I was just starting secondary school in England when I first learnt how highly Malta rated itself on the world stage.
Dom Mintoff (for it was he) was demanding, not independence for Malta, but a total merger with Britain that would see Maltese MPs at Westminster and full British citizenship for everyone.
He proposed sending four MPs – the same number being mooted at the time for India, which had more than 2,000 times the population and was 10,000 times the size.
Terrified of the precedent that four MPs would be setting for the vastly more populous colonies, London said no.
I mention that for two reasons: first because Maltese school-leavers don’t seem to have been taught about it and, second, to show that Malta thought it was equal to India in terms of global presence.
Fast forward to the present day and Malta, with about the same population as, say, Liverpool, has six MEPS (Liverpool had one) while Ireland, with 10 times the population, has 13.
Malta has one seat in the UN general assembly, the same as the US, China and Russia. So, Malta can propose and vote on how the world should react to, say, climate change, while Leeds, a city with a population four times greater, simply has to do what it is told.
In other words, if Mintoff (who remains the only Maltese politician that most foreigners could name) had succeeded in his quest all those years ago, these islands would have been no more significant on the world map than Leicester (population 471,000) in the East Midlands.
Malta and Gozo would have joined the Common Market in 1973 and left the European Union in 2020.
Nobody beyond these shores would have known, in the meantime, whether they were in it or not, much as nobody knows, or cares, today.
What we have instead is a couple of tiny rocks in the middle of the Mediterranean that most people could not pinpoint on a map: an independent Commonwealth nation that could punch way beyond its weight; effectively a ‘world power’ with more influence, internationally, than Scotland (population 5.5 million).
Nobody should deny the self-esteem that Maltese nationals share- Revel Barker
That’s also more global influence – in purely political terms – than the pope for while Malta is a full voting member of the UN, the Vatican City-State (population 800) is admitted only as an observer.
Nobody should deny the self-esteem that Maltese nationals share – the other places I have mentioned here are also big on birthright and self-regard. But none of the English cities is a member of the World Health Organisation in its own right, as Malta is.
One might think that tiny Malta would take real advantage of its unlikely opportunity for international recognition and try to create a significant contribution to making the world a better place. You’d think it could become The Mouse That Roared.
But no. If Malta is mentioned abroad, it is either because nature has endowed the place with 300 sunny days in an average year or because it has become – officially – one of the most corrupt and financially dodgy nations in the world.
It has effectively taken advantage of its status and made the world a worse place.
Which brings us neatly back to Mintoff. It was during his time that organised crime and corruption started in Malta to the extent that the simplest voters thought it was normal and began to behave like mafiosi.
When his modest offer of subservience to the UK was shunned, he resigned as prime minister and created a Maltese Liberation Army of disenchanted (by now anti-British) voters and thugs – mostly thugs – who created havoc in the streets
The riots prompted Britain’s Tory government to scrap the limited autonomy that had been granted by Clement Atlee’s Labour government to Malta in 1947 and to reimpose direct colonial rule.
It set back Independence – granted to India in 1948 – until 1964 when, after 150 years as a Crown Colony, Malta became an independent state.
Say what you like about Mintoff (and I do) but if his dream for this country had been realised, Malta would not have become a world player; it would probably have been instead a sunny ‘province’ of the UK, with two or perhaps three (world-class) cathedral cities.
Readers may allow their imaginations to run riot with other what-might-have-beens.
The Maltese Labour vote would not have made any difference to the last UK general election. Your prime minister would now be Boris Johnson (not Jeremy Corbyn and certainly not Robert Abela). Make what you will of that exciting scenario.
As a general election is reportedly looming, I wonder whether it is now too late, to put the Mintoffian proposal to Westminster for a second time and put Malta back onto an even keel.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us