Sixty-year-old Baroness Patricia Scotland, a daughter of the region who charted an indelible path in the legal and political sphere in the United Kingdom, aspires to be the next Secretary General of the 53-member Commonwealth nation states.
She is driven by the words of her late mother: “We don’t let men do anything else on their own, so why do we let them run the world? They need our help and we need to do it not for them but with them.”
Gary Spaulding had a chat with Baroness Scotland ahead of the election which is scheduled for November.
GS: If you are elected Commonwealth Secretary General, this would be another first for a woman. Having been the first female Queens Council in the UK, how does that make you feel?
PS: It would be a great honour if I were to succeed. The time is right for female leadership. Women are coming to the fore – we have demonstrated that we have the ability and the courage to lead, and to look after everyone – men, women, children, and communities altogether. I think it is really important that we have a champion with the stature to bring people together – internationally and globally. And, I think the female voice is an important voice to be heard at this time.
GS How do you feel to have been the first black female Queens Council?
PS: It was an extremely humbling moment. I had thought that it is not something that I was comfortable with in people making me into a role model. It really hit me on the day when I realised how important it was. I was walking down the street, a really small man, about 5 feet 4, said to me, “Are you Baroness Scotland? and so I grumbled “yes” as I felt a bit shy.
He said, “The day you were appointed, I felt like 6 ft tall,” and I realised how important it was for black people in the UK, who, like me, were told that they will never achieve anything, and they could look at what I had done and said, ‘if she could do this, so can I – if she can do that, my daughter can do that.’ It is really something that I am proud of. The people can say that they believe that I am the embodiment of integrity and a source of pride with what I have achieved globally, I have achieved honestly without having cast any slur on the region from I which I came.
GS: How often have you visited the island of your birth (Dominica) over the years and do you still have family living there?
PS: Yes, I do have family ties. Much of my family live throughout the Caribbean, but my parents came to the United Kingdom so that their children could have a tertiary education. The University of the West Indies was there, but all of us had to come to England or to America to do our degrees.
I am the 10th of 12 children, and I am the last child to be born in the Caribbean – and my parents had this idea of sending one child after another into the abyss. They wanted to do so for the eldest child and the same for the youngest. The only way they thought that they could do that was moving to England.
As soon as my youngest sister had completed her education, my parents moved back to the Caribbean. And that’s where they lived and where they died. I would come back regularly to see my mother and father, and they were lucky because they had 12 of us so we tried to do a rotation.
There was always one of their children at home with them at any given time. When my parents became ill (both, unfortunately, had a stroke) we were with them all the time.
GS Given the fact that you left Dominica at such a tender age, what do you say to critics who say that despite your positions of influence, you have not done much for the Caribbean over the years?
PS: I am very disappointed that such a comment could be made, and I think it could only be made by people who don’t know me, and know nothing of what I have done. Because if you look at both my career as a lawyer and from the age of 21, I qualified and was called to the Bar in Dominica and in Antigua in 1998. I participated in legal work in the region.
I lectured and gave talks at the University of the West Indies and in many of the islands. And I think my commitment to my region has never been in doubt until the start of this political campaign. To be frank, I can only assume that it is pure politics that is making people say that which is not true.
GS By the same token, please rate your ability to advance the interests of the Caribbean region on the global stage.
PS: I think that one of the most important things is that Caribbean leaders know that if I were to become Secretary General, they would have access to me. And the reason I say that is because they have had access to me while I was in the British Government and they have had access to me since I left the British Government. And many of the leaders know me very well.
Look at the leaders in Dominica, for example, I know all of them – both Opposition and Government. Two of my cousins have been prime ministers of Dominica and one was Edward Liblanc, the Leader of Labour Party and prime minister for many years. My other cousin Rosie Douglas, was the prime minister for many years. And when Dame Eugenia Charles was prime minister, she and my father were very good friends.
My father was a very well known and outspoken Caribbean man and most people know him from his cricket. He played for Antigua and the Windward Islands. I grew up in a home where Caribbean political leaders came, so I think what I can guarantee Caribbean leaders is that they would have access and my heart is Caribbean. I don’t think that will change. So, I think that what they can be assured of is that in dealing with the interest of the 53 countries, I would never forget where I came from.
GS If you are successful what would your main agenda items be?
