The road to Virgin Islands independence is a game of chess, not dominoes.

Now, one reason it appears any talk of independence swiftly dissipates into farce is the very nature of the beast. To begin with, the winding, bushy and thorny path to independence is strewn with traps, obstacles and deep holes. The road to independence has never been an easy road.

If one is in any doubt, simply look at history. Hundreds of thousands have died in wars and intrigue leading to national freedom and independence in the Americas, the Caribbean and Africa.

Independence within the Caribbean Community for any overseas territory of Great Britain begins with a clear vision of how that independence is to be achieved, the form of that independence, and how independence will benefit citizens and residents.

If there is no vision of independence, and just a cry for independence, the people who truly matter in the debate — Joe and Jane Public — will remain sceptical and wary. That is one reason natives appear not to want independence: The whole matter of independence has not been explained in a wholesome and effective manner.

 

‘Game of chess’

The road to independence is a complex process. It is a game of chess where every move must be done with great deliberation and calculation.

Talk shows and online arguments for or against independence are a worthwhile exercise. However, for any movement towards independence to be successful, it requires a whole lot more.

First there must be unity of purpose within the territory on how the process is to move along. That requires leadership.

Independence frequently begins with a national referendum after public discussion. But even before a referendum is reached, there will be months, if not years, of discussion and negotiation between the UK and overseas territories at the highest levels.

If there is no unity of purpose, then any effort to push forward the process of greater autonomy and ultimately independence hits the proverbial wall.

For one, the United Kingdom has all the power in the process. And the UK has always been adept at playing the imperial chess game. So the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the powerful mandarins in London know exactly what chess piece goes where on the power board in order to frustrate the process. They have been playing this game since the 1600s.

 

Patience, diplomacy

Consequently, the first step is to decide the process: in other words, how the chess game leading to independence is to be played.

It will require patience. It will require diplomacy. The game will have to be played through public education and public acceptance of the process. The game will have to acquire the trust of over 70 percent of the native and resident population. And the game will have to be played in a disciplined, patient and intelligent manner.

Independence can be likened to a game of football. One side is very experienced in the game, with older players who are adept at both defence and offence. The other side is young and inexperienced, but determined and energetic.

Ultimately, experience will win, until the inexperienced side starts to understand how the game is played to win.

 

Public involvement

That is why any move toward independence by the OTs requires a lot more than talk and emotion. It requires a high level of public involvement; collaboration with big players inside and outside the territory; an understanding of where the country wants to end up after independence; the costs and benefits of independence; and how a new independence constitution can build resilience, greater national security, and long-term social and economic prosperity for the VI.

Without a clear and specific vision of an independent VI in 20 years, the effort of fighting for independence will face continual frustration and roadblock. It will not get anywhere.

 

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