It's time for Jamaica to say goodbye to the Queen

A friend of mine once told me how her son, then eight years old, had thrown a tantrum and threatened to walk out on her. She dared him. Fuming, he packed and prepared to set out. He never did. By nightfall he realised that his bravado couldn't survive the big, bad world outside.

His reaction is emblematic of Jamaica's relationship with the UK. There has always been rage against Britain, for almost 200 years of slavery and more than 100 years as a wrung-out colonial dishrag. But we've generally huffed and puffed and done nothing about it.

Now Jamaica has seemingly summoned up the cojones to go one better than my friend's son: it's putting out the old lady (in this case, the Queen).

The pledge of the new prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, to sever Jamaica's umbilical link with the British monarchy has won her populist praise from citizens who are, paradoxically, fierce anticolonialists and passionate Anglophiles. In her inaugural address last Thursday, Simpson Miller warned that the sun was setting on the British empire's last vestige of "ownership". She declared: "We now need to complete the circle of independence ... Time come!"

Of course, a vow to detach from the monarchy, with an "indigenous president as head of state", is nothing new. Buckingham Palace does not exert control over Jamaica's political affairs. Not the budget. Not policy. Not the price of bread. But a country that has produced a pan-African Marcus Garvey, an anti-establishment Bob Marley and a royalist-resistant Rastafarian movement has always chafed at the notion of Europe having titular claim to our shores.

Many Jamaicans consider it offensive and outdated to have retained a governor general as a figurehead of "our" Queen. What are the benefits? After all, there is no automatic right to British citizenship by virtue of having the Queen. Hell, some Jamaicans sweat it out on the sidewalk outside the British high commission before being allowed to undergo screening for a visitor's visa.

And there are other sentiments that embitter the brew. Calls to replace London's judicial committee of the privy council with the Caribbean court of justice, as Jamaica's final appellate jurisdiction, have triggered debate. Many Jamaicans believe the privy council has sought to obstruct capital punishment. A culturally less tone-deaf CCJ, the argument goes, would allow regional governments to hang some hoodlums.

With a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives and needing only one vote from the opposition in the senate, the odds are in favour of Simpson Miller making good on her promise to disengage from the privy counsellors.

But the belief that heads will roll and crime will plummet once the CCJ takes over is for the gullible: only a handful of Jamaicans are on death row. Simpson Miller, who is serving her second term as prime minister after her People's National party kicked out the Jamaica Labour party in the 29 December election, is aware that there is political mileage in this emotional issue. If she's smart, she'll milk it for all it's worth.

But here's the contradictory bit. In an opinion poll commissioned by the Gleaner newspaper, 60% of Jamaicans said they believed the country would have been better off had it remained a colony of Britain. Only 17% said the country would be worse off.

This is not only the nostalgia of senior citizens who grew up pre-independence; even younger generations view neighbouring British dependencies such as the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands as having a higher quality of life. Why? They don't notch 1,000 murders annually. They don't have sprawling slums. And per capita GDP in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands dwarfs Jamaica's.

We love Britain: its fish'n'chips; the adorable accent; the BBC; the pounds sterling in immigrant remittances; The stiff upper lip. the ability to impose law, order, propriety. We just don't want the royal brand.

Folks are also angry at David Cameron's threat to withdraw aid from Commonwealth countries such as Jamaica that criminalise "buggery". The overwhelming rebuke from letter writers and talk-show callers was: "Bugger off, Britain! Keep your money."

Simpson Miller finally has the mandate she missed out on in the 2007 general election. Now, she's seeking to define her legacy. And Britain will just have to deal with the sore reality of a Jamaican boot to Regina's royal rump.

By André Wright, comment editor of Jamaican newspaper the Gleaner.

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