Gibraltar celebrated National Day yesterday (10 September). It commemorates the referendum held in 1967 when Gibraltarians voted overwhelmingly in favour of retaining British sovereignty – although the designation of the day and the annual holiday only started in the 1990s.
Everyone dresses up in red and white and there is a day-long programme of music and events. Much of it is in Casemates Square, including the traditional political speeches and release of balloons at 1pm. Thirty thousand red and white balloons are let off to represent the 30,000 inhabitants of the Rock.
It was just as well I decided to get the bus home from the Frontier on my trip back from Spain as I certainly wouldn’t have been able to negotiate Casemates with any great ease. And the sun was pretty hot. Better still, the bus was free.
“No paga nadie hoy,” said one of the passengers. (No-one pays today).
“Un día con mucha alegría,” said another – whether in reference to free bus trips or the celebrations wasn’t clear. (A day of much happiness).
Beneath the apparent alegría though, there is major political wrangling, which as ever, centres on Gibraltar’s international status.
Spain has not given up claims to sovereignty over Gibraltar, and yesterday according to Gib radio, a couple of Spaniards were arrested for trying to unfurl a Spanish flag in Casemates. Major PR stunt. And behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace, I would have thought, on Gibraltar’s National Day. Or maybe any day.
With general elections in a month’s time, the Chief Minister of the current government, Peter Caruana (Gibraltar Social Democrats) is claiming that self-determination has been achieved, Gibraltar has a new modern relationship with Britain that is no longer colonial, and the new constitution that came into effect earlier this year marks a new beginning.
The opposition, on the other hand, denies there is any change in Gib’s status. Leader of the Opposition, Joe Bossano (Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party), claims Gibraltar has not been fully decolonised, and says the next United Nations sessions in October on decolonisation will indicate whether there is really any change in the relationship between the UK and Britain.
Who would want to be the British delegate in New York at this session? Not me. Trying to appease Spain and Gibraltar at the same time while maintaining your own credibility?
We will see what the people of Gibraltar think when they go to the polls next month. Perhaps, like many other countries, as Gibraltar is currently enjoying reasonable prosperity, a major construction boom, and continued investment from outside, Gibraltarians will vote for the status quo.
And apart from a rotten egg and a beer can thrown at the stage when the Chief Minister was speaking, there was little evidence during the day of people thinking much about politics.
Sources: Gibraltar Chronicle and Gibfocus for the political background. The rest of it is mine (and Partner’s).