PS: I am really committed to the whole youth agenda. By 2030, 60 per cent of the Caribbean and Commonwealth countries will be below the age of 30. All our countries are struggling with the issues dysfunction, violence. How do we create employment? How do we create wealth? How do we develop new things? There is a huge need to empower the people in the Commonwealth states.
I think that if you look at the skills within the 53 countries, there ares opportunities to exchange skills; to enhance trade; to take advantage of the digiworld economy; and to share expertise between the large, medium and small countries to make us all much stronger than each country is now individually.
There are real opportunities for growth; real opportunities for exciting change and if you look at the major growth areas that are going to take place in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, there is a huge opportunity for us in the Oceanic industry which is growing and the opportunity to share expertise and grow our wealth. The Caribbean has a lot to give because we are multifaceted, multi-religious and multicultural. We have demonstrated how we can synthesise difference which is cultural, racial, and religious and make something which is joyous and beautiful and which we all share. But there is also the opportunity to speak for the region. Look at what is happening now with Guyana and the European Union blacklisting.
We know that it is of critical importance that we stand toe to toe with Guyana to resist the improper assertion that is being made about their sovereignty. And these issues are going to continue to be important. I don’t know what justification the EU has made for their black listing. We know that the ambassador has made various comments and saying that nobody should worry its not anything serious; its not something that we should be concerned about, but we know that the names being put on the list will have an impact on the region. These are issues which we need to investigate and speak about.
I think we need a new leadership for the Commonwealth, we need a revitalised vision which is relevant to the 21st century, and I believe that I have the ability to deliver. The stature of the person that we need to do this for the Commonwealth is someone who has a global reach beyond the 53 into the wider world. It is also a large scale management experience to transform the secretariat and I have dealt and been responsible for organisations where thousands of people have been employed and I have run budgets worth billions of pounds.
So its not talking about it, theorising about it, writing about it, its about doing it. So I know that I can reform and transform the Secretariat. I know what needs to be done. I know how hard building those partnerships can be, but having done them as minister, having delivered them both as a professional barrister and as a parliamentarian within and without government, I understand what the heads of government have to do. I have walked in their shoes, so I know what they aspire to do is not easy, but I can say to them toe to toe; eye to eye, I know, personally, that it is doable if we band together.
But we have to choose and I hope my region will choose me and then commit to work with me to create a Commonwealth which is worthy of our children.
GS You have led an outstanding career holding prominent positions in the United Kingdom including Attorney General; Parliamentary Undersecretary; Minister of State and Prime Ministerial Trade Envoy, which job gave you most satisfaction?
PS: I think it is the very first job I ever did, and that was parliamentary under secretary of state in the Commonwealth Office with responsibility for the Caribbean and overseas territories. The reason I say that I never wanted to be on the front bench in the House of Lords, is that I thought that my contribution could be made by chairing the Caribbean Advisory Group – by doing things in the background, including children, violence, discrimination, and equality and try the best I could to represent my region on matters in relation to pension, tax and air travel to our region.
I never aspired to ministerial office, but, quite frankly, when I was offered the opportunity to become the minister for the Caribbean and overseas territories, when I would no longer be giving advice to ministers as to what they should do for the Caribbean, but I could actually make this a reality, that was too tempting to refuse and that was the reason I went into government.
I am very proud of what I was able to achieve during that period, consolidating the Caribbean forum which is still the only region which has such a forum with the United Kingdom. I was also able to persuade the Home Office to undertake significant work in Jamaica introducing the bridge, helping to strengthen Jamaica’s criminal justice system, so that Jamaica could herself reduce the level of crime and violence and murders that were taking place in Jamaica so that safety and security of Jamaican citizens were better advanced.
I cannot be but proud of having been a part of the facilitation process that made that happen and I enjoyed working with P.J. Patterson (former prime minister) and others to make that happen. I am never going to regret the commitment or persuasion that it took, and I have built a reputation for myself in my profession as someone who is committed to the Caribbean. I am committed to do that for the rest of my life both in my professional and political careers.
GS: Racial turmoil now grips the United States and radical terrorist groups are running amok in Europe, parts of Africa and the Middle East, what can world leaders do in the fight against terrorists and racists?
PS: I think they can bind together and President Barack Obama has set a fantastic example. I watched and listened to his speeches with joy and awe, because he set out a vision and he held up the example of those nine people who were massacred in the church. Those families were an example to us all and I think this is the time for us to bind together, especially world leaders.