Tuesday, October 30, 2012


In my article in Panorama on October 5 I told of how I got to talking to one young politician by the name of Hadleigh Roberts at the Labour Party Conference. He is a linguist and his skills saw him working in the Parti Socialiste offices in southern France. He was also a staffer on Axelle Lemaire’s campaign to be elected as the PS MP for the French overseas constituency, which stretches from the UK to the North Pole.  He is committed to Europe and spoke at conference on this theme.

I went on to say he asked me two questions that he had been putting to people he met. There is a possibility that after the referendum Scotland could leave the United Kingdom. If that is the case then treaties that are binding to the UK would not be valid for Scotland. This would mean if Scotland wished to be a member of the European Community it would have to apply for membership in its own right.

The first question was: would the UK government object to Scotland joining the EC?  The second question was this: would Spain block Scotland’s membership? Well, as I said, I never saw the second one coming but Hadleigh explained Spain might black ball Scotland’s application because it would not want the Scots to set a precedent for the Catalans or indeed the Basques making a similar application.

We will leave the first question aside but in response to the second my answer was I did not believe Spain would interfere in a political matter that revolved around the remainder of the UK and a newly independent Scotland. I was wrong.

I did not appreciate what a panic the UK’s decision to allow Scotland a referendum on independence in 2014 would cause amongst the Spanish Partido Popular Government in Madrid.

The Basque’s in their regional government elections the Sunday before last returned both the two Nationalists parties with huge majorities over PSOE and the Partido Popular. They want out. Next up on November 25 is the Catalan regional election which again the nationalists are expected to win. If they do, they will hold a referendum on independence next year.

Against this scenario Spain’s foreign minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, has been speaking out. He stated the “right to secession is not recognised in any of the constitutions of the EU” and hence neither the Basques nor the Catalans can follow Scotland’s lead and try to leave Spain. He also argues that any such move is against the UN Charter and EU Treaty. Spain’s premier Mariano Rajoy warned the Basques during their regional elections they would be isolated outside of Spain and the EU if they went independent: the same message has been delivered by his PP henchpeople to the Catalans.

Garcia-Margallo commented that in the UK sovereignty resided with Parliament and it was Parliament that had authorised that the Scottish people could leave the Union if they decided “to navigate their own course”. He added that a referendum held without the approval of the British Parliament would have been illegal and have had no effect on Europe. Spain’s Constitution does not allow for any such referendum.

Now comes the key bit of the Spanish Foreign Minister’s argument. He says that if Scotland opts for independence then it will be outside of the EU and have to go to the end of the queue for membership. To finally achieve that membership it will have to obtain the backing of all member states. Hence there will be no fast track for Scotland and by implication Spain would block any attempt for special treatment. In all likelihood Spain would veto Scotland’s EU membership as it would be terrified that independent Basque and Catalan states would attempt to follow in its footsteps.

This pitches Spain into the debate over Scottish independence. Madrid may not have anticipated the angry reaction this will generate from Edinburgh. Certainly an independent Scotland will not sit quietly by whilst the Partido Popular interferes in its future status. Also when the question of Scotland’s future membership of the EU is debated between now and 2014 expect the SNP to come out fighting against Madrid. Rajoy and the Partido Popular had a fight on their hands with the Basques and the Catalans: now they can add the Scots too and indeed may be the British Government.

Monday, October 29, 2012


A year ago Gibraltar politics received a shock when the GSD announced that Fabian Vinet, who was second in the polls to Peter Caruana at the previous election, would not be on its slate. I contacted Fabian at the time to see if he wanted to talk: he didn’t but nearly a year on he does.

David Eade: It was around a year ago that you received the major shock that you would not be a GSD candidate in the coming election. Whilst you were shocked, those in politics were puzzled and no doubt many voters were surprised. At the time you kept a dignified silence: a year on how do you look back on those painful days?

