Good morning Turks and Caicos.
On this, our national day, named after our national hero, the late Honourable James Alexander George Smith McCartney, we are being asked by the organisers to talk to one of the most important challenges facing the Turks and Caicos Islands today, a challenge that impacts directly on our future. I’m grateful to them for choosing the theme: ‘rebuilding the dream; a unified nation’ because it gives us all much to think about.
Beyond celebrating our national day and our national hero, nations have other symbols: a national flag would be an example and a national anthem – and in TCI’s case also a much loved national song. So while I will start with the flag, and then go on to reflect on our national hero, I will end with the words of Dr Reverend Howell, because just nineteen words in our national song are helpful in answering the challenge we have been set.
Today a symbol of our Territory, the Turks and Caicos Islands Flag, is flying proudly not only here but also at the main entrance to the Westminster Parliament. Even as I say that, I recognise the awkwardness, and I have thought hard about it, that a British Governor is invited to talk on a day named after your national hero whose political agenda in the 1970’s was to actively set the conditions to break the link with the UK.
As a Governor you have been beyond courteous, and polite, and you have made me feel very welcome here and having noted the connection between the UK and TCI, I now stand before you – I hope – not just as a ‘British Governor’ but as your Governor, on our national day, but with the humility of someone who knows they are an outsider, someone who will never be a Turks and Caicos Islander, somebody who can never understand your experience in the way you can and who for some people will always represent something at best they feel uncomfortable about.
It’s worth me recognising that – and saying that – yet I must also say to you that I have never felt so committed to doing the very best I can, for any group of people, as I have felt towards you since my arrival. You are a remarkable people – you inspire loyalty and TCI is a bewitching place that it is easy to fall in love with; and I have. That sentiment you inspire, which I know is not unique to me, is worth remembering when we talk of building unity. So what I now go on to say, I say not with awkwardness but with affection.
Others have eulogised the Honourable JAGS McCartney far better than I can because they knew the man – and I didn’t. Instead permit me to look at the leadership qualities he demonstrated and lessons we might learn linked to the challenge we have been set. As I do that, I’ll focus on three words: ‘dream’, ‘unity’ and ‘nation’ and perhaps ask some difficult questions.
The need for urgency. Stop dreaming, start acting:
The first big lesson is that our only national hero had moved way past ‘dreaming’ – he was explicit on this – to a very clear idea of what a unified nation would look like. He wasn’t dreaming – he had vision and through that mission; and there’s the difference. A dream is aspirational, whereas a mission gives you an achievable aiming point, a point on the horizon to march towards. Even as circumstances change you can keep a steady bead on your destination and crucially you’ve told others where it is, so they don’t only follow you, but also play their own part in leadership.
I don’t think JAGS would therefore want us to spend too much time dreaming. In his 1979 Unity speech he was explicit: “This is not an idle dream’ – he said – ‘it is not impossible, I see it, I feel it, it is real, indeed I am living in it already.”
I do think JAGS would, as a practical politician, recognise the challenge of ‘unity’ in TCI now goes well beyond the complexity of 1979 when he captured the issue of disunity in his speech as one of “separation by distance and water”.
Today that disunity caused by physical separation may still be the case, others can comment although I slightly rejoice in the diversity of the Islands, but there is also a far more pressing and evident separation, a separation of cultures and ethnicities not between Islands but within Islands, and within TCI, and on present projections TCI’s population will reach 70,000 by 2040 – a growth of 10 times since JAGS day. All that now seriously complicates the issue.
There is though a far more optimistic reason why there is urgency and that is where we should focus. We are going to come out of this pandemic stronger than we went into it and with momentum. I am absolutely of the view, and I believe I share this with many including the present Premier and his Cabinet and the Leader of the Opposition, that the next decade is ‘ours’. There is absolutely no reason why we don’t arrive at 2030 as one of the most prosperous, well governed and most admired Islands in the region with a global brand that screams glamour, talent, and youthful optimism but crucially also offers rock solid stability. Unity is critical to that last word, ‘stability’. As we arrive at that future what we now don’t need is internal division which undermines internal stability.