It has been refreshing to read Stephen Neish’s piece, “A Short-lived Love-in with Scotland”, in today’s Gibraltar Chronicle (22ndMarch 2017) at page 9. It is uplifting because here we have an independent commentator constructively criticising recent political initiatives of the Government: the Chief Minister’s doomed political flirtation with Nicola Sturgeon and Scotland, following Brexit and the Chief Ministers implied dig on GBC’s Direct Democracy of Gibraltar Health Authority professionals.
Such independent criticism is something that is rarely seen in our press, in recent times. The tendency overall (and unfortunately)is for political issues to become press release wars between the GSD Opposition and the GSLP Government or vice versa; thus becoming clouded (and so diminished) in the minds of the public by party political overtones.
Independent constructive criticism in a free press is a central plank of any democracy. It sound easy to achieve but in a small nation like Gibraltar, very difficult. Difficult for many reasons but, in part, because of the directness of attribution of criticism, followed by the potential (real or imagined) for retribution, by those in power or those who may get into power, against the critics themselves or, if these are out of reach, against any personthat may be in reach who is connected with the critic through family ties or other means. The result is unhealthy silencing, to the detriment of the true functioning of democracy in Gibraltar, of valid criticism that should be in the public domain.
It is important for the well functioning of democracy in Gibraltar that Stephen Neish should continue making independent and constructive criticisms and be given the medium, hopefully with a continuing column in the Gibraltar Chronicle, through which he can continue doing so. It may encourage others to do the same. Gibraltar’s democratic credentials will be hugely improved by such a development. Such activity would be encouraged, also, by the type of electoral and parliamentary reforms that I have championed for the best part of 40 years, to no avail so far despite manifesto promises to the contrary.
It is pertinent to note from Mr Neish’s piece, first, that the Chief Minister has essentially adopted the policy following Brexit that was suggested by the GSD Opposition from the start, namely, that Gibraltar should throw in its lot with Westminster. Secondly that credence is given to the GSD Opposition’s statements about discontent involving professionals at the Gibraltar Health Authority. This may lead people to think more about who is directing where Gibraltar should go.