I was glad to receive an invitation to and to be able to attend the public meeting with Belinda Crowe on 15 March 2012 at the Island Hall. I had read the letter to the editor in the 136th issue of the Sark Newsletter, which accurately reflected my own concerns and those of several others I had spoken to, namely that this might just be a whitewash “management consultant”-type exercise to impose a paid civil service on us (someone, when I speculated who might have written the letter, said he thought I did. For the record, I did not, although I might as well have done — if not quite so eloquently — and I fully endorse it). I was looking forward to hearing what Mrs Crowe had to say and to getting an assurance from her that this was not, indeed, the case and that she was not going to propose the creation of a civil service on Sark in her report.
Before the meeting, I had discussed the issue with several friends, who shared my concerns. However, when I asked them if they were going to the meeting, everyone was reluctant and evasive, saying they didn’t want to get involved in Sark politics, that they didn’t want to raise their head above the parapet, etc. I sensed a real sense of discomfort in some of them about the idea of coming to the meeting and speaking up and I thought to myself, what’s wrong with these people, why don’t they want to go, find out what’s going on, and have their views heard? But I said nothing. One or two people who were off the Island asked me to raise some of these concerns also on their behalf.
I arrived at the Island Hall early. About a dozen people were present. Of the people I had spoken to earlier who had expressed repugnance to the idea of the creation of a civil service, only one was there, and I would say he is more middle of the road than as strongly opposed as the rest of us. Belinda Crowe arrived at 5:35pm.
While waiting outside, Amanda Petrie asked if anyone was allowed to speak to Mrs Crowe, including visitors, or whether it was just for residents. Although I knew Amanda’s roots were in England, I thought it absurd that she would worry about herself being considered a visitor. I said “You live here, Amanda!” upon which it transpired what her real agenda was. She launched into a vicious tirade about how I was not really a resident. Apparently, her whole line of questioning was merely an attempt to exclude me from the meeting. Although I know Amanda and myself do not share the same political views, this was a shock and not something I would have expected from her. I refused to be drawn into this debate and everyone accepted it. Everyone that is, except Annabel Raymond, who continued seething and chanting sotto voce “He’s not a resident! He’s not a resident!”.
Charles Maitland then suggested that the meeting be held between residents and Mrs Crowe on a one-on-one basis. Two people went in by themselves to see her one-on-one. Charles Maitland said everyone would be given about 5 minutes with her so that we wouldn’t run out of time. After the two people walked in, Sandra Williams said exactly what I had been thinking — that she had expected this to be a public meeting. She said she did not come there to see Belinda Crowe one-on-one as she already had the opportunity to do so as a Conseiller; she (Sandra) was there to hear what members of the public thought about it. Well, quite right, too, and I should add that I, apart from wishing to raise the one concern, was more interested in hearing what this was all about and in what Mrs Crowe had to say than in saying all too much. I think that anyone who considers this objectively has to give Sandra credit for having stood up and having said that; she was doing a good job as a Conseiller. So it was decided that thereafter, everyone would go in as a group. Or was it? As we were walking in through the door, Annabel Raymond was seething through clenched teeth “I’m not going in with him!” (glancing at me). So, a public meeting was held between Mrs Belinda Crowe and everyone present. Everyone, that is, except me. I was left to wait outside the door, on my own, while everyone else was in the meeting. To be fair to Charles Maitland, he seemed quite uncomfortable and apologetic about this, suggesting the group would not be in the meeting long and that I could go in after them. I, however, decided at that point to leave.
So whatever happened in that meeting shall remain a secret and a mystery. However, one thing we can be quite sure of is that the point of view — widely held — that we do not want a civil service – will not have had much of a hearing by Mrs Crowe.