The National:

IT has been 42 years since the small, central American nation of Belize gained independence from the British.

Key to the gaining of that independence was the figure of George Cadle Price.

In the 1940s he helped found a group which later became the People’s United Party (PUP) – a centre-left, pro-independence party which would go on to dominate politics in Belize, which is the only English-speaking nation in central America.

Price led the party for 40 years from 1956 – 1996, becoming so well-known among the population of less than 500,000 people that the New York Times reported he had “come to know almost all local adults by name”.

Here’s how he did it and the lessons to be gleaned for Scotland.

How did Belize become independent?

The PUP emerged amid a wave of anti-colonial sentiment following the British governor’s decision to devalue the currency of Belize (which was then known as British Honduras) in 1949.

With strong ties to the country’s labour unions, the party gained mass support as numerous key industries embarked on strikes and forced the British government to grant universal suffrage and a small legislative council. 

Predictably, the British attempted to thwart the PUP’s ascendance – including by charging Price with sedition after he suggested that the ticker tape parade which greeted the newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth in New York City was no different to toilet paper.

However, attempts to destroy the party backfired spectacularly. The PUP won all 18 seats in the legislative council in the 1961 elections, which ultimately led to self-government just a few years later.

But Price. who by all accounts was considered a charismatic and able politician, refused to rest.

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In 1975, he spearheaded six years of diplomacy with the aim of gaining international support for Belize’s independence.

The country appealed to the UN and became a part of the Non-Aligned Movement.

After years of tireless efforts to convince the globe of the legitimacy of their calls for independence – often gaining support country by country and with no small amount of work from the country's small pool of diplomats – a 1981 UN resolution called for independence for Belize to be granted by the end of the year.

So it was that on July 26 1981, Price stood on a balcony in Belize City and told a crowd of 6000 people that the country would become independent that September.

As biographer Rudolph Castillo noted: “Some older people transfixed by happiness, sat and just cried their hearts out as joy and happiness excited the crowd at the announcement of the long awaited day.

“George Price had to be rescued from the unbridled love of a people for their great leader”.

What did the constitution look like? 

The main opposition party in Belize at the time of independence – the United Democratic Party (UDP) – refused to take part in a constitutional conference in London ahead of the country's first independence day.

As such, only the Belize government and British representatives were part of drawing up the country’s constitution.

There was widespread public support at the time for keeping Queen Elizabeth as the monarch and retaining a parliamentary system based upon the UK’s (albeit with some amendments).

The final constitution enshrined the freedoms of individuals as a fundamental right, regardless of “race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex”.

It includes protection from deprivation and poverty and promised to ensure a system that provides education and healthcare to all on the basis of equality.

In 2010, the government introduced an amendment which gave the state majority ownership of all public utilities.

The post-independence period

After gaining independence the PUP fell into decline, with Price even losing his seat in the country's House of Representatives in 1984. 

Power has fairly regularly switched between the centre-left PUP and centre-right UDP since independence, with the PUP recently coming into government once again in 2020 after more than a decade in opposition. 

In the early 2000s, the PUP government's reputation for corruption and decision to increase taxes resulted in a nationwide strike, student walkouts and riots in the streets. 

However, the pace of economic growth exceeded that of comparable Caribbean nations throughout the 1990s and 2000s, with living standards improving over the same period. 

In recent years growth has slowed, partly due to the country's extreme vulnerability to climate change and extreme weather events. 

The World Bank estimates that losses from natural disasters average above 1% of the country's GDP every year. 

How is Belize doing now?

According to the Assad Shoman - who helped negotiate independence for Belize - the country’s journey to independence is nothing short of a triumph.

On the publication of his book about the history of Belize, he said:

“I thought it was worthwhile to tell the story of how and why Belize succeeded where others failed: how it was possible for a tiny country to defy both the UK, and the United States, who tried for years to convince Belize’s leaders to cede land to Guatemala and allow that country to have a decisive say in its economic development, its foreign relations, and, incredibly, its defense.”

It has resulted in a country with stable political institutions in a region where instability has often punctuated the history of neighbouring nations.

Nevertheless, the country still struggles with high rates of violence, imprisonment, and a reputation for corruption which dissuades foreign investment.

In 2021, Prime Minister John Briceno said that the time had come for the country to consider its relationship to the monarchy and discuss the adoption of a republican system.

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Lessons for Scottish independence: As a nation of less than 500,000 people, Belize knows what it means to be “the little guy” going up against the goliath of the British state.

But a mixture of charismatic political leadership, appeals to the international community and sheer determination led to the country gaining its independence.

However, central to Price’s success domestically was the competence his government showed before independence – improving life chances, boosting industry and building much-needed infrastructure.

The Scottish Government has had victories in this regard over the past 15 years: scrapping the graduate endowment, tackling poverty with the Scottish Child Payment, giving free bus travel to under-22s, and the Baby Box.

But if international appeals are to become even more necessary in the face of an intransigent UK Government, even more watertight displays of delivering for the Scottish people can’t hurt.