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Opinion & Analysis

Time to rebuild, together

Photo by Johnny Bugeja

Has this referendum been divisive? Yes, undoubtedly. The emotive nature of the subject and the question at the core of the vote means it could not have been otherwise.

There were deeply held views on both sides, often painted in black and white terms that jarred with the complex nuances, defined by personal circumstances, of the heart-breaking decision of whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.

Witness the lacklustre turnout. Perhaps as a result of the high-octane emotion of the debate, sometimes ugly in exchanges on social media, 47% of the electorate did not engage.

It was disappointing, on that there was agreement last night at least. Why the turnout was so low will be a matter for all of us to consider in the coming days.

But we have a clear result and Gibraltar, if we know anything about this community, will accept the outcome of this exercise in democracy, albeit reluctantly for some.

Now, with the vote behind us and despite the fact that many will be disappointed, the focus must be on rebuilding the close-knit ties that define this community, and which were strained throughout this process.

For foundations on which to build, we can look at the positive elements that the referendum has brought to the fore.

There were strong and eloquent speakers on both sides of the discussion, everyday people engaged in passionate public debate about where they think this community should go. Young and old alike, men but, mostly, and importantly, women. New voices to help define Gibraltar’s future in the months and years to come.

And while there were nasty online exchanges at times, for the most part, people expressed divergent views while respecting their differences of opinion, even if consensus proved elusive.

One of the most heart-warming images yesterday was of campaigners from each side sitting next to each other outside the polling stations, making their point as they whiled the hours away, together.

After the vote, both sides reached out and spoke of the need to bridge rifts and work in tandem to strengthen the mechanisms of support available to women. It was a classic Gibraltarian response that will be much welcomed.

Because as the Chief Minister himself acknowledged last night, “this is only the beginning”. There is much work to do, and it will be hard at times because the divisions will not be healed overnight. But it is work that must be done together and respectfully.

Let’s latch on to all of that as we reflect on the outcome of this vote and how we move forward.

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