Rajoy throws a Spaniard into the works to scotch Salmond’s independence bid

ALAS, the likelihood of Alex Salmond downing a pint of ‘heavy’ in the Jaggy Thistle next summer is growing more remote than the Loch Ness Monster popping into the celebrated Mallorca hostelry for a deep-fried Mars Bar marinated in Glenfiddich.

I’d even venture to say the independence-minded Scottish National Party chieftain will shun Spanish soil forever…even the mere mention of a paella will leave him gagging.

To quote Scotland’s great poet, Robbie Burns, ‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley’ (Sassenach translation: ‘The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry’).

Because, just when Salmond was leading his tartan army on a charge to end 300 years of Union with the United Kingdom, along comes Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, to rain on his parade.

At the risk of sounding contemptuous of the Scots perfectly reasonable entitlement to vote in a plebiscite on their future next September, you could almost say the man from Madrid has thrown a Spaniard into the works.

Rajoy warned, ‘It is clear to me that a region which asks for independence from a state within the European Union will be left outside the EU. It is good thing the Scottish people know this, along with other Europeans.’

Rubbing salt into the Celtic secessionists wounds, he said that EU treaties only apply to states that have agreed and ratified them, not ‘regions’ of member states embarking on ‘solo adventures (where) the destination is unknown.’

SCOTS FREE? That might be SNP leader, Alex Salmond's New Year wish, but the odds are against independence

SCOTS FREE: That might be SNP leader, Alex Salmond’s New Year referendum wish, but the odds are stacking up against the ‘Yes’ vote winning

Not that it’s any consolation to cheeky chappie Salmond, I don’t think Rajoy could care a half-baked haggis about Scotland splitting from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. And – given the on-going aggro over Gibraltar – truth be told, anything seen to be giving the UK a bloody nose would be greeted with a crescendo of olés from the majority of Spaniards.

No, Rajoy was unsubtly cautioning Catalan and Basque nationalists not to bother imitating the SNP’s lead in demanding break-away statelets of their own.

That, though, is not the worst of worries for the man who would be Laird of Scots, because Salmond was rather relying on keeping the good, old GB£ as he preferred currency (even those weird, Scottish tenners most English shopkeepers won’t touch with a Highland caber).

That pipedream was spelt out in the SNP’s 670-page, pro-independence White Paper last month – only to be met by a rejoinder from the Bank of England amounting to: ‘You can stick that up your kilt, Ally; there’s no way we’ll be your lender of last resort.’

In fact, quite how much the SNP manifesto will weigh on the minds of voters is anyone’s guess. My bet is most canny Scots, whether they declare ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ in the referendum, would roll it up and use it as a faggot to warm the fire.

That might also help cast some light and closer scrutiny on Salmond’s vision of a liberated, real-time Brigadoon, since it smacks more of aspiration than actual fact.

For instance, among other goodies, he promises 30 hours of free childcare per week for all bairns of three and four years (worth £4,600 and available now, if he were minded to do so); an end to Westminster’s pernicious ‘bedroom tax’; and a Scottish broadcasting service to replace the BBC (och aye to that, if they take the grating Kirsty Wark with them).

PUTTING EL BOOT IN: Spain's PM, Mariano Rajoy warns Scotland independence  won't guarantee a free pass into the EU

PUTTING EL BOOT IN: Spain’s PM, Mariano Rajoy warns Scotland independence won’t guarantee a free pass into the EU

Alistair Darling, leader of the cross-party, Better Together ‘No’ campaign, called the pledges ‘cynical’. The former UK finance minister also challenges Salmond’s arithmetic and questions the SNP’s ability to deliver on time, on cost and if at all.

The crux of the debate, however, will hinge on whether Scots vote with their emotions or wallets. And despite their reputations for being Bravehearts, the ones I know all take this fanciful stuff with a large dose of pragmatism.

A Scot I spoke to the other day predicted witheringly, ‘We’ll end up being crushed by far-Left socialism, the English forever doomed to be ruled by Tories.’

So far, this isn’t reflected in the latest opinion surveys, indicating 47% of Scots wish the Union to continue against 38% who don’t, with 15% undecided.

However, that will change, especially with so many ‘don’t-know’ votes at stake and Salmond tilting balloting rules in his favour.

For instance, Caledonians living south of Hadrian’s Wall – who could boost the turn-out by 16% – can’t take part, though 400,000 non-native Scots resident in Scotland, can.

And Salmond’s cunning plan sees the franchise extended to 17-year-olds, even if the saltire cross of St. Andrew can’t be traced in acne across their bonny cheeks.

To me, there’s a slight whiff of gerrymandering in some of this, particularly that ban on expats having a say. Presumably the SNP reckons they’re now such Anglicised wimps they’d opt to remain part of the Union rather than risk being deported on the next train to Auchtermurty by Nigerian-born members of the UK Border Agency.

