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.

1 June 2016

What do you think about Yourope then?

I have had it with this fucking referendum.

I resent the way the whole country has been sucked into the internal wranglings of the Tory Party.

And how this has refuelled the evil xenophobia of the popular press, in particular the Mail, the Express, the Sun.

And how our so-called impartial broadcasters – the BBC, even Channel 4 News – have implemented this dreary pretend "balance" – as if the choice were on a knife-edge between serious arguments and serious proponents, when in reality it is plain from all the evidence that Britain exiting the EU would be insane.

Never mind the obfuscations about economics, let's look at who's advocating that Britain remain in the EU (or "Europe", as it is colloquially known – so what continent are we attached to, then?):

The Conservative Party (minus those John Major used to call the "bastards"), the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, the Bank of England, the IMF, the TUC, the President of the USA, the vast majority of independent economists, former Greek finance minister Yannis Varoufakis (who you'd think would have good cause to resent the EU's part in stuffing his government's policies), the leaders and major political parties of all the European nations....

And now look at who's advocating leave: UKIP. A few maverick politicians including those on the make in the Tory party who think Brexit will usher in a period of power for them. And er... well, that's it. Oh yes, presidential hopeful Donald Trump. And it is said Vladimir Putin would be well pleased with Brexit – I wonder why?

Oh, and some on the far left. George Galloway, if he floats your boat. Lexit! Some with no agenda other than to give Cameron and Osborne and "the establishment" a bloody nose. What a laugh that would be! Well, for half an hour, perhaps, before the dawning horror of what comes next.

But then there are those who argue the fall of the government following Brexit would actually trigger a general election in which Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party would sweep to power on a surge of socialist fervour and reverse all those neo-liberal policies and we would live happily ever after, and the other European nations would see the wisdom of what we have done and also elect socialist governments and the EU would be disbanded and an era of peace and social justice would ensue in Europe.

The level of delusion here is frightening.

Though admittedly not as frightening as the delusions peddled in the right-wing press. Immigration is out of control! Immigration is putting an unbearable strain on the NHS!

I have recently spent two weeks in an NHS hospital, and what I saw was a large proportion of "immigrant" staff – including senior consultants, junior doctors, nurses, care assistants – helping to hold together a service that is cracking under the burden of public sector cutbacks, and in some cases having to put up with the petty racism of an overwhelmingly elderly, white, working class English clientele, who each morning ordered their Mails and Expresses and Suns from the man who came round with the newspaper trolley.

OK, not all of them were ignorant.

But the only comfort I drew was that these people are going to die soon (though not soon enough for the referendum), and there is strong evidence that the younger generation of this country have a completely different and better attitude. And if the referendum were to be settled by them it would be a no-brainer.