Fabian Vinet: I recall saying at the time that I felt lost and confused, and that’s precisely the overwhelming recollection. I wasn’t angry or bitter or even resentful, but I was certainly hurt and I’d be lying if I said they weren’t tough days. In a sense it has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with human nature. When you have a roadmap of your career and your life ahead of you and the plans are drastically altered for you, and in particular without good reason, it comes as a shock and it hurts. So yes, they were painful days for my family and I. Bear in mind that I had been a member of the GSD Executive since 2000 and that I had always been loyal to the Party generally and Peter Caruana specifically. In fact I’d been working closely and built up a great rapport with the members of the Young GSD and other new faces, as well as being part of the think-tank that was responsible for the political content of the manifesto and overall political steer and message in the run-up to the 2012 election. That particular committee only had three of the then existing Ministers in its composition, namely the Chief Minister, the Deputy Chief Minister and myself. Perhaps that did not please others who had not been asked to be involved. So in that scenario of involvement and trust, to effectively be told by the Executive, “we don’t want you – we are trying to regenerate and rejuvenate the party by bringing in younger candidates but have decided to remove the youngest of the existing Ministers in the process”, well, to me it did not make sense and felt like a stab in the back. Having said that, I am conscious that I was not betrayed by the Party in the wider sense, by which I mean the members and supporters, many of whom will always be good friends, but rather by a majority of the Executive. Despite the unexpected outcome and the days of uncertainty and worry that followed, I will always be proud of my involvement in the GSD during those twelve years and have no regrets. I am grateful for having had the privilege to serve Gibraltar and hope my time in politics did not go unnoticed and that I was able to make a difference.

DE: I know you received messages from people across the political divide – did that help lessen the pain?

FV: It made all the difference, it really did. The extraordinary thing – and I give you my word this is true – is that still now, almost a year since the event, people who I have not bumped into during this time, many of them strangers, will still stop me to offer support and explain their view on what happened. It’s intriguing that after all this time there are still people who feel strongly enough about the decision and what or who they felt was behind it. Particularly at the time, I was very humbled by the support and prayers from so many hundreds of individuals, of all political persuasions, and will always be grateful for their words and encouragement. Politicians also lent their support, most notably Peter Caruana and Joe Holliday from my then party. But even those who sat across the floor in Parliament, people like Fabian Picardo, Joe Bossano and Joseph Garcia contacted me and to be able to put aside political differences and extend a very genuine hand of friendship and support speaks volumes about them and those are things that at a personal level I will neither forget nor take for granted. So in answer to your question, yes, all those messages were a huge help and boost and they still are, but I don’t want to live in the past. Life is just too short to bear grudges and to be bitter when I have so much to be thankful for in life. I’ve moved on and prefer to focus on the positive.

DE: It is a common perception that the GSD is Caruana’s party and if he had wanted you to stand you would have. The fact that he supposedly voted for you and the others didn’t doesn’t mean you had his support: he could simply have been saving facing whilst ordering your removal? Conspiracy theory or element of the truth?

FV: I would rather that question be put to the only person who really knows the answer, but I do know this: Even with the flaws or negative traits that some may attribute to him – and we all have them to some extent – I have always regarded Peter not only as a formidable Chief Minister who spearheaded a positive transformation of Gibraltar, but as a religious, good human being with high moral values. I therefore have no reason to question his assurances and on that basis am convinced that he did vote for me, as he told me he did. Why, if the outcome was not of his liking, he failed to act to somehow reverse the decision, is not something I have the answer to and do have more difficulty in understanding. We are all free to speculate as to the real reason behind this or that and certainly I have my own personal views as to what transpired in the background, even though I am not a conspiracy theorist by nature.

DE: The general election was a closely run affair: as you were the second most popular candidate on the GSD list at the previous election do you think your personal vote could have swung the result in your party’s favour?

FV: I am not as pretentious as to think the result would have been different, but it is not inconceivable that it could have been. Many share that view. I know for a fact that there were more than just a few persons whose voting intentions were affected and who either decided not to vote at all as a sign of protest or to be more selective as to how their votes were distributed, so there must have been an effect, even though it is impossible to quantify its extent. My personal belief? I do not necessarily think that my mere presence on the slate of candidates would by itself have resulted in the GSD winning the elections, but I do think it was one of a number of factors that contributed to the result. The margin of difference between the two main parties was not huge so who knows, it may perhaps have made a difference.

DE: In your years in government what did you view as your greatest success – and I know politicians do not admit failures so where could you have done better?

