I for one thoroughly enjoy the award-winning Netflix series, The Crown. By the time season 3 aired I found myself binge-watching episodes instead of doing something arguably more productive (like studying for exams). However, while the series has made me appreciate “Her Majesty the Queen” as a symbol of stability and commitment to duty, by the end of the season, I felt even more strongly about the need for Jamaica to have a local head of state.
The arguments against retaining the monarchy are quite glaring, especially in light of the recent salacious scandal with Prince Andrew. Quite frankly, the lack of discretion demonstrated by the prince serves as one of the best arguments against the monarchy – that it is an institution too dependent on chance.
Ironically, The Crown also provides the best anecdote to support this position. In a system where incredible privilege and authority is bestowed in a hereditary process, why should the competence of the country’s head of state be solely dependent on the flip of a coin or the transferal of the right genes? As Prince Phillip, played by Tobias Menzies, explains in the series, “There have always been the dazzling Windsors and the dull ones… . But alongside that dull, dutiful, reliable, heroic trait runs another, the dazzling, the brilliant, the individualistic and the dangerous… . (So) for every George VI, you get an Edward VIII. For every Lilibet (the current Queen) you get a Margaret.”
This idea trounces any argument proposed for retaining the monarchy. Hereditary succession can lead to the exclusion of more competent members who are simply relegated to the wings while ineptitude is crowned. While The Queen has demonstrated admirable qualities, there is absolutely no guarantee that future royals will demonstrate that ability.
Take Prince Andrew, for example. Commonly known as the ‘Party Prince’, he represents the more dazzling arm of the Windsor family. The recent scandal with Jeffrey Epstein illustrates how even members of that family flagrantly violate the principle of decency. This undercuts the concept that the monarch and her family represent a stable pair of hands in an ever-changing world. Imagine if it was Prince Andrew who was born first. However, the beauty of democracy is that leaders can be jettisoned from office. But wait, in the instance of royalty you serve until death do you part.
Conversely, there are numerous merits of having a local head of state. First, the symbolic role of this position should not be understated. Binkley (1952) supports this notion as, even in the United States, the passing of an unpopular president elicits an emotional response from citizens due to the potency of the symbol of the Office of the Presidency. Nothing divides Jamaica more than the impact of slavery, therefore, how can the British monarchy represent the unity of the nation and the struggles of our people?
With that in mind, Jamaica should pursue being a parliamentary republic. In this system, a locally selected head of state would ideally represent the dreams, aspirations and resilience of our people. He or she should also embody the ideal virtues of society. Jamaica already has someone with such a sterling reputation in the form of our own governor general, Sir Patrick Allen. Thus, this first requirement has already been met.
Furthermore, a locally selected head of state would better reflect the demographics and history of the country. In a society where 99 per cent of the population is of African descent, it is unfortunate that our head of state is a white person who originates from a country that was previously responsible for oppressing coloured people of the world while ushering the largest known example of human trafficking. Reciting “God save the Queen” is like saying, “God protect the descendent of my oppressor”. While the sins of the father do not reflect that of the son (in this case daughter), the whole notion of the virtuous monarch as head of state is extremely flawed.
Moreover, pragmatism should govern our decision-making when tackling the issue of becoming a republic. If one was to look at the current estimates of expenditure, J$290 million is allocated to the governor general and his staff. This means that it is not the United Kingdom that pays His Excellency, it is the Jamaican taxpayer. This is one of those rare instances where “He who pays the piper, does NOT call the tune”.
In addition to that, a locally selected head of state also improves accountability, as any improper conduct can be used for grounds for dismissal. In the rare instance where he may need to intervene in local politics, it would be better for that person to be fully acquainted with local issues and act accordingly.
The time has long passed for Jamaica to become a republic. Taking this decision would not only be one large step for the country but it would symbolise that we as a people are masters of our fate, the captain of our ship.
David Salmon is a first-year public policy and management student at The University of the West Indies and the 2019 recipient of the Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism. To send feedback, he may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.