Thursday, August 05, 2004
Well yesterday I had decided not to look at the usual suspects moaning about Gibraltar. How usual is this suspect though? Max Hastings is supposedly the Guardian's conservative columnist, because even its normal brand of readers will want a bit of diversity now and then. In that regard I'm not so sure Hastings is the best choice. With the exception of defence policy, any conservative credentials Max Hastings may ever have had are slowly but definitely fading away. This piece of his on Gibraltar is a case in point:
Unlike the Falklands and Argentina, the Rock is physically attached to Spain. Who can be surprised that its continued status as a bastion of British empire makes the Spanish very angry indeed?
At an Anglo-Spanish political conference a few years ago, I was impressed by the number of thoughtful liberal Spanish delegates who emphasised to the British that Gibraltar is not merely a jingo issue which their government occasionally makes a fuss about. It is a source of deep-seated resentment.
Yet a British Labour government thinks it politic to dispatch a warship and a cabinet minister to join the celebrations.
Perhaps Tony Blair is so cross about Spain's withdrawal of its soldiers from Iraq, and so despairing of any amiable colloquy about Europe with Spain's socialist government that he doesn't care any more.
Yet even many of those of us who have become sceptical about joining the euro or signing the European constitution want Britain to engage constructively with Europe. How likely are we to achieve this if we flaunt the union flag in the face of the Spanish in a manner worthy of the British National party?
In fairness, Hastings makes a few good points about the rather dodgy financial services industry in Gibraltar. However, while most of his criticism here is accurate it is again irrelevant. What does it matter to the issue of democratic self-determination that some members of the government are corrupt and have friends who are crooks? Where would that in fact leave virtually every peoples' right to self-determination?
And this is where Hastings' major mistake lies, in regards to the right of Gibraltarians to decide their nationality:
It is emotional and nostalgic, protected by a figleaf of principle about the absolute rights of local populations, however tiny.
. . .
It is ludicrous to suggest that the populations of such places as the Falklands or Gibraltar should possess an absolute veto on all debate about their future.
Hastings is however spot on with this:
Today, that same government has dispatched Hoon to add official glamour to the 300th anniversary celebrations, unless the choice of the defence secretary represents an elaborate joke by Downing Street.
Yet the fact that Britain cannot summon the will to extricate itself from Gibraltar suggests a nation - us, not them - which has not grown up.
But talking of the Telegraph, here's something sensible on Gibraltar:
The Blair administration wanted to sell Gibraltar down the river in exchange for Spanish friendship in Europe, to counterbalance the Franco-German axis. This scheme was upset in any case by Spain's election this year of a Socialist government, far less to Mr Blair's taste. Its first eager act was to order its troops out of Iraq, where they had been co-operating with British forces.
. . .
Spain will not be mollified by being reminded of its enclaves in Morocco: Ceuta and Melilla. The farce two years ago of Morocco's seizure and Spain's recapture of Perejil - goat-ridden Parsley Island - shows that reason does not touch territorial totems. But Gibraltar remains no more Spanish than Jersey is French. The Government must say so plainly, to establish Anglo-Spanish relations in reality, and for the sake of the people of Gibraltar, whose determination is unwavering.
PS: Here's the link to the excellent piece in the Economist I quoted at length yesterday. Sorry, but it's subscribers only.