FV: Well I don’t agree with the general statement that politicians are unable or unwilling to admit failures. I think most people go into politics for the right reasons and because they want to improve their country and better the lives of its people, as opposed to achieving some sort of personal gain. But as much as politicians may want to help, they aren’t infallible and there is nothing wrong in admitting failure. If you look at all my budget speeches and party political broadcasts over the years, I have always been honest enough to admit when there is more to be done or that improvements to date don’t go far enough. The electorate are astute, savvy and clever and do not like to be lied to or patronised. What is the point of describing something as perfect when it visibly isn’t? Of course there are things I wish my government had done differently or sooner, and under the notion of collective responsibility I accept my own role within that. I think doing away with the self-repair system for government rental properties was a mistake, and when we have a 1RKB Housing Waiting List that is hugely greater than that of other sized properties, we should have built many one- and two-bedroom flats to cater for that demand. That is something I strongly felt ought to have been in the GSD manifesto. Also, I don’t think we were bold enough to not think about political repercussions and look more closely at the eligibility criteria for public housing to at least try and prevent the abuse that exists in some areas. At a more general level and without focusing on specifics, I wish I’d have been more confident and more forceful in making my voice heard within Government, both to fight for what I thought was best and also to fight against what I thought should have been handled differently. But there are also a fair share of what I regard as personal successes. I was Minister for the Environment at the time in which the air quality monitoring stations were commissioned and backed the setting up of the first World Environment Day to be commemorated locally, for instance. The Autumn Festival of Art and Culture was my personal idea and I gave the green light to the first ever Calentita Festival. I would like to think that I brought a new, fresh approach to Culture so that it involved younger people and did not only focus on the Fine Arts and Classical music. On the Housing front, I made a conscious effort to focus more than ever before on the social and medical needs of housing applicants and that resulted in absolute record allocations to persons and families on those waiting lists. Some of my predecessors as Housing Ministers either chose not to meet members of the public or were selective as to who they met. From day one at the Ministry I took the decision to change things and meet with each and every person who wanted to see me. Not one single request was turned down, although that did result in members of the public having to wait longer than I would have liked, even if that was an unavoidable consequence of what I think was not only a more accessible approach but a more human and personal one too. At the end of the day, not everyone’s problems can be resolved in the way they desire, but those whom I met will know I did everything within my means to help as much as possible. I’m certainly not perfect but I did try my best.

DE: A year on how do you view the performance of the GSLP Liberal Government and your old party in opposition?

FV: Well I think it’s more difficult to judge the performance of Opposition parties because what they do or don’t do cannot readily translate into something visible or tangible. It must be very demoralising and difficult to find oneself on the Opposition benches, especially after sixteen years of calling the shots. The GSD has some good and committed people like Damon Bossino, who for many years I felt should play an active role in politics. As far as the GSLP/Liberals’ performance over the past eleven months, I think on balance and objectively, it has been good and possibly better than many expected. Look, no government can ever get everything right because we are human beings and so prone to errors of judgement. On the fishing issue, for instance, their manifesto gave them a mandate to pursue a particular policy that differed from the GSD’s, although my personal belief is that the process and timetable should have been handled differently. But on the whole, I think an independent observer will find it difficult to find fault with the moves towards a more open and accessible democratic process. The greater number of meetings of Parliament, the publication on a regular basis of statistics without the need for the Opposition to request the details, public meetings of the Development and Planning Commission… These are all positive steps forward which I welcome. Whatever our political leanings, how could anyone not support the employment of more teachers, the publication of Command Papers before relevant Bills or more Cabinet-led decision making? I’m now out of active politics but I still want what is best for Gibraltar and for my children, so I will always wish the government of the day well in pursuing the policies that the electorate has voted for. At a purely personal level, but which necessarily even if subconsciously has an impact on how someone’s abilities and credibility are perceived, I have profound respect for Fabian Picardo. At a time when things were not easy, he extended a hand of friendship and support and was man enough to be able to put our political differences to one side. As a result, I now enjoy a professional working relationship with Government, based on my legal background. I speak from my own personal experience when I say that I have found Mr Picardo to be trustworthy and decent. His kindness towards my family and I is not something I will ever forget.

DE: Eleven months out of government: what does the future hold for you now and with the speculation over the future direction and leadership of the GSD is there a role for Fabian Vinet?

FV: There is no role for me in active politics in the near future, of that I am certain. I am enjoying spending more time at home with my young family and am also kept busy with the important work of the Commission on Democratic and Parliamentary Reform, while very soon I intend to become involved with a brand new medical charity that we hope will be launched in the coming months. But I do miss ministerial office and being able to influence things directly. I hope at some point in the future, whether that is in five or ten or even twenty years’ time, there will be a political role for me in support of those with the best interests of Gibraltar genuinely at heart. If at some point there are those who wish me to return and I feel I can make a real contribution, and of course should the electorate so desire, it would be a privilege to do so. 

Friday, October 19, 2012


Monday was an important day for Gibraltar. It was Gibraltar Day in the City of London hosted by the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, and also there was an urgent debate in the House of Commons on the cross border delays which drew all party support. However I would argue the most important event of Monday was that the Labour Party demonstrated it was firmly behind Gibraltar and its right to self-determine its own future.

