That was the essence of the response that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves gave to Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock, when he asked in Parliament last week about the introduction of national honours in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Leacock, an opposition lawmaker, asked Gonsalves if the time has come for St. Vincent and the Grenadines to institute its own system of national awards to recognise, reward and award Vincentians for socioeconomic, political, cultural, sporting and spiritual contribution to the nation.
Leacock suggested national orders of merit, such as the Joseph Chatoyer Award, the Shake Keane Award, JP Eustace Award, Milton Cato Award, George McIntosh Award, and the Order of the Parrot.
In response, Gonsalves said
“… I want to say honestly in relation to national honours: when the country voted to keep the monarchy, metaphorically, it rip my gut.”
He was referring to the referendum a decade ago in which electors rejected proposed changes to the constitution, including replacing Queen Elizabeth as the nation’s head of state with a ceremonial president.
“I understand and I have to abide by it. But we are the first country who has given the monarchy a popular political legitimacy. Before it was something that was a transition from colonialism with a constitution made in Westminster, Whitehall in England — at least fashioned largely there.
“So, strictly speaking, legally and politically, given the consequence of the endorsement given by the people to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth and the British royal family and that Her Majesty is not only Queen of the United Kingdom, she is Queen of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“So, legally, properly speaking, the knighthoods, the dames, the CBE, the CMG, the OBE, the MBE, they are all national awards, because they are the honours of the queen of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who was approved in a referendum.
“But I understand. I can’t get out of me the similar impulse that you have. So even I tell you it shakes up my gut, we have to find a way how we can do it. But you are going to have two parallel awards.
“And what happens in some countries where you have two parallel awards, the local ones are seen as inferior and that of Her Majesty as superior.”
The New Democratic Party, of which Leacock is a vice-president, had campaigned against the proposed changes to the Constitution, although Leacock had said that he was inclined to support the changes, but he is a party man.
Gonsalves said that in his autobiography, “Beyond the Islands” former prime minister Sir James Mitchell, who is founder of the NDP, said something interesting.
He said that in the book, Sir James said that then Minister of Education, John Horne and members of his cabinet wanted to introduce national awards.
“And that is true, because some came through and early in the administration, I brought them here. You can go and see them. They are up at the Government House. They had presented them. They are all tarnished. I don’t know if it’s the quality or they weren’t being treated properly. I don’t know. But he posed this question. He said he went along with it, words to that effect, but he said he asked them this: when you have that, what would happen to my knighthood. You see the conundrum.
“I know this is the second time you have asked me this question and I think we should have a conversation on it because my nationalist juices and those of somebody steeped in our Caribbean civilisation is that we should have some of our nation, but it runs counter to what has happened, so we are going to have two sets of national honours. And how do we resolve them? That’s the question.”