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As Others See Us: The View from Gibraltar

SCOTS may well decide to stay British in September. But we'll never match the sheer overwhelming enthusiasm of Gibraltarians to do the same.

Twice the people of Rock have voted to back full UK sovereignty, They did so first in 1967 when dictator Francisco Franco was at his full pomp. The result: 99.64% for Britain.

And they did so again in 2002 when the then Labour government of Tony Blair mooted shared sovereignty with a now democratic Spain. The result: 98.48% against.

Thus Gibraltarians exercised their right to self-determination. So the still British territory's government presumably recognises the same right for others, such as Scots and Catalans? Well, not exactly.

Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo last week singularly failed to back the "right to decide" for Scotland and Catalunya when challenged by hostile Spanish journalists.

Badgered live on TV, he appeared to suggest only ex-colonies and overseas territories - such as his own - had the entitlement, but not devolved regions of European democracies.

"The right to self-determination, on which I and all Gibraltarians consider ourselves expert, refers to peoples from a non-self-governing territory and is totally different to the situation we are seeing in Scotland or Catalunya, although I will not express an opinion on these."

Picardo then went on to say he backed the Downing Street stance on Scotland - that the referendum should be allowed to go ahead - while not saying whether he'd back independence or not.

"In relation to the UK," he said, "as a British citizen I have a point of view but I do not have a vote, as only the Scots will vote. I keep my point of view to myself, just as I do regarding Catalonia, I express absolutely no point of view at all but I defend the position of the Prime Minister of the UK, Mr David Cameron, who has given Scotland the right to decide."

Scottish readers may not all spot the nuanced difference between being "given" the right to decide and "having" the right to decide without permission from above.

After all, for us the question is moot. We are having a vote the results of which will be respected by Westminster.

But Catalans are still campaigning for Madrid to recognise their "dret a decidir", their right to self-determination, and agree to accept the results of a referendum scheduled for November.

So they immediately picked up on Picardo's remarks. Catalunya's CiU even cancelled a planned meeting with the Gib "Chief", sparking headlines of a clash over Scotland.

This might look like minor diplomatic handbags. And maybe it is. But I reckon it tells us something about the international legacy of our referendum, about how our vote, however it ends, will be spun.

Few in the West are now brave enough to dispute overseas territories such as Gibraltar or France's Pacific outpost of New Caledonia right to self-determination. But Picardo may not be the only politician to quibble over who gets such a right. Don't expect Spain, Belgium, Italy, Russia or even the UK to automatically buy in to "self-determination" for would-be secessionist regions or nations just because we got a vote. We, after all, were "given" it.

I asked the SNP what they thought of Picardo's remarks. "The right to self-determination is enshrined in the UN Charter, and Scotland is neither a colony nor a region but one of the oldest nations in Europe," a spokesman said. "The future of Scotland is a matter for the people of Scotland - something the UK Government respect and accept - just as the future of Gibraltar is a matter for people there."

True enough, Scotland used to be a state in its own right. It has firm and undisputed borders; you can point to Scotland on a map: everyone agrees where it begins and ends. Most Scots call it a country - even if some also call Britain one too. But there is no UN policeman who could've rapped No 10 for refusing a vote, for rejecting the right to self-determination. The SNP spokesman was right to say that the UN Charter enshrines a right of self-determination for nations. The trouble is that the same charter fails to define what a nation is - or how a nation should be delimited. Scotland's vote doesn't fix that for anybody, other than ourselves. Because we do get to define ourselves as a nation or not, on September 18. Our choice.

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