15 June 2016

Yourope, me and us

So I've voted. Remain. My partner and I applied for a postal vote because we're going to be away next week, visiting my Gibraltarian-born aunt in Spain (where she's lived for much of her life). She was very anxious that we shouldn't waste our Remain votes, so I'd like to reassure her it's a done deed. Virtually 100% of Gibraltarians are expected to vote Remain. Yes, they have a vote in the UK referendum too, and they are very fearful of the result for them of a Brexit. Not a lot of people know that.

I was born and grew up on the Rock. We Gibraltarians lived in harmony with the British colonial powers. We played cricket with them (the annual Gibraltar Cricket Association v Combined Services matches were keenly contested in a friendly spirit). We imbibed British (as well as Spanish) culture. We lived in harmony with and sometimes inter-married with our Spanish neighbours across the border, many of whom relied on Gibraltar for employment.

But we were always aware that on the other side of that border was a Fascist dictatorship. And in 1969, after years of harassment, General Franco, the then dictator, closed the frontier and attempted to starve the Gibraltarians into surrender to his demands that Gibraltar be ceded to Spain. In the process, he put thousands of his own citizens out of work.

The Gibraltarians resisted. And in 1975 Franco died, and Spain began its painful transition to democracy and the modern world. In the 1980s, finally, the border was re-opened. And in 1986 Spain joined the EU. So between Gibraltar and Spain there is now an open border, and in Spain itself free democratic institutions of the sort that we Gibraltarians had already enjoyed for decades.

Some of the reasons why Gibraltarians are right to fear Brexit are expressed more cogently than I can by Maurice Xiberras, former prominent Gibraltar politician (and, as it happens, former schoolteacher of mine!).

These are not, of course, the only reasons I am a Remainer. I have not lived in Gibraltar since coming to university in London in the late 1960s, though I still have friends and family on the Rock. Having made my home in England, though, I dread the thought of its turning to the Little England of nightmares. And I mean Little England, since it seems likely that in the event of a vote in which England opts for Brexit and Scotland for Remain, a second referendum on Scottish independence would be inevitable.

When we were growing up, we learned to regard "English" people (by which we meant Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish as well – ie British non-Gibraltarians) as our friends. I didn't know words like "racist" or "xenophobic" at that time, but we did know that a very small minority of "English" people didn't respond to our friendship. I am fearful that this small minority is about to persuade others who know no better that there is a future for England outside of this entity called "Europe" – hankering after an Empire that ceased to exist some time ago.

And yes, I know I am in a strange position, defending one of the relics of that Empire – albeit now self-governing in everything but foreign policy and defence. But there you are, life is complex. I feel British, but also European, with strong links to the continent of Europe. My forebears include a Welshman on my father's side (my great-grandfather, who gave me my surname) and Genoese traders on my mother's side, who settled in Gibraltar in the 19th century.

By the way, the ruling party in the Gibraltar Parliament (formerly the Gibraltar Assembly) is the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party. It has close links to the British Labour Party. But support for Remain in Gibraltar transcends political boundaries, as it does in the UK. There is no equivalent of UKIP.

No comments:

Post a Comment