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Dominique Searle

11.04.2013

This bond of pride and prejudice

As a matter of policy, none of Gibraltar’s political parties subscribe to the Treaty of Utrecht. I don’t mean that they did not literally sign up to it – ordinary people did not count for anything in 1713. They don’t accept it has any legal or moral value in today’s world.


Gibraltar takes the view that the Treaty fails to deal with modern rights and that legal and political reality has moved on since 1713. One would think so…


A carefully worded compromise between Gibraltar and UK means that the 2006 Constitution makes no reference to Utrecht. However, an accompanying letter states that UK does abide by this Treaty but recognises Gibraltar’s position.


However, the reality is that the Treaty of Utrecht exists as an all-pervasive ghost conjured up by the United Kingdom and Spain, holding hands in séance, in order to preserve the status quo in respect of any fundamental change of the international status of the Rock. It protects Spain’s outdated pride and Britain’s ongoing strategic interests and democratic credibility – wherever these are at any given moment on the stock exchange of human rights and military/political might.


For that reason there is perhaps some tacit recognition of the Treaty’s effect in the pragmatism of Gibraltarian politicians, who, whilst never arguing that Gibraltar is not entitled to independence (sorry but the double negative is intentional), always state that we want maximum self-government and formal delisting from the United Nations list of colonies.


Time has curiously given that nuanced position strength.


We have all the powers Scotland seeks and, but for the label of ‘colony’ explicit in the United Nations’ list, we really don’t have much further to go. Indeed, Scotland, and any other territory or ‘region’ for that matter, should think carefully of the implications of what a move to simple independence implies for its erstwhile reliable and valuable alliances or 'club' memberships.


A settlement that is consensual and negotiated with the people affected will always be the better outcome. UDI – unilateral declaration of independence - has not got a good record.


Yet, at a human level, it is a tragedy that the Treaty - which this year is 300 years old - is not a source of celebration for anyone. For both UK and Spain it is the lynch-pin of their historic stance, perceived more as a bond between a protected sitting tenant and a hypothetical property interest, than an agreement for a better political life and future.


Until 30 years ago some of the terms of the ancient Treaty - unsustainable today anywhere except in fascist and absolutist countries – served to highlight the underlying human issue which, in respect of Gibraltar, continues to be a fundamental flaw in Spain’s position: the recognition of the people bound with the territory. I say 30 years ago because until then Gibraltar had been a uniquely multi-cultural society beside a very insular Spain.


I often wonder if one day an irate Gibraltarian Jew and an equally irate Gibraltarian of Moroccan origin might not team up and challenge the terms of Article X which specifically demand that they should not abide on the Rock! Exaggerated? Maybe not.


If the human issue was recognised openly by PSOE Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos, it is certainly not anywhere in the current Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo's list of priorities.


In August 2004, 300 years to the day of Gibraltar’s being taken by Anglo-Dutch forces, writing in El País, Sr. Moratinos opted to stretch a hand of friendship to the Gibraltarians whilst at the same time remonstrating Britain for not helping resolve the historic sovereignty dispute. From there the tripartite process was born under which issues of co-operation were discussed around a table including Gibraltar-UK-Spain but preserving sovereignty issues as matters of London and Madrid’s national competence. It was a difficult tangle of concepts which seems to have now drowned in the seas around the Rock.


Personally those years, 2004-2010, were inspiring. Very soon the ‘nasty Spanish government’ ceased to be the driving force of news - production and demand - and journalists and politicians found they were entering a unique era of Spain free stories which focused on other community and local issues, economy, social welfare etc. That is to say, the really tough things.


Now we are back to Sr. Margallo’s revision of the post-Franco positions. Not as extreme as Franco’s border closure - but largely sharing the old sentiment which projects all Gibraltarians as parasites, pirates and generally ‘los malos de la pelicula’. All really perhaps more a description of a small elite which his party should be making efforts to be rid of… in Madrid.


What your readers might find surprising is that the very Anglicised character of Gibraltar today is not the result of any effort on Britain’s part. It is the effect of the border closure compounded by Gibraltarian’s drive over centuries for emancipation from British colonialism. But it was steered by the apparently undying claim from Madrid.


If it was difficult enough to lift one colonial yoke, so now, you should not be surprised, Gibraltarians have no desire to swap this for a new yoke from Madrid.


Sr. Margallo relies on Utrecht to demand control of waters around the Rock, to justify measures at the border and even to limit airspace. Yet in doing so he defines Utrecht as, at best, a great break or ‘freno’ which stops Spain’s fears that her undying love for ‘recovery’ of the Rock might move from ‘de facto’ unattainable to ‘de jure’ unattainable.


Naturally the strong statements from the United Kingdom defending Gibraltar and the people’s will can be seen as a safe bet by which Britain preserves her military asset. This, as history has shown, changes like real estate prices but remains, even today, a low cost, good value, commodity not just for UK interests but United States nuclear submarines and a check on Spain’s own less certain alliance with the USA. Why give it up?


My view has always been that, despite history and our differences, Gibraltar and Spain and Gibraltar and UK are family. That common bond, Gibraltar and its people, could be an asset.


That is to say, we are like an average family with warmer and colder relationships and much internal politics. True, interests remain dominant to democratic rights, and so it will always be. Actually, I am not sure they can be mutually exclusive in western political life.


So where do we go now, 300 years on? Hardly towards expelling Jews and Moors, or carving up the lives and rights of 30,000 Gibraltarians and many European nationals and other humans who live and strive on the Rock!


In 1992 and since, Spain has recognised historic wrongs such as the expulsion of Jews. Today it faces a very real challenge to democracy, that of economic austerity.


Deep in its soul Spain has recognised that being a democracy comes ahead of many issues including the claim over Gibraltar. Europe’s union exists for democracy above all else. Economic stability and alliances are critical to this.


True, Gibraltar cannot do much for Spain, but it can and does support and co-exist with the neighbouring the Campo de Gibraltar as far as Madrid allows it to.


Logically, therefore, the way ahead must be democratic.


It is time to move on from Utrecht and leave it to historians. Are we capable, Gibraltarians, Spaniards and the United Kingdom, of finding a modern Modus Vivendi, a pact and collaboration that takes us forward together, one that is held together by consent not the balance of prejudice and power?


That is the treaty 2013 and the future need.



By Dominique Searle, editor of Gibraltar Chronicle, established 1801


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