However, Ivor Knox, whose company, Panelbase, carried out the poll, gives a hint of what may come to pass when he says: ‘If patriotism and national pride were the key issues, [the] Yes [vote] would win hands down. They aren’t…Scots remain unconvinced independence would bring economic benefits.’

Contrarily, there’s no reason why Scotland can’t survive as a stand-alone nation, given its people’s tenacity, creativity and £30-billion a year income from North Sea oil/gas, though this is a finite resource and already dwindling.

And, despite having a population of around only five million, it certainly wouldn’t be the smallest nation on the planet. Plus, you have to admire any people who’ve sired the inventors of TV, the telephone, Tarmac and single-malt whisky, among other notable, life-enhancers.

Hence, there’s all to play for, so – to borrow an expression from one of Scotland’s favourite sons, no less a personage than Sir Alex Ferguson – it’s ‘twitchy bum time’.

However, there’s one, sure-fire way the SNP can deliver victory: include English voters in the referendum, because 66% of them would be delighted to see Scotland take the high road to freedom.

Just a wee thought, Ally.

Why Spain is stuck between a rock and a hard place over British Gib

Not for nothing is this time of year dubbed ‘The Silly Season’ and my prediction for the summer of 2013 is that it’ll go down in the annals as one of the daftest yet.

With parliaments in long recess, official business on hold and politicos busy spending their ill-gotten gains in sunnier climes, we news types are left scratching around for something pertinent to report.

Then – lo and behold! – our prayers are answered by another gripping sequel to an on-going brouhaha concerning a 2.6-square mile pimple on the gluteus maximus of Europe, with a population of around 30,000.

Yes, Gibraltar is again making headlines for all the wrong reasons. And, regardless of which country’s media and jingoism you subscribe to, there’s no denying the fact that verbal exocets are exploding with increasing velocity from both sides of the great divide, though Spain’s more so than Britain’s.

To the Spanish El Peñón, as they call The Rock, is a long-festering scab that gets picked from time to time, often – surprise, surprise! – coinciding with economic gloom. It’s a sure-fire distraction to set Latin tempers aflame, because it pricks to the pride of a nation whose patchwork quilt of autonomous regions regularly threatens to come apart at the seams.

So, while Catalans, Galicians, Extramadurans and certainly Basques can’t agree on most issues, Gib is the glue that sticks the Spanish Humpty Dumpty together again.

ROCK SOLID: 99% of Gibraltarians want to remain British

ROCK SOLID: 99% of Gibraltarians want to remain British

General Franco certainly understood the emotional impact of playing the Gibraltar card, because he made much of expunging the British overseas territory from local maps and inventing ‘border incidents’ to suit his whims.

Following in the footprints of the fascist dictator’s jackboots, now centre-Right premier Mariano Rajoy is in high dungeon over the Gib government’s decision to create an artificial reef to protect fish stocks by dumping concrete blocks into its waters, ostensibly imperilling the livelihoods of Spanish fishermen.

However, at a time when corruption allegations swirl round Spain’s government, the economy is on the rocks and unemployment at one of the highest levels in the EU, 7,000 Spaniards daily cross onto The Rock to work – a fact not lost on union chiefs, livid with their leader’s posturing in far-off Madrid.

Despite the commerical benefits, in what smacks of the backdrop to a farcical Gilbert and Sullivan libretto, Gibraltar has become an international flashpoint – and not for the first time at the petulant Rajoy’s prompting.

In May, 2012, the Popular Party leader threw his toys out of the pram and banned Queen Sofia from officially attending her cousin, Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, presumably because it somehow implied recognition of UK sovereignty over the craggy outcrop. And to add insult to royal injury, Spain formally objected to a visit by Prince Edward and his missus to The Rock as part of his mum’s knees-up.

Now, cranking up the pressure, Spain’s foreign minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, mutters darkly about to taking Gib to the United Nations – not that they could sort out a schoolyard scrap – or the International Court of Justice, bogged down as it is in The Hague with the mundane trivia of trying war criminals.

ON THE ROCKS: Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish PM, is using Gib as a convenient distration

GIB THUMPER: But is Spanish PM, Mariano Rajoy, simply using The Rock as a convenient distraction?

Meanwhile, a ploy being touted in Madrid is teaming up in common cause with Cristina Fernández Kirchner, Argentina’s pseudo-democratic dominatrix, who’s obsessed with ‘liberating’ the Falklands/Malvinas from British rule, despite all but one of the 2,841 islanders refusing her kind offer of citizenship.

However, Spain should realise that getting into the diplomatic sack with Hissy Crissy has its downsides, since she presides over a corrupt and bankrupt state that last year siezed YPF – the local arm of Spanish energy giant, Repsol – to pay off debts.

