Editorial: Opinions matter

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It has not been our finest hour.  After 37 years of independence, we were hoping that the journey towards the historic Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) referendum would have been a positive and productive one that would have been a demonstration of our development and maturity as a nation. After all, we are grappling with a key decision regarding our judiciary.  
We would have loved to begin this piece with a flowery start.  Something along the lines of “it was a long and winding road …,” however our road to the referendum has been more akin to Friar’s Hill Road than any breezy country drive.  It has been bumpy, dirty and full of potholes, and the much anticipated debate surrounding the CCJ has devolved into a name-calling, race-baiting affair.  There has been little to no respect for a difference of opinion, and that is sad, especially when the very topic we are discussing is all about the CCJ adjudicating people’s differences of opinion.
Our co-founder, Winston Derrick, was famous for saying, “a difference of opinion is what makes a horse-race.” Of course, that’s a shortened version of a Will Rogers quote, but Winston’s way was that he loved hearing differing opinions.  That is one of the things that make our world go around.  He was as eager to have his opinion challenged as he was excited to change someone else’s.  A good, respectful debate was the pinnacle of positive human interaction and he promoted that concept every day that he hosted Voice of The People.   He took a lot of criticism for allowing his critics to have their say on the programme, but Winston wanted to advance the public debate on all issues.  That DNA is infused in Observer media, and it is why we are saddened that the CCJ debate was less about education and more about propaganda, misinformation and distraction.  
On the eve of the referendum vote, we would have loved to say that we have been convinced that now is the time to break free from the Privy Council, but that has not happened.  We firmly believe that the CCJ is a necessary eventuality, but so many critical pieces of the puzzle remain out-of-sight, and no amount of prodding has produced the comforting answers to the crucial questions.  That is, of course, our opinion, and it is not meant to influence anyone as they head into the polling booth tomorrow.
Not too long ago, Dr. Lester Simon-Hazlewood wrote a piece entitled “CCJ in the shadow.”  In it, he criticised the Observer’s stance on the CCJ and cautioned us about our opinion, saying, “So when you vote no, be careful you are not running away from your success.”  We were criticised for carrying the piece, but we did because it was a positive contribution to the debate.  Dr. Simon-Hazlewood respected our opinion, understood our opinion and then sought to change it through reasoned debate.  He did not berate us for our opinion, and in the same way he respected what we stand for, we respect him for what he stands for.  It is simply a difference of opinion that will be debated until, ultimately, one side convinces the other or we continue to agree to disagree.
“CCJ in the shadows” is a good example of how debates should occur, especially ones of this magnitude.  We took no offence to his criticism that “Observer is behaving like someone who got ‘a hard piece of knuckle,’” as many have suggested that we should, because he was using the analogy to advance his arguments, and not in a malicious manner.  What Dr. Simon-Hazlewood has mastered, that most people at the forefront of the CCJ debate have not, is the ability to be respectful when debating a difference of opinion. 

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