Monday, 18 January 2010

The Thorny Subject - Sovereignty

The GSLP/Libs have declared that the sovereignty of Gibraltar is not a matter for negotiation or discussion with Spain. This essentially repeats a mantra that has been the central plank of Gibraltar's foreign policy for ever, so far as this blogger can remember. It is a mantra shared by all parties and subscribed to by the overwhelming majority of Gibraltarians, and quite rightly so.

There is a need to to dissect and study what is meant by the phrase "... the sovereignty of Gibraltar ...", quite simply and not least because the concept of sovereignty has been changing dramatically in Europe since the last two world wars. In the main leading to a shared or co-operative concept of sovereignty. Unfortunately, this is too massive a subject to go into in any depth in a short blog.

Certain salient sovereignty related issues specific to Gibraltar are worth highlighting, not least to stimulate debate.

A point of note is the use of the word "of" in the phrase. This imports into the concept of "sovereignty" a foreign element that admits, by necessary implication, the existence of a colonial arrangement between the sovereign power, Great Britain, and ourselves. This blogger agrees that the relationship continues to be a colonial one, despite efforts by the present Government to propagate that the 2006 Constitution is non-colonial. Just read the last paragraph of the schedule to that Constitution to be disavowed of that propaganda.

The essential importance of this observation is that, absent sovereignty being in the hands of the people of Gibraltar, save by reversible inclusion of undertakings by Great Britain in the Constitution, which is English law made by Order in Council, in the end and extreme analysis the decision to negotiate Gibraltar's sovereignty with Spain rests with the colonial power. On this analysis the options (if one accepts the impossibility of integration which has been denied to Gibraltar by the British Government consistently) open to Gibraltar are to continue under the colonial relationship (admittedly modernised) granted under the 2006 Constitution or seek independence.

Unfortunately, independence is not feasible for Gibraltar because, amongst a myriad of other reasons, of its size, dependence on external influences to have a vibrant economy and the manner in which Europe is evolving. The option that remains is to secure against abuse the high degree of devolution that Gibraltar has achieved under the 2006 Constitution.

The biggest danger that Gibraltar faces in maintaining that position for a decent amount of time is not the danger that Britain might negotiate away our sovereignty. This is an extremely remote possibility, both because Britain keeps its word and also (possibly more importantly) because of the defence needs of the western World.

The greatest danger is internal. It is the possibility, or even probability, of bad governance leading to a need for British intervention, which could change the dynamics enabling a British Government to justify a change in sovereignty to Spain. The danger is the democratic deficit enshrined in the 2006 constitution and indeed its predecessor. It does not include sufficient checks and balances, additionally there is no desire on the part of the Gibraltar Government to introduce, for example electoral reforms, to improve democracy. The result is a presidential style of government that is open to abuse at any time. Gibraltar has already experienced that. There is nothing to prevent a repetition.

Improved democracy will protect Gibraltar from a change in sovereignty to Spanish sovereignty. It is difficult to understand why all political parties are so reticent to move towards greater democratisation. It will strengthen Gibraltar's hand. It will ensure that sovereignty in reality and in practice will rest with the people of Gibraltar (as is the case in most independent European states) and not lie with Great Britain, as the colonial power. The Constitution might say different but empowering the people more will dilute, in practice, the colonial attributes of the 2006 Constitution.

Empowering people more is not greatly difficult. It can be achieved by electoral reform that will encourage a more diverse system of government than the two party system that the existing electoral system gives rise to . An appropriate system of proportional representative will deliver this.

Proportional representation will give rise to a more diverse and representative Parliament. It will encourage a greater probability of backbenchers being elected who will be drawn from amongst people who do not stand for election presently by reason of the need to conform to a party regime. It will provide additional checks and balances because not all supporters (in a coalition scenario that proportional representation would encourage) of a government would yearn to be Ministers, leading to a greater separation of powers between executive and legislature. After all, there is little divergence of opinion between all our present politicians beyond personality clashes, rhetoric and the urge and race for power, without sufficient regard for what is best for Gibraltar and its people.


  1. our system is in dire need of reform at present the system is essentially an elected dictatorship where the government has four years where it is guaranteed to get it way on every issue. We either need an effective back bench element or a right of recall where the people can by petion dissolve parliament and call a general election.

  2. I agree that, despite the 2006 Constitution, Gibraltar’s status continues to be that of a colony or, more accurately, a UK Overseas Territory and that further constitutional reform, ultimately aimed at securing the maximum devolution of powers from the UK, is desirable.