The odds, then, of a Spain-Argentina axis bearing fruit are, as my bookmaker says, about as good as a three-legged Chihuahua exploding out of Trap 6 to win the Greyhound Derby.

Neither has the weight of history on its side and both claims to territory that’s not theirs reek of crass hypocrisy.

Spain can blame the overarching ambition of Philip V for the loss of Gibraltar, because in 1701 he tried to usurp the French throne in what became known as the War of Spanish Succession.

Fearing a calamitous shift in European power, an alliance between Britain, Holland, the Germanic Holy Roman Empire and the Duchy of Savoy crushed the Bourbon’s biscuit.

Gibraltar was captured in 1704 by an Anglo-Dutch fleet and, in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, ceded to Britain (along with Minorca temporarily) ‘in perpetuity’, which – the last time I consulted my lexicon – meant forever and a sunset.

Over the centuries the miniscule splodge of Jurassic limestone has played a defining role in Britain’s defences and, to some extent, still does. Moreover, in the last 13 years, its inhabitants have twice voted in plebiscites, by 99 to one, to remain British, which, under Europe’s rules of people’s self-determination, should render the issue beyond debate.

Like his Argentinian counterpart in the case of the Falklands, that doesn’t stop Rajoy banging on about bi-lateral talks with Britain over Gib’s future, bypassing the reasonable and legal aspirations of the locals.

However, when taken to task, he conveniently dodges the thorny topics of Melilla and Ceuta, the two enclaves of Spain’s North African empire, which the uppity Moroccans somehow consider theirs.

Let’s not forget, either, the medieval town of Olivenza, which the Spanish wrested from Portugal in the 1801 War of the Oranges and have retained with dubious legality ever since, irrespective of the fact that the Portuguese no longer kick up a fuss over its ownership.

And, if we’re discussing historical imperatives, add one from Osama bin Laden, whose first diktat as Al-Qaeda’s head honcho was to demand the return of Andalucía – El Andaluz, as his forbearers called it before 1492 – to Muslim dominion.

Verily, as pots call kettles black in the kitchen of international diplomacy, the vipers of historical fact have an unfortunate habit of biting the dissenter in the backside.

Gibraltar: The Spanish obsession that won’t go away

In the midst of the worst recession the world has witnessed, with the Eurozone crumbling and the very future of the EU itself at stake, the vacuous Spanish government has come up with a ploy it hopes will take its downtrodden people’s focus off the politico-economic morass it’s in.

Following in the jackboot prints of Franco, Prime Minister Mariono Rajoy has now played the Gibraltar card, thrown his toys out of the pram and spitefully banned Queen Sofia from officially attending her cousin, Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

This follows last week’s spat in a teacup, when Spain formally objected to the planned visit next month of Prince Edward and his missus to the Rock, as part of his mum’s knees-up.

Of course, Gibraltar – a 2.6 square mile pimple on the gluteus maximus of Europe, with a population of around 30,000 and known to the Spanish as El Peñón – is contiguous with Spain. So, too, is France and Portugal, though Madrid has yet to lay claim to those two nations.

In France’s case it did once 299 years ago, which resulted in the War of the Spanish Succession, when Philip V of Spain tried to usurp the French throne. Fearing a calamitous shift in European power, an alliance between Britain, Holland, the Germanic Holy Roman Empire and the Duchy of Savoy punctured Phil the Bourbon’s haughty ambitions.

During the contretemps that lasted from 1701 to 1713, an Anglo-Dutch fleet captured The Rock in 1704 and, thanks to the Treaty of Utrecht, Gib was ceded to Britain (along with Minorca temporarily) ‘in perpetuity’, which – the last time I consulted my dictionary – meant forever and a sunset.

GOING APE: Spain’s anger over Gib knows no end

Over the centuries the miniscule splodge of territory has played a defining role in Britain’s defences and still does. Moreover, in 1967 and 2002, its inhabitants voted in plebiscites, by a 99-to-one majority, to remain British, which, under Europe’s rules of people’s self-determination, should have rendered the issue beyond debate.

Obsessional Spain, however, won’t let it lie, considers the Rock-dwellers a bunch of ne’er-do-wells, and is particularly chagrined about a recent fracas, when Spanish fishermen were banned from casting their nets in Gibraltan territorial waters.

Rajoy, like many of his predecessors, keeps banging on about bi-lateral talks directly with Britain over Gib’s future, neatly bypassing the reasonable aspirations of the locals.

However, when taken to task, he dodges and weaves around the festering topics of Melilla and Ceuta, Spain’s two, autonomous enclaves in North Africa, which the Moroccans consider theirs.

Not unfairly, one cannot but be drawn to the conclusion that, somewhere in the white heat of the kitchen of international diplomacy, pots are calling kettles black, with righteous Spain making the loudest din.