the people, when sworn into parliament MPs don’t swear allegiance to the Barbados or to its people, but instead to our unelected monarch, her heirs and successors.
A map of Barbados from Richard Ligon’s ‘A True and Exact History of the Island
The oath is an insult to our democratic values, and to you and all voters who participate. It has to change.
Should we the people of Barbados call on our elected representatives to pledge allegiance to us and not the Queen of Britain and her heirs? This is the royal/not so royal family, that brought us into these lands in the carry beyond, to slave for their own greedy and selfish interest. This is the same family and people who gave reparations to the plantations owners and not the oppressed slaves. Never forget! Do they really deserve our allegiance?
I Simba Simba personally think that we the people of Barbados should use the Emancipation Day Celebrations 2018 to start petitioning the government to change the oath. Let us start deconstructing the residues of a colonial past as we move onward on the journey to fully emancipating ourselves.
Please note that this is the 9th article in the series of 10 that will facilitate the Emancipation Day Challange. We do hope that you will take the challenge and encourage friends, family and children to also take the challenge. Take it together as a family activity. Give each family member that can do the challenge a number of questions to answer. Compile all answers, discuss them and send them in so that your family can be a winner.