[From Mannin #8, 1916]
WHILE it would be an exaggeration to say that a movement in favour of the abolition of our ancient Legislature actually exists, yet there is no doubt that the word 'Annexation' - a word loosely but conveniently used in this connection-has recently been used more frequently both in our local press and on public platforms.
It is not easy to name any particular point in Manx political history as the begetter of this idea, or the exact date of its birth, but it may probably be said to have originated from the political movement in England which resulted in the introduction of Estate Duties, Old Age Pensions, and Insurance against sickness and unemployment. Recent events, such as the disaster which the war has brought upon a considerable section of our population, the greater cost of living caused by the war, and the increase of indirect taxation, have undoubtedly turned the minds of many in this direction, and have caused some, whose patriotism and love of our ancient institutions are undoubted, to wonder whether, after all, our independent legislature and judiciary, dear as they are to all Manxmen, are not maintained at too great a cost, and whether the sacrifice of these might not be more than compensated for by the benefits which a full share in English legislation could give.
If this was the case, if the condition of the Manx people was so desperate that no remedy was to be found except in the entire abolition of our old institutions and in the merging of our national individuality in that of our larger neighbour, then, however grievous such a step would be to all who hold our ancient institutions dear, there could be no doubt as to the road to traverse, and the aim of all patriotic Manxmen would be to sacrifice all sentiment rather than that the prevent generation should be encumbered by the trammels of the past. It is, however, in the strong belief that no such sacrifice is necessary or even desirable that this article is contributed to a periodical one of whose objects is the preservation of all that is best in our national heritage.
The power to manage their own affairs is the root principle of all democracies, and it is this that all small communities so earnestly desire and strenuously strive to obtain, and no method of obtaining this power exists other than by the creation and preservation of local assemblies, conversant with and readily accessible to the people in each locality.
The agitation for Home Rule among the Irish Nationalists, the opposition to Home Rule in Ulster, the growing feeling in favour of separate legislative bodies in Scotland and Wales, for the purpose of dealing with their local affairs, are instances of this desire, and it would indeed be strange if, when the whole trend of public feeling is towards decentralisation in this respect, the Manx nation, who has possessed for so long those institutions which other communities seek so earnestly to obtain, should deliberately cast away the considerable measure of independence that she enjoys.
For the abolition of our national Legislature would not give us greater independence; on the contrary, we should have little or none, and instead of having our present power of deciding to a large extent what measures are or are not desirable for ourselves, we should be entirely at the mercy of the Imperial Parliament in every respect, and would be obliged to accept whatever measures were thrust upon us, without any question as to their desirability or the reverse, while any purely local measures that we might wish to pass could not become law with the present cheapness and despatch, but would involve the promoters in a cost which would, in many cases, be prohibitive, and would always be subject to the delays and vicissitudes of Parliamentary procedure.
Assuming that the object which the Manx nation desires to attain is greater power to manage her own affairs, it must be clearly understood that under no conceivable circumstances is it possible for her to obtain entirely free and uncontrolled management of them, and, indeed, it is far from certain that such absolute independence would be desirable, and probably the opinion of the majority is that a certain control-by the imperial over the local authority-is imperative and salutary, as introducing a wider outlook and more breadth of view into what would otherwise tend to become narrow and parochial.
But this question need not be argued. After all, we form but a small part of a great Empire, and our geographical position and close connection with the centre of that Empire places this penalty - if penalty it is-upon us, whether we like it or not. It follows, therefore, that this management of our own affairs which we desire, must necessarily be a management subject to some control on the part of the Imperial authorities, and it is not to be supposed, in view of the recent Report of the Home Office Commission, that the control of the Imperial Authorities will be curtailed, and agitations with this end in view and an obstinate refusal to recognise what is inevitable, can have no other result than to irritate the authorities and to bring both us and our institutions into contempt.
But this is far from saying that there are not other directions to which we might direct our energies in endeavouring to attain more control over the management of-our affairs, for though the preservation of our Insult Legislature is desirable, it is far from being a perfect machine, and the Report of the Home Office Commission sets out with sufficient clearness some of the directions in which salutary changes can be made, without any objection on the part of the Imperial Authorities, and other no less salutary changes in the popular branch of the Legislature will readily occur to the mind.
If these anachronisms were removed, it would be hard to discoverer a Legislature which so directly represented the national will, and certainly the House of Keys could justly lay claim to represent the Manx people far better than an English constituency is represented by its members of Parliament, and infinitely better than the Manx people would be represented by one or two representatives in the House of Commons.
We have no carpet-baggers, sent down to our constituencies by a central authority, who have no personal connection with or knowledge of the people they desire to represent. Our members almost without exception are resident in their respective constituencies, are easily accessible, and are in close touch with popular feelings and requirements, and further, our electoral qualification is the same as in England, while our single women and widows have the vote.
But even then it will be necessary to apprehend: fully in what independence consists. Inasmuch as individuals differ in opinion in proportion to theirs numbers, it is obvious that even the most perfect legislature and the most democratic body will only in very rare cases represent the views of every individual member of the community, and it is in this sense that minorities must suffer. Much of our present restlessness and discontent is due to forgetfulness of this.
The remedy for minorities is to use every legitimate means in their power so to educate and to influence their fellow-electors that, in due time, their minority may become a majority.
If they succeed in this, their wishes will be, constitutionally, ' the will of the people,' and if they fail, the only possible conclusion they can come to is that the objects they desire to attain, however desirable in their own eyes, have as yet failed to present themselves as equally desirable to other members of the community who are, no less than themselves, 'the people,' and their consolation must be that at any rate 'the will of the people' has prevailed.
That the minority on any and every question that may arise should forthwith batter the gates of a long-suffering Home Office with storms of prayer, importuning it to abolish or suspend the functions of the whole or any portion of the legislative machine that, for the time being, fails, however obtusely, to agree to the views of the petitioners, is a line of action in the last degree undemocratic. Nor can any amendment, however desirable, of the legislative machine, of itself bring greater prosperity, and that is, after all, what our country stands pathetically in need of Greater prosperity can only be obtained by unselfish co-operation, by the setting aside of those sins of ill-natured criticism and parochiality which so easily beset small communities.
The present devastating war has been called a 'purge of Europe'; let one result of it be that we, small nation though we are, purge ourselves of these paralysing tendencies. Let us see to it that we call to our public bodies men who have sufficient breadth of view, 'backbone' and sturdiness to work unselfishly for the better organisation and development of our existing industries, and to take the fullest advantage of the opportunities that are likely in the near future to arise for the establishment of new industries in our midst.
Above all, let us steadily shut our ears to those who can talk blatantly of 'independence,' but whose uninstructed criticism never goes beyond offensive and personal attacks upon our public men, and who cast the onus on a political opponent to prove that he is not guilty of all the sins in the Decalogue.
It is thus, rather than by the total abolition of our ancient institutions, that the way to greater prosperity and independence lies for the Manx nation.
G. FRED CLUCAS.