Of course the Labour Party was never off-side but was tainted by the attempts of its former Premier, Tony Blair, who to appease Spain’s Prime Minister José María Aznar, tried to bump Gibraltar in to a joint-sovereignty deal. He was aided and abetted in that task by his Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Europe Minister Peter Hain. The stain of Hain has been with the Labour Party ever since.

However it should be remembered that the triple-lock to Gibraltar’s security was not a Tory invention but Labour’s. Also one of the most effective of Gibraltar’s MEPs was Labour’s Glen Ford who fought hard for the Rock and only lost his seat because of the socialists’ electoral collapse in the UK. Also the emergency debate in the House of Commons on Monday was secured by Jim Dobbin. He is the Labour/Co-op MP for Heywood and Middleton and is Chair of the All Party Gibraltar Group. So the Labour Party, a sister party of the GSLP, have been good friends of Gibraltar and will continue to be so.

The important contribution to Monday’s debate came from Labour’s Shadow Europe Minister, Emma Reynolds. The key words were: “The Opposition continue to support the self-determination of the Gibraltarian people and their right to remain under British sovereignty, as we did in government.”

This drew the response from the Europe Minister, David Lidington: “I am grateful for what the hon. Lady said about her support for British sovereignty over Gibraltar and respecting the rights of its people. I particularly welcome her remarks, if they mark a break with the proposals for shared sovereignty and the betrayal of the people of Gibraltar that the Labour party supported when in office.”

Even Ian Paisley the North Antrim DUP MP after welcoming the strong statement by the Minister added: “and the equally strong statement from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) on the Opposition Front Bench about Gibraltar’s sovereignty.”

Labour is back on track and Lidington’s acidic remark accusing the Labour Party of “betrayal” would have been water off a duck’s back to the very capable Shadow Europe Minister. It would have been surprising if he hadn’t made it but he should be very wary of using Gibraltar to score political points in the future. Gibraltar needs the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour to speak with one voice in its support.

Emma Reynolds also opened the way for her boss the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, and indeed the Labour Party Leader, Ed Miliband, to talk about Gibraltar without looking over their shoulders to the Blair era. The deeds of Blair, Straw and Hain are consigned to books: it is the words and actions of Miliband, Alexander and Reynolds that now count.

Friday, October 12, 2012


(Photo: Radio 15M Murcia)

Today is October 12, Día de la Hispanidad. It is Spain’s National Day and the day the people of that nation celebrate being Spanish. Well that’s the theory anyway. The Catalans won’t be celebrating being Spanish because they don’t believe they are. The Basques neither they have been battling for their own independent homeland. Some Galicians feel the same way as do others in Valencia and the Balearics. Well across the border they are Spanish, oh sorry I forgot, they are Andaluz.

Anyway today is October 12, Día de la Hispanidad. Let us put aside the chief minister’s speech to the UN which was the clearest statement probably yet that Gibraltar will never be Spanish. For the sake of this article let’s presume overnight the entire population of Gibraltar decided to accept Rajoy’s euro and become Spanish. Let’s imagine our chief minister throwing open the windows of No 6 and in the voice reminiscent of a game show host cries: “Come on down Rajoy and let’s smell this cafe con leche!”

There are three things you need to know about the Spain of today: the Spain Rajoy wants us to join. The first is that Spain is in economic crisis. It is bankrupt and needs sooner rather than later a massive EC bailout. The abusive and criminal banks that are largely responsible for this mess need many billions more in cash. The jobless total stands at 24.63 percent, the highest in Europe. If you are young the figure is above 52 per cent. Over 500 people lose their homes every day. There are huge government budget cuts, the health and education services are in disarray.

The second is Spain is a nation on fire. We are used to the Basques and Catalans protesting but now the people of every city and town are on the streets. Demonstrations of 60,000 plus are the norm. They are protesting about the economic cuts and corruption. The government in Madrid wants to stamp down on peaceful protest. One example of the crackdown is a possible modification to article 559 of the Código Penal. It would allow heavy jail terms to be handed down to anybody who announces a non-violent protest or gives out information of such by email, Facebook or Twitter or who gives a humoristic performance against corruption or fraud that the authorities deem can cause public disorder such as cutting traffic.

The third is the Spanish State as we know it may be short lived or turn in to a Francoist centralised country. The Catalans want out, the Basques want out. Others are arguing for a federated nation where each region runs its own affairs. The leader of PSOE Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba says he leads a federal party so why not a federal state. Of course Rajoy and the Partido Popular want to control everybody, they want to take back powers for Madrid, they are setting the country on the course for at best a violent civil breakdown.

Are you smelling that cafe con leche yet?