    I also agree that, currently, independence is not a feasible option, not because of any limitations of physical size (as you suggest) but simply because it would not be politically or economically practical to embark on a course of action that is sure to offend Spain. That is simply a case of political-economic reality, bitter as the pill may be to swallow.

    From a personal persepective, integration (with either the UK or Spain) is out of the question, for a variety of reasons. The most obvious of these being that such a course of action would betray our identity as a distinct people and, at a stroke, destroy half a century of hard-won concessions.

    So, what are we left with? In my opinion, there are two possible courses of action open to us:

    Firstly, we explore the possibility of pursuing free association with the UK (with the likely outcome that the UK would reject this on the grounds that it would put at risk the delicate balance of its own diplomatic relations with Spain).

    Secondly, and perhaps controversially, we explore formulae to make independence a “feasible option”. How would we do this? The key in such a project would be to bring Spain “onside”. Admittedly, this has two important prerequisites – the acceptance by Gibraltar that Spain should have a role to play in her affairs, and the termination by Spain of her claim on Gibraltar. Neither of these are likely to happen any time soon, but at least we can begin to introduce these concepts into the political discourse and chip slowly away at the anachronstic positions held on either side of the frontier.

    I am, technically, advocating an Andorra-type solution. “Andorra” is often misunderstood in Gibraltar as essentially joint sovereignty. This is not the case. The 1993 Andorran constitution vests the sovereignty of Andorra IN THE ANDORRAN PEOPLE, with Spain and France acting as international guarantors of that status. Additionally, a 1993 Treaty of Vicinage, Friendship and Cooperation between Andorra, Spain and France guides how diplomatic and other relations between the three (in an Andorran context) are managed.

    At the very least, this model, and specifically how it could be transferred to Gibraltar (allowing of course for necessary modifications so that it can better fit the Gibraltar context) merits closer study. Instead of miring ourselves in the sovereignty discourse of the 1960s and 1970s, we would do well to begin thinking “outside the box” as we enter the second decade of the 21st century.

    The important thing is not to sit back and be spoon-fed initiatives by the UK, Spain, or both. If the joint sovereignty debacle of 2002 taught us anything, it should be that, from now on, WE should be the proactive party providing formulas and solutions to OUR constitutional future.

    Gibraltar deserves no less.

  3. Not only extremely interesting but there is nothing in this with which I would disagree. The issue is how achievable is your second proposal in the context of Spain's anachronistic historical position and its own internal political struggles with its various autonomies? Accepted that these are not reasons not to strive for your suggestion.

  4. I fully recognise (as I have above) that my proposal is not very achievable as things stand at present.

    Spain is, for the time being at least, unwilling or unable to drop the sovereignty claim and thus change her "anachronistic historical position". Gibraltar is equally unwilling to accept a role (however small or symbolic) for Spain in her affairs. As a result, we have an impasse, one which I readily accept is extremely difficult to break.

    Whereas I am uncomfortable with certain aspects of the Cordoba Process, perhaps one thing it WILL achieve of benefit to us is the fact that it will pave the way for trilateral negotiation on sovereignty at some future juncture (i.e. it will predispose Spain to accepting that sovereignty should be a game of three and not two) and that from such a framework something along the "Andorra" line could bear fruit. In other words, Cordoba may produce little of real tangible worth now, but perhaps its value will be seen in creating an "atmosphere" conducive to the practical (trilateral) resolution of the sovereignty question at some point in future.

    With regard to Spain's "own internal political struggles with its various autonomies", I do not see this as a problem. I should make it clear that under my proposal Gibraltar would in NO WAY form part of the Spanish state, in the same way as Andorra is not part of the Spanish state now. As such, the internal constitutional struggles between Madrid and the regions of Spain would not impact on our own position.

  5. Despite Gibraltar not forming any part of the Spanish state the internal constitutional struggle between Madrid and the regions of Spain cannot be ignored. The issue will be their perception that a relationship can exist outside the Spanish state with some continuing relationship. A stretched argument but it is emotion that takes over from pragmatism in these situations.

  6. It is up to Madrid to disavow the regions of the perception that a relationship can exist outside the state but with an association of some kind. Gibraltar and the regions cannot, in any case, be seen in the same constitutional context and should the regions seek to use (as they sometimes do) Gibraltar as an example or template for their own future status, they would be making a gross political miscalculation.

    The Gibraltar context is an entirely different one, not least because unlike them Gibraltar has not formed part of the Spanish state, or Spanish national territory, since 1704.

    Our relationship with Spain is not - and never has been - a case of secession, which is why it serves our cause no benefit whatsoever (in the past, present or future) to associate ourselves with separatist movements of any kind in Spain.