Gibraltar score their first goal in international football at Hampden Park in March. (Photo: Getty)
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Punching above its weight

Gibraltar is one of the most fascinating territories in the world, and among the most interesting things about it is its habit of playing with the big guys. As the rest of Europe winces at the Eurovision Song Contest - in which the Rock isn’t competing – Dr. Lynda Shaw considers what it is about such a small place that gives it such high ambitions.

Gibraltar. Arguably the most fascinating rock in the world with a thriving tourist industry, strong economy, self-governing, peaceful and in so many ways just like Britain but with great weather. Gibraltarians are fiercely nationalistic and frequently present themselves on the world stage amongst countries far bigger with greater resources. Is this naivety or something deeper?

To address this, let’s look at one facet of life on the Rock. The population is a proud people which is sometimes held to ransom by strict border controls. Time is spent trying to go about one’s daily life against a backdrop fraught with tension, anxiety and a feeling of vulnerability and uncertainty over who your friends are in the mother country. It doesn’t take a psychologist to work out that people will dig their heels in and fight back.

A great illustration is that wonderful leveler the game of football, a perfect example of self-expression and national identity. Gibraltar scored its first goal in an international game just a month ago.

As a group, watching that ball being kicked or headed towards the net delivers a myriad of emotional experiences that are felt and identified by the individual as well as their players and fellow supporters. Their national identity was effectively being played out to gloriously show that they are different from the rest of the world, a potent body of people and not to be messed with. The young Gibraltarian Jonathan Lutwyche in “Britain’s Got Talent” played a similar card; he’s Gibraltarian, he’s British and he’s equal to anyone else on that stage.

National identity is as necessary and important for everyone regardless of the size of his or her country. It defines who we are. It shapes our behaviour and allows us to believe we have choices. This leads to a sense of freedom, which is a basic human need. It nurtures attachment, which leads to loyalty, another basic human need. Why is loyalty important? Because it facilitates social control, socioeconomic needs, a sense of safety and pride in whom we are.

Social identity theory purports that we improve our own self-image by elevating the image of our group or in this case, country. Unfortunately social comparison often leads to hostility towards other countries, setting up a ‘them and us’ feeling. This in turn bolsters our own sense of importance.

Please take into account however, that this is a normal part of the human psyche and we all do it. If we consider something as fundamental as our surviva,l for instance, we need to belong, we need our supporters in times of trouble and hardship, so it is in our best interests to identify and seek inclusion. Co-operation and social acceptance are paramount to our lives.  

When we identify with our group or country we monitor how people feel around us, we notice what and how they say things, how they do things. This drives adaptation so that we behave and make decisions in accordance to

those with whom we identify. In so doing we are accepted. Of course, we can be thought leaders and occupy the driving seat, but we will always be mindful of not stepping too far out of our social norms so as to continue acceptance and perhaps opportunities for persuasion.

In terms of neuroscience, the incredible plasticity of the brain means that all repeated experiences and interactions change neurons and synaptic connections. Therefore, we constantly change our behaviour and perceptions and although we keep our individuality, we also flow and weave as a collective group. Cohesion at this level can be highly impressive.

Equally when we feel secure with a decent level of self-respect and self-worth we thrive as individuals. All those feel good brain chemicals will work to their optimum and we will be both physically and mentally healthier.

It is quite clear therefore, when it comes to well-being and when our country steps out amongst the big players – as Gibraltar does on the pitch, on the stage and no doubt readers will be able to think of their own examples - size truly does not matter.


Dr. Lynda Shaw is a business neuroscientist and psychologist helping companies to leverage emotional response in sales, marketing and leadership.

Photo: Getty
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Gibraltar and Europe: caught in the slipstream?

The British papers are full of who has the lead in the European in or out campaigns – Guy Clapperton considers the fallout for the smaller territories

Let’s start by acknowledging that there is no clear pattern emerging in the Europe debate, as long as we understand “Europe debate” to mean whether the UK should stay in or leave the European Union. This week alone we’ve seen Boris Johnson “warning Obama off” (as the BBC put it) getting involved in the debated, the same London Mayor and MP having a radio spat with Chuka Umunna involving telling each other to man up and various insults traded as either side accuses the other of scaremongering or making it up as they go along.

Divining who’s going to win is more difficult. The Daily Telegraph reports that “out” has it by a tiny margin but, crucially, the anti-Europe vote is likely to be more motivated so will actually show up on the day, expanding the margin by which it will win. Meanwhile the Times’ daily Red Box email points to Elections Etc. whose research suggests a 58% “remain” vote but with a plus or minus 14% error margin; so somewhere between 44% and 72% will go for staying in the EU. This, readers will note, tells us precisely nothing.

So the outcome, even if there weren’t 100 days in which Presidents and world leaders will offer counsel, claims and counterclaims will be made and the “leave” campaign will eventually decide who the official “leave” group actually is (there are two factions at the moment, doing the best impression of the Monty Python Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea that they can manage), we wouldn’t want to call a snap referendum even if it were to be called this afternoon.

What’s clear is that the outcome will ripple beyond the British mainland’s shores, and the ramifications of an “out” vote are already being felt on Gibraltar. Anyone doubting this should check today’s Times (subscription required), in which the Gibraltarian Chief Minister Fabian Picardo highlights recent Spanish statements about what would happen in the event of a Brexit.

Spain actually caused a few eyebrows to raise and some other people to panic just a little with its recent statements. Essentially the country’s foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, suggested that there would be conversations on the sovereignty of Gibraltar the “day after” an announcement of a British exit, according to the Daily Mail and other reports. He also said (much, much further down the report) that he didn’t want Britain to leave: “God forbid” is the phrase he uses.

He raised the idea of joint sovereignty once again more recently, reports the Gibraltar Chronicle, this time suggesting that if Britain leaves Europe then Gib could do what it nearly did (he says) in 2002 and start transitioning towards Spain. This is an interesting definition of “nearly” when 98.48% of the electorate actually voted not to do so, but remaining British when this might exclude the Rock from Europe would inevitably raise different issues if not a different final outcome.

Outside Gibraltarian interests the effect could be more severe than that. SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made no secret of her wish to make a fresh case for Scottish independence. The once-in-a-generation referendum on this was lost in 2014 but should Britain exit Europe with a majority of Scots clearly demonstrating that they want to stay in, the case becomes stronger (although the collapse of the oil price would blow the original blueprint out of the water).

So we could end up with Scotland as well as Gibraltar wanting to remain in Europe while Britain made its exit. Whether this would be legally possible if both stayed tied to Britain is untested as yet – and with Spain eager to enter talks the day after an exit is agreed but the Gibraltarians implacably opposed to becoming Spanish, the way forward would not be clear.

Guy Clapperton is the freelance journalist who edits the New Statesman’s Gibraltar hub. You can also find him in the Guardian, Computer Business Review and Professional Outsourcing which he edits.