So if today the Spanish flag was flying over the Convent and José María Aznar was in residence what would life be like? Well the waters dispute would be over because the waters would be Spanish. The border queues would be gone because there is no border. And the price of cigarettes would have rocketed so there would be no more smuggling.

How’s the cafe con leche smelling now?

Those who live in Sotogrande, members of the GSD – Gibraltarian Sotogrande Dwellers - and seek such a solution for Gibraltar would tell you that other than that life would go on as normal. Logic tells us otherwise.

If Gibraltar was Spanish how could our neighbours be taxed to the hilt, suffer numerous hardships, budgets slashed here, there and everywhere yet in Gibraltar Español life goes on as normal?

With La Línea and the Campo de Gibraltar on its knees how could a Spanish Gibraltar, the economic motor of the zone, be allowed to escape sharing the hardship which would no longer be across the border but part of our region.

Would Landaluce, the PP’s Gibraltar hating mayor of Algeciras, allow the Rock to have governance and financial privileges that his own port town does not enjoy? Furthermore as Algeciras is by far the biggest town on the bay would he play second fiddle to our chief minister?

If Spain is to become a federation how would Gibraltar fit in to that landscape? And if Spain becomes centrist then you can wave goodbye to any independence.

Well by now you’ve no doubt woken up, smelt the cafe con leche and decided the milk has gone off. In short Spain has nothing to woo Gibraltar with: and the concept of Gibraltar Español may be a dream for some but for Gibraltarians it would be a living nightmare.

(The Gibraltar Government has been using the phrase – “wake up and smell the coffee” – in a number of recent statements).

Thursday, October 4, 2012


A week ago I reported in Panorama that the leading Labour politician, Jack Straw, had published his autobiography – Last Man Standing. I went on to say he had held two of the great departments of State, the Home and Foreign Office under Tony Blair. Yet for Gibraltarians his name will for ever be linked with the debacle over joint sovereignty with Spain in 2002.

The odd thing about his autobiography is there are just two references to Gibraltar. The first relates to discussions on a Freedom of Information Act and mentions briefly the shooting of the IRA suspects. The second is a subheading to the chapter on his becoming Foreign Secretary entitled “Life in the Air”. This is followed by the quotation: “Zimbabwe, and Gibraltar – My answer to a close friend who’d asked in July 2002 what were the biggest issues facing me as the new Foreign Secretary.”

The big international issues of the day such as Iraq and Pakistan feature but although Straw claims Gibraltar was one of “the biggest issues facing me” not another word.

I am at the Labour Party Conference this week and of course Jack Straw is in attendance. I asked his office could we meet? “Oh no” they said, “he’s far too busy promoting his book”.

So I contacted his publishers who said there was a book signing - meet Jack Straw event on Tuesday night but other than that, nothing. So he wasn’t far too busy promoting his book.

Nor was Mr Straw keeping a low profile although his labelling of the former almost sainted leader of the Labour Party, John Smith, as an alcoholic who was not fit to be prime minister probably didn’t endear him to many party activists from that era.

So I took the opportunity to introduce myself to Mr Straw, who seemed to recognise my name, and was only too happy to talk. I asked him about the “Zimbabwe –Gibraltar” quote and if that was true why hadn’t he mentioned Gibraltar in the chapter.
His answer was he had written a chapter on Gibraltar but it wasn’t the Foreign Office who asked him to take it out but the publisher. He said the book was overlong so something had to go and it was the Rock.

Fair enough if true! However a chapter on Gibraltar would certainly have boosted the sales and to be honest the book is not exactly lengthy. The other oddity is that the heading to his Foreign Secretary chapter is the one that belongs to the Gibraltar chapter. So maybe Pan Macmillan, his publishers, not only has a paper shortage but also are lacking in competent editors.

So why isn’t Caruana not off the hook yet on the joint sovereignty issue? Well it seems Jack Straw is now keen to tell the tale of what happened over the joint sovereignty debacle in 2002 and is considering not just a chapter but a book exclusively on that subject.

The Hain book in January of this year, which was also being heavily promoted at the conference, revealed enough to suggest Caruana had intended to back the joint sovereignty deal and had misled the Europe Minister. However the fact is Hain is not a popular figure in the Labour Party let alone outside of it. Jack Straw on the other hand is a big beast of British politics and if he points the finger at Caruana then the accusations will stick. Of course the former chief minister might challenge Mr Straw in court. The only problem is that like Caruana Jack Straw is a lawyer too. Not only that he was Lord Chancellor. “Game on” is I think the modern phrase.