If Scotland becomes independent, we’d have about the same clout as Malta and have to sit at the end of the table and behave ourselves – at least according to Tory Cabinet minister Kenneth Clarke. Of course Ken hasn’t noticed that Scotland doesn’t currently have any seat at the table at all, indeed we don’t even get invited to the dinner party. Scotland gets represented at international buffets by eh, Kenneth Clarke, who presumably doesn’t sit at the end of the table and doesn’t behave himself. That might go some way to explaining why the UK Goverment is so unpopular amongst fellow EU members.
Mind you you might think that pissing off a fellow EU member state isn’t the best way to make friends and influence people when you’re the last pro-EU member of a political party that’s increasingly making plans for Nigel Farage, but any auld slur will do when it’s hurled at supporters of Scottish independence. Malta just got hit in the crossfire.
The Maltese Foreign Ministry might get a bit imdejqa (that’s Maltese for annoyed, at least according to Google translate) once it hears of Mr Clark’s assessment of their country’s international standing. The Maltese may have an impenetrable language which is the outcome of an illicit marriage between Arabic and Italian, but being a small nation they are multilingual and internationalist in outlook and are perfectly capable of telling Mr Clark he’s wrong in English, Maltese, Italian, and Arabic, before going off and having a meeting with Italy to have a wee giggle at the pretensions of the indebted heirs to the British Empire.
Malta has a population of around 450,000 – less than the city of Edinburgh. The Maltese islands, Malta, Comino, and Gozo, have a total area of 316 sq km, or about 122 sq miles – roughly the same size as South Uist. I’m not really sure which is worse, Clark’s insult to Malta, or his apparent belief that Scotland is the size of South Uist. It must be another example of the Father Dougal Syndrome, which is alarmingly commonplace amongst Unionist politicians and designers of BBC weather maps. Scotland is far away, so it must be small.
But for a small country that’s far away, Malta doesn’t do too badly at representing its interests in the international sphere. Of course it helps that Malta does actually possess a Maltese Foreign Ministry to represent its views. Scotland has William Hague instructing British Embassies around the world to brief the local press against Scottish independence.
A quick look at the press releases from the Maltese Foreign Ministry shows that in the past few weeks, the President of Malta has been on a state visit to Germany, on which he was accompanied by the Minister for the Economy, Investment and Small Business, and assorted official and institutional delegations who met with their German counterparts to discuss matters of mutual interest and further develop ties between the two countries. The same week, the Maltese Foreign Minister met in Rome and had bilateral talks with the Italian Foreign Minister and the Libyan Prime Minister. The Italian Foreign Minister discussed Italy’s plans for its turn at the presidency of the EU in July this year, seeking Maltese support and stressing the “special relationship” between the two countries. (Now where have we heard that phrase before?) There was the announcement that Malta is chairing the Forum for Security Cooperation in Vienna, held under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Malta hopes to focus on issues affecting the Mediterranean.
And there was a lot more in a similar vein. Nothing to set the heather alight, you might say, but not setting the heather alight is a good thing in international relations, as it tends to mean that everyone is getting along in a civilised manner. The point however is that Malta has a voice in international affairs. It may not be a loud and strident voice. It may not be the braying voice of a Tory MP. It may not be a voice that is the echo-chamber of the Pentagon. But it is a distinctly Maltese voice and it is heard in the corridors of power – although not apparently by Ken Clark.
The islands were once ruled by Britain. Malta was a British colony from 1800 until independence. When Britannia ruled the waves or waived the rules – depending upon your political perspective – Westminster was keen to secure Malta in order to control the sea lanes passing through the Mediterranean. After the opening of the Suez Canal, the islands were strategically vital in ensuring British control of India.
After WW2, Maltese politics were dominated by debate over whether the country, which had been granted a measure of self government, ought to become independent, or whether it should integrate into the UK and return MPs to Westminster. In 1955, an agreement was reached and the UK Government decided to integrate Malta into the UK, the country would have 3 MPs. But the UK Government then decided to close down the Royal Navy shipyards which were then an important part of the country’s economy. It sounds familiar doesn’t it.
In protest, the Maltese political parties refused to form a government, and colonial direct rule was reimposed. The crisis ended any chance of Malta remaining under British rule, and an independence referendum was held in May 1964. 54.5% voted for independence, 45.5% voted against. Malta became an independent country with the Queen as head of state. In 1974, the country became a republic.
The fact that Malta’s voice isn’t heard in Westminster only means that the power and influence of Westminster no longer runs in the Mediterranean. It’s a sign of the diminishing of Westminster, not the irrelevance of Malta, and speaks far more of the restricted horizons of British Governments than anything else.
The Maltese work to develop their own country, according to their own understanding of their country’s needs and the aspirations of her people. They’re not interested in punching above their weight, they’re interested in making Malta a better place for the people of Malta. That’s all anyone should expect from a government. But Scotland doesn’t have that. We have Kenneth Clarke patronising us and claiming the he can speak for us better than we can speak for ourselves, while Scotland is denied entry to international forums.
If you asked the Maltese if they’d prefer to be ruled by Westminster and Ken Clarke again, the answer would be a resounding Le! which is Maltese for naw. That tells us all we need to know.