Starcat 1 by my favourite artist

Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Grown-ups Are Fighting in the Sandbox, or Little Fishies (Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place)

Gibraltar as seen from mainland Spain.
Recently a friend of mine who lives in England emailed me to ask how things were over here in Spain vis à vis the Gibraltar brouhaha. Well, folks, here on the average Spanish street, there is no Gibraltar issue. Spaniards tend to pasarlo por el forro de los cojones, in other words, they couldn’t give a poo. What is interesting, however, is how the whole issue throws light on various national tendencies and characteristics.

First, though, a little bit of history. Gibraltar became a British colony in 1713, when the UK traded Menorca for it under the Treaty of Utrecht. Today this might seem like a rather bad deal but we must not forget that Gibraltar is at the mouth of the Mediterranean and as such was of huge strategic significance when Britain had an Empire and wars to fight. Now, however, with the advent of nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, long-range bombers, cruise missiles &c. and the US 7th Fleet just up the coast in Rota, Gibraltar is, in strategic terms, quite unnecessary. And here the problem begins.

Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory and is self-governing in everything, but has to respond to GB in matters of policing, defence, foreign policy and governance. Such status also means that as long as the people of Gibraltar want to remain British, Great Britain cannot get rid of this troublesome “rock”.
Plenty of room for ciggies in the 

And troublesome it most certainly is. In my humble opinion it is more a reason for shame than for national pride. It is home to money-launderers, smugglers, tax-dodgers and online gambling companies. If anyone could explain to me where the huge number of teenage chavs driving around the streets of Gibraltar (yes, there is more than one street – just!) got the money for their fully boom-boxed up BMW M3s and tuned-to-the gills American trucks, I would be grateful. I can’t explain it - legitimately. Gibraltar is the distilled essence of all that is bad in British society.

In the past, Gibraltar had its uses for us Brits in Andalusia: it was a place to go and stock up on tea, Cheddar cheese, Digestive biscuits, creme eggs, cheap duvets and whatnot. Now, however, such delicacies (except creme eggs) are to be had in Mercadona, an omnipresent Spanish supermarket. Duvets etc. are on sale in IKEA at even lower prices in Seville and Jerez than in Gib., especially if we take into consideration the murderous euro/pound exchange rate unscrupulously exacted on the unwary traveller by money-grabbing Gibraltarian shop owners[1].  Even the Gibraltarians go food and furniture shopping in Spain – mainly to Jerez.

Spanish Fishermen with their 
illegal nets? Spanish ciggy 
smugglers? Depends on the day, 


But to the present “problem”. This is nothing more than posturing on all sides for political gain and summer headlines. In my opinion the Gibraltarian government comes off morally the worst. The present kerfuffle was provoked by the dropping of 70 concrete blocks in disputed waters. The ever-rapacious Spanish fishermen whine that it will destroy their livelihood, instead of letting them continue to do it quite efficiently for themselves with their illegal nets etc. They should be happy. They might be able to squeeze yet another subsidy out of the central government, paid for out of the taxes of those of us still in economically productive work. If not, they can always go back to their day job of smuggling hashish and ciggies from, yes you’ve guessed it, jolly old Gib. The Gibraltarian eco-warrior government is so obviously acting in defence of the little fishies that this probably has nothing to do with its own internal popularity ratings or general Spain-baiting bloody-mindedness[2].   

A bristling gunboat. Hooray!
Gibraltar's government is like a spoilt little brat throwing (in this case almost literally) stones at the bigger boys and then running to hide behind his older brother when the nasty bigger boys come chasing after him. Poor older brother! Through no fault of his own, he finds himself embroiled in playground squabbles that really shouldn’t concern him – or is he such an unwilling participant? It would seem not. The British government has sent gunboats “bristling over the horizon” to quote Boris. And we all know there is nothing quite so popular in Britain as sending a gunboat - preferably with the band of the Royal Marines playing on deck as it leaves port - somewhere to frighten Johnny Foreigner and, if necessary, give him what for.  It’s a good job we’ve still got some gunboats left – for the moment. It might, however, be rather difficult to give the greasy Dagoes what for, considering that they are our NATO allies.

Keeping the Empire - and Spain - out 
of the hands of Johnny Foreigner at 
the British taxpayer's expense.

Let us now look at the Spanish government, struggling in the mesh of a series of corruption scandals. What better way to bury an inconvenient story than to unite the people behind a truly grand national issue such as the sovereignty of a pirates’ nest just off the coast of one of Spain’s most economically depressed provinces? This is one of the oldest tricks in the politicians’ books: to unite a nation, find a common enemy. It worked really well for Bismarck and Hitler. However, were Spain to succeed in regaining Gibraltar, It would find itself with a huge new drain on its defence budget. Yes, British taxpayer, you are paying millions to defend southern Spain from Maghreb aggression. Mainland Britain sure as hell is not on the Maghreb radical Islamists’ shopping list of territory in the hands of Infidels. Al-Andalus most definitley is. The newly-taxed ciggies might go some way to meeting the cost, but not very far. 

  Orf for a jolly time in Sotogrande 
  to spend some of our tax-free 
Economically, Spain is at present cutting off its Rock to spite its face. All of those Gibraltarians who have holiday homes on the Costa del Sol or in the Sotogrande millionaire’s country club, as well as those who shop in Spanish hypermarkets and malls are now being discouraged from doing so by the hours-long waits at the frontier. I have seen this with my own eyes at the almost deserted Jerez shopping mall. Thus the Spanish government is further depressing the depressed province of Cádiz. Obviously, they will still be letting the ambulances through so that the poor, persecuted Gibraltarians can continue to enjoy the high standard of service offered by the Andalusian Health Service – better than any I have ever seen in the NHS. And obviously without contributing to the costs. Guess who does that, O British taxpayer?

All in all, then, this latest episode of tri-partite jingoism is serving the politicians on all sides quite nicely while costing the British and Spanish taxpayers money that they can ill afford on the mock defence/siege of a limestone outcrop that would be better off as Spanish province. It’s a pity we didn’t hang on to Menorca; at least we might have first dibs on the sunloungers before the Germans.
Probably a lot more polite than some of
Gibraltar's "finest" - see footnote 2.

[1] A note for the British tourists: British pounds are legal tender in Gib, but the same is not true of Gibraltarian pounds in GB.
[2] A personal anecdote: Once when entering Gibraltar in my Spanish registered car, a PC snapped his fingers and whistled at me as if calling a dog over. When I got out and remonstrated with him over such discourteous behaviour, his excuse was “I thought you were Spanish”. Disgusting.


  1. Thanks for your able survey of the Gibraltar "situation". I had already noticed that even the BBC plays down Britain's part in the débâcle in order to make it all seem the fault of these aggressive Spaniards.

    I hope the monitors from Europe will inject some sense into the situation when they eventually turn up.

    Cameron has recently received a slap in the face from Parliament over Syria. Another slap, from Europe over Gibraltar, would be welcome.

  2. Whatever the present, or indeed past and future British governments' attitude to Gibraltar is, I feel that the most scandalous element is the fact that a few thousand tax dodgers and smugglers sunning themselves in the Med. can dictate British foreign and defence policy.
    Due to the Rock's legal status as an Overseas Territory (OT), the UK cannot and could not get rid of this particularly shameful possession without the locals' permission. And let's face it, being able to carry out trade, be it illicit or otherwise, under the protection of the British flag is a powerful argument to remain an OT.
    In a democracy the minority view must always be respected and protected, but what is happening in this case is nothing more than a flagrant abuse of the British State and taxpayer.