ON October 27, 1979, St Vincent and the Grenadines officially became an independent country.

The change marked an end of centuries of colonisation for the small island nation, which sits west of Barbados in the Caribbean sea.

British rule – and Scotland in particular – left no small mark on the country, which 44 years on from becoming independent is still struggling to piece together its own history.

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Dr Cleve Scott, a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, is one of four historians tasked with writing a comprehensive record of the story of St Vincent and the Grenadines by the nation’s government.

“Most of it is, you could say, relatively non-existent,” Scott told The National. “You have a footnote here and there.

“This is an attempt to try to put together all the bits and pieces that exist all over.”

A history of colonisation

The academic said that “young, post-independence, post-colonial states” like St Vincent and the Grenadines were still “trying to grapple with the difficulties of development, education, literacy rates, basic amenities like water, electricity”.

And Scots share no small part in the blame for the lingering negative impacts of colonisation on the island nation.

“We do know that during the colonial period the majority of estate owners here were from Scotland, and particularly from the Highland region,” the lecturer said.

“That's why you have so many Vincentians with Scottish names. I have Scottish names on both sides of my family.

“In fact, my middle name is McDonald and my last name is, as you know, Scott.”

But Scott said that Vincentians in general do not distinguish between colonisers, labelling them all “British”.

He went on: “When Britain left at independence, we inherited very old and underdeveloped infrastructure.

“What we're trying to underscore is that these territories have to try to solve some of the damages done during colonialism, and still fight to exist in a postmodern world with a plantation structure.”

Making its mark on the world stage

One way in which St Vincent and the Grenadines has used its independence is through international diplomacy, an area over which it had no power as a British “associated state” from 1969 until 1979.

“Milton Cato, who took the country to independence, immediately began to establish diplomatic relations with different countries,” Scott said.

“Now, in recent times, you have Dr Ralph Gonsalves (below), who has been prime minister [since 2001].

"He has sought to extend its diplomatic reach by forming relations with Middle East countries, African countries, and relationships in Latin America.”

The National:

Scott highlighted that St Vincent and the Grenadines sat as a temporary member of the United Nations Security Council for two years from January 2020, and in January 2023 assumed presidency of Celac, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.

The small nation of some 110,000 people was also praised for its leadership during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, a time during which it was chair of the Caribbean Community (Caricom).

Furthermore, just two years after independence, St Vincent and the Grenadines became a founding member of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) economic union.

This all demonstrates that being independent has allowed St Vincent and the Grenadines to make its mark through international diplomacy, Scott said.

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“St Vincent has been trying to strengthen its diplomatic reach to make itself more relevant on the international stage,” the historian said.

“Through diplomatic moves you can increase your footprint and, as we like to say in the region, you demonstrate you can punch above your weight.

“The prime minister himself has concentrated a lot on improving the image internationally because part of his policy is that you can use diplomacy to help develop the country, so that you are able to attract funding from India, from Morocco, for example.”

However, a threshold of a two-thirds majority, imposed at the time of independence, has proven a barrier to further change, Scott argued. 

In 2009, the nation held a referendum which would have seen Queen Elizabeth ditched as head of state and London’s Privy Council removed as its final court of appeal. However, change was rejected by 56% to 44%.

In 2022, prime minister Gonsalves proposed holding another referendum on the single issue of removing the British monarchy. 

Independence celebrations 

The National:

The significance of independence to people in St Vincent and the Grenadines has only grown with time, Scott said, and it now marks “one of the biggest dates on the country’s calendar”.

The academic said: “It begins with a military parade, then usually the prime minister announces a series of economic packages and also he announces the names of ambassadors, sporting and cultural ambassadors.

“Then right after that you have activities through the length and breadth of the country. You have concerts, fairs, sporting activities, shows, all kinds of events. It's a big celebration. And now, this is 44 years. Over time, the meaning of independence has become bigger.

“Independence is as big as – or even bigger than – Nine Mornings [a festival unique to the nation and believed to have sprung up after emancipation], Easter or Carnival.

“People wearing national colours, yellow, green and blue. The city right now you'll find draped in banners and so on, just as in America, when they do it on July 4.”