Not being Liberal: How Spain's PSOE blocks GSLP in Socialist International

By David Eade
Call me naive, call me a romantic, but my view of Socialist International was a brother and sisterhood of socialist parties united under the red flag. Well that has not been the experience of the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party due to Spanish practices by PSOE.

I start this article in Gibraltar but not with the GSLP but rather the Liberal Party that has been its junior coalition partner in opposition since 2000 and if the opinion polls are correct could join it in government in 2011. The leader of the Liberals, Dr Joseph Garcia, was telling me the major role they play in Liberal International.

“Liberal International is the global federation of Liberal and Democratic political parties. There are Liberal parties from 50 countries that are full members and from 25 countries as observer members. The Liberal Party of Gibraltar is a full member in its own right. We have our own seat on the Executive Committee and our own voting rights independently of UK parties.”

It was later when I spoke to Fabian Picardo, a British trained lawyer, a GSLP MP, a possible future leader and Chief Minister that I was stunned to learn that not only was the party not a member of Socialist International but did not even have observer status.

Now if you ask Socialist International they will tell you that the GSLP has never applied for membership and hence the issue has not been discussed by the committee. Except they are unlikely to tell you anything at all. Joe Bossano, the founder of the GSLP, a former chief minister of Gibraltar and current leader confirmed they wrote to the Secretary General, Luis Ayala, around 1984/5 just prior to Spain joining the EU in 1986 and they have never had a reply despite many reminder letters. I contacted Socialist International three times without the courtesy of an answer either.

So let’s take a look at the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party. It is the oldest surviving active political party in Gibraltar. Its grass roots are deep in the British Trade Union Movement because founder and current leader Joe Bossano had lived in London’s East End where he was active in the Labour Party and union.

Indeed when he returned to Gibraltar he became the District Officer of the TGWU which during Bossano’s tenure was instrumental in achieving parity with the UK for all workers in Gibraltar. The GSLP fought its first election in 1978 and between 1988 and 1996 was the party of government.

Labour veteran Alf Lomas told me: “I have had a long association with Joe Bossano since I first went to speak in Gibraltar in the seventies to address the AGM of the TGWU. I was Political Secretary of the London Co-operative at that time and active in the union and the Labour Party. There was no GSLP in those days and Joe and I had long discussions about forming a Labour Party. I helped to draw up the constitution and was made No 1 Honorary Member of the Party on its formation.”

So what’s the Spanish take on all this. It is the opposition of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español - PSOE, which celebrated the 100 th anniversary of winning its first parliamentary seat in May that has kept the GSLP out of Socialist International.

I spoke to PSOE’s José Carracao who sits in Spain’s Senate – its upper house of parliament. He was a mayor of Jimena de la Frontera, president of the association of municipalities in the area across the border from the Rock and today has in the Senate special responsibility for Gibraltar – Spanish relations.

He said: “Gibraltar is a dependent territory of the UK and is represented internationally by the UK. The existence of “internationals” of political parties (Socialist International, Liberal International) is the consequence of national parties of the same politics coming together. From our point of view Gibraltar does not have an international presence and it represented in its external relations by the UK. The only parties that can have representation and international presence from an ideological point of view are the parties of the UK. The consequence for us is that is that Gibraltar can only have representation and an international presence by its integration or association with other parties of the same ideological point of view, with parties in the UK. This has been the position till now of PSOE and those responsible for its external relations in its various Federal Executives.”

Here are some points on José Carracao’s remarks:

Dr Joseph García said: “Spain’s Centro Democratico y Social introduced us to Liberal International and supported our membership. We have very good links with our Catalan friends and have hosted visits to Gibraltar by Catalan MPs and by the International Relations Secretary of Covergencia Democratica in the past.”

Glyn Ford, who had been the MEP for Gibraltar and is closely associated with the GSLP questioned: “How does he explain the separate SI membership of the SDLP from Northern Ireland, a British Colony!”

Whilst Alf Lomas, who was also an MEP till 1999 added: “I often clashed with the Spanish Socialist Party about Gibraltar particularly on occasions when Joe visited the Parliament as my guest. PSOE even opposed Joe coming into the EP Socialist Group Meetings.”

Although Franco died in 1975 many consider the socialist PSOE’s general election win in October 1982 as being the defining moment in Spain’s transition to democracy. Hence in 1985 Joe Bossano travelled to PSOE’s Madrid HQ to speak with Manuel Chaves – the then Minister of Labour - and Elena Flores, the International Secretary of PSOE.

At a personal level relations between PSOE and the GSLP are very cordial. They told Bossano that if Premier Felipe González had his photo taken with him at Socialist International it would cost PSOE one million votes. As Bossano did not want to harm his fellow socialists electoral chances in the 1986 election he agreed to delay an application.

I told Joe I could understand Spain’s opposition to Gibraltarian institutions but not Spanish socialists opposing Gibraltar’s socialists joining the international umbrella organization. “But Socialist International has influence,” he countered –and there we had it. Forget the PSOE mantra mouthed by José Carracao – the party is simply scared that Socialist International might follow the lead set by Liberal International and endorse Gibraltar’s right to self determination.

Surely this is the most fundamental of socialist democratic principles yet an anathema to PSOE and Spain at least where Gibraltar is concerned.