St. Kitts and Nevis Independence: The Labour Party’s Historic Boycott and Constitutional Controversies

In 1983, as the Union Jack was lowered and the flag of St. Kitts and Nevis rose, marking a historic moment of independence, the absence of the SKN Labour Party’s leadership from Warner Park spoke volumes. Led by Attorney and former Premier Lee L Moore, the party chose to boycott all independence celebrations and related activities.

Their stance stemmed from vehement objections to the newly proposed constitution, which they deemed a ‘sellout to British interests’ and a ‘recipe for internal strife and disaster.’ Western diplomats noted Moore’s dissatisfaction, primarily due to its perceived disruption of the Labour Party’s 25-year political dominance in St. Kitts.

The 1980 elections had seen Moore’s party secure the highest number of votes, yet control of the legislative assembly slipped from their grasp to a coalition led by Simmonds’ Peoples Action Movement and the Nevis Reformation Party. The latter emerged from Nevisian dissatisfaction with the Labour party’s historical disregard for their concerns.

This sentiment mirrored the grievances that had led to Anguilla’s separation. The new constitution, drafted largely by Simmonds and his supporters, granted Nevis its own legislative assembly and a greater share of parliamentary seats.

The Constitutional Conference in London in 1982 laid bare the disagreements, especially concerning special provisions for Nevis. Despite the hurdles, the pursuit of independence pressed on, culminating in the formal achievement on September 19, 1983.

The new constitution established a twin island federation, affording Nevis its autonomous administration and the option for potential secession following a referendum. St. Kitts, on the other hand, would be governed solely by the Federal Government. This marked a significant shift in the responsibilities for internal and foreign affairs, placing them squarely in the hands of the State’s citizens and their chosen representatives.

Lee Moore’s apprehension was rooted in the fear that this shift would signal the end of Labour’s political dominance in favor of a Simmonds-Nevis coalition. The boycott of the independence celebrations reflected the deep-seated political divisions that marked this crucial moment in St. Kitts and Nevis’ history.

The road to independence was fraught with political tension, but ultimately, it led to the birth of a sovereign St. Kitts and Nevis, with a new constitutional framework that addressed the concerns of both islands.

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