Op-Ed

Maintaining the monarchy, pt. 1

“Over the years to come, one thing is for certain: if the monarchy wishes to stay relevant and in power, it will have to change more.” Kate Williams

Shortly after landing in London, England, on Thursday, September 8, 2022, Senator Barry Griffin and I took a train to Cambridge University to participate in a financial services industry symposium at that historic institution.

While settling into my Cambridge hotel room, as is my custom after such long trips, I surfed the TV channels to learn what had transpired since leaving Nassau 24 hours earlier.

I settled on the breaking news from the BBC. The coverage of the private jet on the tarmac in Scotland that had just arrived from London bearing the immediate members of the royal family who were urgently summoned to the bedside of Queen Elizabeth II clearly informed the world that the monarch’s health was rapidly waning.

The reports from Balmoral Castle, the Sovereign’s Scottish summer home, were ominous. Although the broadcasters reported that the doctors attending to Her Majesty were cautiously guarded about her condition, the only logical conclusion that could be drawn about the queen’s health, given that her immediate family had been urgently summoned to Balmoral, did not portend a favorable prognosis.

Not long into the broadcast, the BBC reported that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II had passed away, ending the 70-year reign of the longest-serving British monarch. The broadcaster immediately speculated what her passing would mean to the United Kingdom (UK), the Commonwealth, and the monarchy.

Although the broadcasters were dutifully and understandably respectful of the queen’s passing in the solemn British tradition, the recurring theme they returned to was what would happen next. In many quarters, including The Bahamas, speculation abounds regarding the future of the British monarchy.

Therefore, this week, we will consider this — what is in store for the British monarchy in the post-Elizabethan era?

The British Empire

As far back as the 16th Century, under Queen Elizabeth I, Britain began to expand its empire, spreading that country’s rule and power beyond its borders through a process often referred to as imperialism. This brought hugely transformative changes to societies, industries, cultures, and people’s lives worldwide.

With land, trade, and literal human resources, the British Empire expanded its power. Profitability was vital to British expansion, and the age of exploration brought wondrous and addictive delights and challenges to the British Empire.

By 1913, the empire had grown to rule over 400 million people, making it the largest empire in history, constituting 23 percent of the world’s population.

At its zenith, the British Empire covered 25 percent of the world’s land surface, including large swathes of North America, Australia, Africa, and Asia. At the same time, other areas — especially in South America — were closely linked to the empire by trade.

Unquestionably, the British Empire was a worldwide system of dependencies brought under the sovereignty of the Crown of Great Britain and the administration of the British government for more than three centuries.

As a result of its size, it became known as “the empire on which the sun never sets”.

Although there is no single answer to the question, the collapse of British imperial power can be traced “directly to the impact of World War II”, according to the BBC.

As time passed, the empire was overstretched and, combined with growing unrest in various colonies, these factors, among others, led to the swift and decisive decline of many of Britain’s critical assets, some diplomatically, others violently.

Decolonization and national independence

In 1947, India became independent following a non-violent civil-disobedience campaign spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi. Over the next three decades, other countries rapidly and decisively opted for national independence from Great Britain.

In 1957, the Gold Coast became the first sub-Saharan African colony of the British Empire to achieve independence when Ghana became a sovereign state.

Interestingly, several countries adopted The Statute of Westminster 1931 that delineates the basis for the relationship between Commonwealth realms and the British Crown.

Enacted on December 11, 1931, the Statute of Westminster increased the sovereignty of the self-governing Dominions of the British Empire from the UK.

It also bound them to seek each other’s approval for changes to monarchical titles and the common line of succession.

The statute also removed nearly all the British Parliament’s authority to legislate for the Dominions and made them essentially sovereign nations. It was a basic step in developing the Dominions as separate states.

The countries that adopted the Statute of Westminster included Canada, Ireland, and South Africa in 1931, Australia in 1942, and New Zealand in 1947.

Those countries obtained complete independence from Great Britain in the following years: Ireland in 1949, South Africa in 1961, Canada in 1982, and Australia and New Zealand in 1986.

In the Caribbean, former British Caribbean island colonies achieved independence in their own right and in rapid succession: Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago in 1962, Barbados and Guyana in 1966, The Bahamas in 1973, Grenada in 1974, Dominica in 1978, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 1979, Antigua and Barbuda and Belize in 1981, and St. Kitts and Nevis in 1983.

In nearly 21 years, virtually all the English-speaking Caribbean former colonies were sovereign states, with the concomitant result of self-determination.

The last significant colony of the British Empire was Hong Kong, which was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

The British Empire does not exist today.

The Commonwealth

The Commonwealth, however, is a free association of sovereign states comprising the UK and many of its former colonies and dependencies.

The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 56 countries that work together toward shared goals in democracy and development. The Commonwealth is home to over two billion citizens of numerous faiths and ethnicities, over 60 percent of whom are under 30.

Commonwealth member countries span multiple continents and oceans from Africa (21 countries) to Asia (eight countries), the Americas and the Caribbean (13 countries), Europe (three countries), and the South Pacific (11 countries).

The Commonwealth realms

The UK and 14 other independent sovereign states that share the same person as their monarch and head of state are called Commonwealth realms. Although the monarch is shared, each country is sovereign and independent of the others, and the monarch has a different, specific, and official national title and style for each realm.

The 15 Commonwealth realms are: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and the UK.

Conclusion

The question that must be addressed in the post-Elizabethan era is whether the monarchy remains relevant to the people and events of the 21st Century and beyond. What are the pros and cons of maintaining the British monarch as the head of state in these 15 realms? And, ultimately, what are the pros and cons of maintaining the British monarchy at all?

These and other questions will be addressed in next week’s column.


• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Bahamas, Advisors and Chartered Accountants. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to
pgalanis@gmail.com. 

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