Dr Joseph Garcia is Deputy Chief Minister of Gibraltar and the current leader of the Gibraltar Liberal Party. He holds a doctorate from the University of Hull on ‘The Political and Constitutional Development of Gibraltar’.  

(1)    Can you provide a brief account of Gibraltarian politics?

The Gibraltarian government is responsible for all internal affairs. We don’t cost the British taxpayer a single penny; we generate our own revenue and we spend our own revenue. We had an economic growth rate of 8% last year at a time when most countries failed to witness any significant growth. We also had a budget surplus, which is obviously uncommon elsewhere on the Continent.

The Parliament is composed of 17 members, elected by 20,000 registered voters. Ten of these MP’s form the government, whilst the remaining seven form a parliamentary opposition. The government is composed of 7 Labour members, and 3 members of the Liberal Party (of which I am one). The opposition is formed by 7 seven Social Democrats.

Parliament is responsible for all sorts of things, including fusing EU directives with Gibraltarian law. The Gibraltarian Parliament, like the British Parliament, is omnipotent. The Governor represents the Queen, our Head of State, and is also Commander-in-Chief. However, the Governor has no effective influence on the day to day running of Gibraltar’s affairs. Although we are a colony in legal terms (we remain on the UN list of colonies), we have a very high level of self-government.

(2)    Are you satisfied with the level of political engagement amongst young people in Gibraltar?

I think young Gibraltarians are very politically aware. Unlike in other countries, Gibraltar is faced with an external threat. This results in a threat to our identity, our government and our country. The methods Spain use, whether it be generating queues at the border, or imposing maritime incursions by naval vessels, affect the daily lives of Gibraltarians, both young and old. For instance, young people have a specific interest in ending frontier queues at the weekend.

(3)    Do you think that the absence of this ‘external threat’ would result in higher levels of political apathy amongst young Gibraltarians?

I think political awareness amongst Gibraltarians would be different. I am of course providing a hypothetical answer. The use of local colloquial political terms such as ‘Chenga’ (which refers to border controls etc) is not something people abroad may be aware of. Indeed, we have developed technical language due to the historical factor which is Spain’s relationship with Gibraltar.

(4)    Why are you proud to be a self-confessed Liberal?

I have been of Liberal views ever since I entered the political arena in 1991. My faith in Liberalism, as an ideology in of itself, is nothing new. However, I think the concomitant concepts of human rights, self-determination and tolerance, is something which is central to the Liberal philosophy. The Gibraltar national issue fits very conveniently into the whole Liberal agenda. We have a people who wish to freely and democratically determine their political future. Indeed, the Spanish threat which we are faced with is analogous to John Stuart Mill’s tyrannical majority.

(5)    How would you respond to the claim that acts such as flag-bearing and military parades are both jingoistic and provocative?

Flag-bearing in a colony such as ours is incomparable to flag-bearing in any modern nation-state. Having said that, we saw flag-bearing in the Queen’s Jubilee year. It is simply a manifestation of one’s own national identity. There is nothing wrong with that.

Flag-bearing in a colony means something completely different. The flag-waving witnessed on National Day allows a colonial people to exercise their right to self-determination. Gibraltarians, as ironically as this may sound, claim their right to be a colonial people. They accept and celebrate such a status. They do not act like the aggressive, racist and belligerent imperialists which human history provides an account of.

(6)    From an outsider’s perspective, how would you rate the performance of the British Coalition government?

First of all, you have to bear in mind what the current British government inherited. Speaking as an elected official, my sympathies lie with any government who attempts to overcome a heavy burden analogous to the British budget deficit. .

In terms of coalition politics, I think the current British government has functioned extremely effectively. This opinion is based on the fact that the coalition politics are new to the United Kingdom, whereas they are very much the norm in parts of Europe. Here in Gibraltar, we have a tradition of working together. The Liberal Party and the GSLP (Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party) have presented one programme for government. In fact, we contested the election on a joint manifesto. This resulted in the electorate having a pre-conceived and transparent view on what a coalition government would look like.

(7)    How would you describe the relationship between the Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Party of Gibraltar?

We are not a branch of the Liberal Democrats. Having said that, we both belong to Liberal International. This common membership between the two parties has allowed us to find supportive members amongst the Liberal Democrats. For instance, at several Liberal International conferences, we have tabled resolutions on Gibraltar which were supported by the British Liberal Democrats. These resolutions have included the right to self-determination and the right to democratic yet colonised status. We have worked well together in those forums.

Particular individuals have also proved their worth as international ambassadors for Gibraltar. For example, the MEP for the South West of England and Gibraltar, Sir Graham Watson, has endorsed Gibraltar’s official line on many occasions.