A short-lived love-in with Scotland?

Is the romance, such as it was, between Fabian Picardo and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon over? Listening to the Chief Minister on GBC’s Direct Democracy programme it would seem so.

When the UK as a whole voted in last year’s EU Referendum to leave the European Union Gibraltar was left casting about for friends. Scotland, which also voted to remain but by a smaller majority (62% compared with Gibraltar’s 96%), was an obvious ally. Within days talks had taken place and Mr Picardo confirmed in parliament that he and Ms Sturgeon had agreed that they had “a common purpose in exploring possibilities which could achieve our common objectives.” The talk then was of a possible alliance between them and Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, that also voted overwhelmingly against Brexit.

In July the Chief Minister and his deputy Joseph Garcia welcomed the First Minister to Gibraltar House in London. In a statement afterwards Number Six Convent Place said it was agreed that technical teams would continue their work to explore further the potential commonality of interests between Scotland and Gibraltar.

Yet in recent months, unless I missed it, not much has been heard about the work of these technical teams, nor indeed have the words “Scotland” or “Nicola Sturgeon” exactly tripped off the tongue of our political leaders when discussing Brexit.

It may be that the First Minister’s call for a second referendum on Scottish independence, much to the annoyance and consternation of Theresa May’s Conservative government, has had something to do with it. Unlike many Scots, Gibraltarians, for now anyway, have no ambition to be independent and the government may not wish to be associated with that aim.

Whatever the reason, Mr Picardo is certainly singing a different tune now.

“We can take the route of Scotland and confront the Prime Minister on every step she takes”, he said on Direct Democracy, “or we can take the route that we’ve taken.” Which of course means throwing in your lot with Westminster rather than Holyrood, and joining the Joint Ministerial Council on Brexit, whose chairman Robin Walker MP was in Gibraltar last week.

Nicola or Theresa?

At the end of the day Fabian knows which side his bread is buttered on!

KNOWING YOUR A**E FROM YOUR ELBOW

On a bum note, I’m sure the Chief Minister didn’t mean to offend the hard-working professionals in the Gibraltar Health Authority by how he referred to them in last week’s programme.

After denying that morale in the Authority is low following the resignation of several consultants (it’s “higher than ever” he claimed), and attributing recent criticisms of the GHA to the “bad apples” that have been thrown out, Mr Picardo suggested the important people are the “Rump…that are getting on with it.”

Now besides being your backside, the rump is also defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “A small or unimportant remnant of something originally larger.”

Quite the opposite of what Mr Picardo meant, and I’m sure the staff took it in the way it was intended.

Brussels Process Talks, January 1987

In my previous post I shared with you some of my reminiscences of the IRA shootings that took place in Gibraltar in March 1988 and the ensuing inquest. Both were big stories of course but my baptism of fire – not the most appropriate description as you’ll see when you read on – had come the year before.

In January 1987 I was sent to London to cover the latest round of talks under the framework of the Brussels Agreement.

I won’t go into the nitty-gritty here of what the agreement involved as it’s been well documented and there’s plenty of information about it readily available. Suffice to say that the accord, which paved the way for Spain’s eventual accession to the European Economic Community in 1986, grew to be hugely unpopular locally, not least because for the first time the UK agreed explicitly to discuss “the issues of sovereignty” with Spain. It was also seen as an unnecessary face-saver for Madrid, which was in any event obliged to fully open the frontier before joining the EEC.

I had prepared diligently for that, my first assignment abroad, especially when the Conservative government gave its consent for GBC to record a one-to-one interview with the Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe. He was a towering figure in British politics having already served as Chancellor of the Exchequer before moving to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Sir Geoffrey would go on to be the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet.

(L to R: Administrative Secretary Ernest Montado, Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe, Deputy Chief Minister Adolfo Canepa, yours truly, Chief Minister Sir Joshua Hassan)  

I admit I was slightly apprehensive about interviewing such a heavyweight. At the same time I felt a strong sense of responsibility to ask the right questions – the ones my fellow Gibraltarians would want answered. The funny thing looking back now is that I can scarcely remember what I asked!

Instead what I recall most vividly is how bitterly cold it was and the contrast in the British and Spanish attitudes to us journalists as we tried to cope with the sub-zero temperatures.

As luck would have it the time I was in London coincided with the most severe spell of weather in southern England for more than a century. The day of the talks snow lay over 15 centimetres deep in places. Not great when you’re just standing around, waiting to be summoned for the concluding news conference.

The media were, quite literally, left out in the cold at number 1 Carlton Gardens, the Foreign Secretary’s official residence. Had it not been for a friendly Catalan Television film crew who made space for me in their van with the heater turned on full blast I’m not sure I would have survived to tell the tale.

Compare that with the treatment we received at the Spanish Embassy where the Foreign Minister Francisco Fernández Ordóñez gave his own press conference. We were immediately ushered in, relieved of our overcoats and other wet clothes and served tea and biscuits while we waited.

What a shame our next-door neighbours aren’t anywhere near as generous when it comes to accepting the Gibraltarians’ wish to remain British and their right to decide their own future.