The Independence Conference, pt. 1
“We take our strength, our courage and our wisdom from the people. We are victorious because we have lived up to the majesty of our constitution and the simple decency of our people.” — Sir Lynden Pindling
Fifty years ago, The Bahamas obtained political independence from Great Britain. This was not a unique experience but one that emerged from a confluence of events that culminated in establishing the Commonwealth of The Bahamas at midnight on July 10, 1973.
The road to independence naturally grew out of Majority Rule, which The Bahamas achieved on January 10, 1967. In the years following that historic achievement, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) trained its attention on attaining independence from Great Britain.
Political independence was a significant development for The Bahamas, which joined the independence movement of other Caribbean countries.
Jamaica was the first English-speaking Caribbean country to obtain independence on August 6, 1962, followed weeks later by Trinidad and Tobago on August 31, 1962, and Guyana and Barbados in 1966.
The Bahamas obtained independence in 1973; Grenada in 1974; Dominica in 1978; St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 1979; Belize, and Antigua and Barbuda in 1981; and, finally, St. Kitts and Nevis in 1983. All these countries were former colonies of the United Kingdom.
There are many accounts of the events that led to our political independence in The Bahamas in 1973.
Therefore, this week, we will Consider This… What were some of the salient developments at the Independence Conference that led to The Bahamas’ statehood in 1973?
The Constitutional Conference
The Constitutional Conference on Bahamian independence was held at Grosvenor House in London in December 1972. The Bahamas delegation to the conference included 15 members of Parliament — 11 from the PLP and four from the Free National Movement (FNM).
The PLP delegates included Sir Lynden Pindling, Arthur D. Hanna, Sir Milo Butler, Paul L. Adderley, Carlton E. Francis, Clement Maynard, Cardwell C. Armbrister, and Henry Bowen, all deceased, and the surviving signatories, George Smith, A. Loftus Roker, and Philip Bethel.
Representing the Official Opposition FNM were Sir Kendal G. L. Isaacs, Norman Solomon, both deceased, and the surviving signatories Sir Arthur Foulkes and Sir Orville Turnquest.
To obtain a first-hand account of some of the important events that culminated in our political independence on July 10, 1973, we interviewed several surviving delegates to the Constitutional Conference in December 1972.
This week, we will hear from the personal accounts of George Smith.
We began the interview with Smith, inquiring why the FNM opposed independence leading up to the 1972 general election and whether it was a mistake.
Smith recounted, “In the campaign leading up to the 1972 general election, the FNM’s position was ‘Independence, but not now’, which I thought was a political mistake. By 1972, independence was a very popular issue.”
As it turned out, the 1972 general election was a referendum on the question of independence, which the PLP handily won. That election provided a mandate for the government to proceed with independence.
What was it like to participate in the independence conference in London in December 1972? Was there a team spirit among the delegates, or were there divisions as there had been before the election?
Smith responded, “To have been a delegate to the conference representing the Bahamian people was a singular honor. The atmosphere was amicable. There was no outward display of differences.”
Smith was asked whether he had any concerns about whether the proceedings would go smoothly as the delegates embarked upon the conference that would end with creating a nation. In addition, Smith was questioned about who he was most concerned about – the British, the opposition delegates, or the government party delegates.
He recalled, “I had no real concern that the proceedings wouldn’t go smoothly. The pre-election campaign was designed to inform the people about independence. A Green Paper was published, laying out what could be expected after independence. That was followed by the  general election, which was won comfortably by the PLP.
“A White Paper was then published, which was adopted by the House of Assembly. However, there was some concern about the British wanting The Bahamas to take as citizens an unknown number of persons who had indicated that they wanted to retain their status with the United Kingdom when their former colonies became independent.”
In response to his personal objectives going into the discussions, and what he wanted most to see as a part of the new constitution, Smith replied, “My objectives were to win our independence and have a constitution that was faithful to the promises made to the Bahamian people.”
Regarding the atmosphere at the conference, Smith remembered, “As I indicated before, the atmosphere was pleasant throughout. The British were, as usual, very cordial hosts. They were most pleasant and accommodating during the conference and at the end. We accomplished our objectives. The Bahamas is a free and democratic sovereign nation founded on spiritual values.”
Smith also recalled that “the most memorable moment was the signing of the Instrument of Independence on behalf of the Bahamian people”.
He also recounted, “The most contentious issue was a citizenship matter which was eventually resolved by the prime minister, Sir Lynden Pindling, with the agreement of Sir Kendal Isaacs, meeting with the British Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Edward Heath, to conclude it to the satisfaction of Sir Lynden.”
Smith was questioned about recent discussions in the press that the Official Opposition left the conference before it ended to return home from England.
He said, “To the best of my memory, the delegation (11 PLPs and four FNMs) stayed until the end of the conference, having signed on the signature page. After that, eight left London before Pindling, Hanna, Adderley, Francis, Roker, and I were the last to leave.”
Regarding who, in his opinion, played the most important role at the Constitutional Conference, Smith said, unhesitatingly, “Without a doubt, Sir Lynden Pindling, the leader of the delegation and chief spokesman.”
Questioned about the most significant challenge that faced the delegates going into the conference, and the greatest accomplishment of that group that met in London in 1972, Smith replied, “Agreeing on a constitution that has stood the test of time and clearly lays out how it can be changed.”
The process after the
Smith also recalled that after the conference concluded, he and Pindling remained in London for a short time to work out some of the details and that Adderley and Hanna returned in 1973 to review the final Instruments of Independence with the British government.
The country owes a debt of gratitude to all the founding fathers who convened in London that wintry December to formulate the document that would guide the path of the newest nation seven months later.
Next week, we will discuss the recollections of Foulkes on that historic meeting that culminated in the independent Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
• 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.