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All ah we is one family

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Have you ever been to Port-of-Spain for Carnival? I asked Nigel, a Tobagonian in Buccoo. “Nah!” He answered sharply. “Too much violence in Trinidad.”


The next day at Pirate’s Bay, Charlotteville, tourists were talking about a German couple who two days earlier had been tied up and robbed on the beach. They were rescued only when their friend’s yacht appeared, ready for a pre-planned barbecue. 


The Charlotteville locals were blaming Trinidadians for the robbery, as Tobagonians often do when some robbery has taken place. 


“I saw the car they were in, it was Trinidadian,” somebody said. But can you really differentiate between cars registered on either island? 


It was symbolic of the suspicion and resentment some Tobagonians harbour towards their brothers and sisters on the larger island. It’s similar to Scottish or Welsh resentment towards the English—the position of underdog, the gnawing feeling of being ignored, under-represented, even oppressed.


So, why the resentment? There is inequality in budget and resources, yes. But is that not to be expected when one island has one-tenth of the population of the other?


The fact that the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) has no treasury of its own and relies on the cash distribution of Trinidad’s central government is a major standpoint of autonomist parties such as the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) party. So is the fact that Tobago gets punished according to the political swing of the bigger island. When the United National Congress (UNC) is in power, there is the belief that budgets are slashed. Hence why Tobago perpetually swings back to the PNM. 


One wonders if there will ever be sufficient groundswell of support to hold a referendum on Tobagonian independence, as will happen in Scotland in September this year. 


It would require consistent political victories for a separatist party—like the Scottish National Party has achieved in multiple elections—not the recent, momentary victory of the TOP which quickly ebbed away. 


It would require people like Deborah Moore-Miggins and Hochoy Charles to collaborate and it would need to enthuse the people of Tobago about politics. It is an island more obsessed with religion than social issues.


Politics aside, separatism is often rooted in culture and attitudes. Politically, T&T has had a Tobagonian PM. The current opposition leader is Tobagonian and spends most weekends there. Gordon Brown, Britain’s last PM, was Scottish. So was Tony Blair, technically. 


But behaviours and customs define “people.” And the people of the two islands that make up T&T look different, talk different, lime different, dance different. They eat the same things, broadly speaking.


“Trinis come to Tobago and treat it like their little play island,” a hotelier from Trinidad who owns a hotel in Tobago told me. 


Many don’t get further than Store Bay let alone the beautiful, mountainous, densely-forested parts like Moriah, Arnos Vale or Castara. 


Videos of Trinidadians “cooling down” at Pigeon Point after Carnival are as embarrassing to me as Brits on the Costa del Sol. Colonisation by tourists is always unattractive, but can you be a tourist in your own country?


As Health Minister Fuad Khan recently claimed, “Tobago is part of Trinidad!”


It is that kind of hegemonic attitude—perpetuated in simple things like people still referring to this paper as the Trinidad Guardian—that has existed since 1962 when headlines declared, “Trinidad Is Now A Nation,” and still exists.


The history of the two islands—bound together at random by the British in 1889—is entirely different. 


The two societies were thrown together even though many believe it would have made more sense if Tobago had been twinned with Barbados and Trinidad with Grenada. 


But plurality of culture in a nation is normal and beneficial. And T&T has seen little of the animosity that defines England and Scotland’s past.


England oppressed the Scots (and Irish and Welsh) for centuries. From Roman times the Picts in Scotland and Celts in Wales were beaten back, colonised, subdued, left to dwell in mountains and caves where the Romano-British and later the Anglo Saxons did not care to venture. 


Later, England conquered, raped and pillaged in bloody historic battles with the Scots and ruled over them exploitatively just as in Africa, Asia and the Americas. 


In 1706, the Act of Union bound the separate entities of the UK into one. 


“What began as a hostile merger would end in a full partnership in the most powerful going concern in the world,” says historian Simon Schama.


This year the union will be tested by a referendum on Scottish independence. Educated Scots are torn on which way to vote. 


For the uneducated, baser reasoning will prevail, based on historic hatred and sectarianism. 


Like most English people, I hope Scotland votes to remain in the UK. The days of conquest passed long ago, replaced by longstanding friendship and respect.


Economically, Scotland (and Tobago) would struggle. Then there are the logistics. 


Would Scotland have its own army, stock exchange and EU membership? If so, what is to stop Catalonia and the Basque region gaining independence and EU status?


Should Quebec secede from Canada? Texas from America? Would Wales be next to leave Great Britain and what about Cornwall, Isle of Man, the Channel Islands? Should St Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla, Antigua, Barbuda and each of the Bahamas and Grenadines islands be separately governed?


Jamaica’s motto is “Out of Many, One People.” I agree with that sentiment. It doesn’t matter how different we are, we can all get along, aspire and achieve.


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