National Day where no-one gets left behind
by Marlene Hassan Nahon, Leader of Together Gibraltar
It is that time of year again when we share in an outpouring of love for our homeland, and rightly so. In a world fraught with turmoil and conflict, we should never forget how lucky we are to call Gibraltar our home, and how fortunate we are to come from a place with such a strong sense of community.
However, we must not allow ourselves to become blind to the cracks that are appearing in our society, painting over them in red and white, year after year, until the day comes when no amount of red and white paint will be able to cover up the divisions that exist in our small nation.
It is very easy to show patriotism and love for our country when we find ourselves in the land of milk and honey and the Government coffers runneth over. It is, perhaps, not quite so easy when we’re forced into a position to ask ourselves, like Kennedy asked of a troubled America in the 60's what we can do for our country, and not what our country can do for us.
This year, I would like to propose a new, more substantial type of patriotism. In these difficult times, in which the Government’s purse strings are tighter than ever and people on the street are feeling the pangs of this multifaceted crisis we are immersed in, we must demonstrate our love for our country by ensuring that, like we did throughout the pandemic, we come together to protect the most vulnerable in our society. What we can do for Gibraltar, as we face the immense economic and political challenges that lie ahead of us, is make an extra effort so that those who are already in the greatest need in our society do not suffer as a result, and for this we need Government to urgently review its priorities.
Gibraltar, sadly, has had a tendency in recent years to leave behind its most underprivileged. We have a meagre and, for the most part, wholly inadequate welfare state, and the safety net it provides its people is simply not strong enough to withstand what lies ahead of us. This is why, now that austerity has begun to hit, we are seeing swathes of people rapidly start falling through the cracks.
We have seen a rise in poverty and unemployment. The provision of mental health services is at breaking point, and budget cuts in healthcare have been quick to affect the most vulnerable. The disabled members of our community are constantly reminding us that they do not have access to equal opportunities. Pensions are in urgent need of reform, with recent cuts in Community Care allowances and many private sector pensioners walking a dangerous tightrope atop the poverty line.
Social benefits are squalid, and have not increased significantly for many years. Gender inequality continues to be an issue, with statutory protections that are not fit for purpose in Europe in the 21st century. Privatisation is making quality government jobs increasingly rare. Grants are becoming harder to access. And the costs of living continue to rise steadily.
Gibraltarians have to stand united to ensure that if, as a society, we have to cut back our spending and make an effort to put right the excesses and mismanagement that have occurred over the past decade, we protect the most helpless while we do so. A community in which those at the top thrive and those in need suffer is not a community at all, but rather, a group of individuals looking out for their self interest - and as we all know from our valiant history, it is our community spirit that has allowed us to navigate 300 years of crisis after crisis, always emerging stronger and more resolute in our identity.
We must therefore encourage those in society that can do more to do so; that they contribute generously, that they make sacrifices, that they accept that sometimes patriotism means huddling together and moving forward as a collective, with everyone contributing in the capacity and to the measure that they can, supporting our fellow Gibraltarians and, particularly, propping up those who are in less of a position to help.
I therefore ask institutions, businesses and, of course, Government, to prioritise their spending in a way that will support the most vulnerable in our society. What we cannot afford to happen is what we have seen happen in Spain, and other countries in the last couple of decades, who have combated economic crises by making use of the neoliberal playbook. It is plain to see just how fragmented political systems all over the world have become, and it is clear that one of the main triggers of this fragmentation is inequality. Inequality shatters people’s belief in the system, and it creates distrust and division within society. When we let people fall behind, society fails.
When society fails, the foundations of our system crumble, and the ghosts of extremisms past begin to haunt us.
Gibraltarians cannot afford to be divided. We do not like to be divided and we do not want to be divided. And this decision need not be based on compassion and generosity, or be attached to specific political ideas. There is a growing consensus across the ideological spectrum that social cohesion and socioeconomic equality are not only some of the highest virtues that human societies can possess, but also that these values in turn generate conviviality and improve quality of life.
The OECD in its Better life Index, which analyses and ranks areas of material living conditions and calculates quality of life, consistently finds that countries with higher average levels of well-being tend to have greater equality between population groups and fewer people living in deprivation. Gibraltar is no different. We must strive to achieve social cohesion and socioeconomic equality in oder to create a fairer, but also happier society.
While this Government is in power, the responsibility of achieving these goals as a society belongs to them and, sadly, to date they have not done enough to get us there. Instead, they have been prioritising an agenda aimed at creating unsustainable economic growth and the kind of wealth that favours elites, all the while, allowing our welfare state to languish.
We need to change this urgently and learn to express this new kind of patriotism and nationalism; nationalism with a heart and an eye for justice and progress. We need to unite behind the purpose of protecting those in need and achieving a stronger, fairer community. If we do, I am confident that we will emerge from this crisis more united, and, yet again, with a stronger resolve to protect and enhance our unique culture and identity. That should be what patriotism is truly about.