THESE days politics moves so quickly and turns upside down with such regularity that nowadays the most common response to a political development is, “Eh? Whit? Eh?” At least that’s what it is when it doesn’t actually involve swear words. Not too long ago in this column I detailed some of the reasons why the much cited Spanish veto of an independent Scotland was a myth. The past few days have seen a new turn of events which have not only provided further evidence that the Spanish Scotland veto threat is as mythical as Theresa May’s commitment to governing for all the people and not just the rich, but have turned the veto threat on its head. It’s not an independent Scotland seeking EU membership which has to fear a Spanish veto. It’s the Westminster government and the rest of the UK seeking to leave it.

It’s no secret that Spain isn’t keen on movements which seek self-determination for a country or territory that are a part of another state. Spain is perhaps the closest analogue to the United Kingdom within Europe, it’s made up of a collection of ancient nations – the Spanish term is ‘historical nationality’ – which together form the Spanish state. Spain has more issues with independence movements than any other European country, even more than the UK. The fear of Catalan and Basque independence was one of the sparks for the Civil War which led to the Franco dictatorship, and many sections of Spanish society have a visceral terror of independence movements within the Spanish state in case it provokes the generals to come out of their barracks again.

But there’s one issue which Spain feels far more strongly about than the fear of an independence movement in another country providing a possible example to one of Spain’s own independence movements, and that’s the issue of Gibraltar. Gibraltar isn’t just a dry and barren rock on the south coast of Spain, it’s a hugely significant site in Spanish history.

Gibraltar is a name of Arabic origin. Jebel Tariq, meaning Tariq’s Rock, takes its name from the Arab general Tariq ibn-Ziyad who invaded Spain in 711 and founded the kingdom of Andalus which was the most advanced state in mediaeval Europe, famous for its science and learning. After the Reconquista when the Muslim territories of Iberia fell once again under the control of Christian monarchs, el Rey de Gibraltar ‘the King of Gibraltar’ became one of the titles of the Spanish crown, a title that the Spanish monarch holds until this day.

The UK took possession of Gibraltar when Britain involved itself in another Spanish Civil War: the War of the Spanish Succession. The Spanish government feels about Gibraltar in much the same way that the UK Government would feel if the site of the Battle of Hastings had become a German possession in the 18th century when Germany was supposedly helping one side in a British civil war. It’s like inviting in a guest to help out with the rent when you’re a bit short of cash, only to discover that the tenant hasn’t merely stopped paying rent, they’ve taken ownership of your bedroom, concreted over your grandfather’s prize petunias, and get regular visits from military types with nuclear weapons. Naturally, Gibraltarians feel very differently about things, but the reason for this wee diversion into history is to explain the strength of Spanish feeling about the Rock.

The Brexit vote in the EU referendum has put the status of Gibraltar back in doubt again. Spain is going to be remorseless in pressing any advantage it can find in the difficult situation which the UK Government has landed itself. Last week, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo threatened to veto the Brexit negotiation framework if the UK sought to include Gibraltar in the process. Spain’s position is that once the UK presses the Brexit button and activates Article 50, the European Council must agree “by unanimity” to the terms of the withdrawal negotiations. The Spanish Foreign Minister believes this gives Spain the right to a veto, and he has explicitly threatened to use it as Spain will not agree to anything which recognises that Gibraltar belongs to the UK.

Also last week there was another development involving the busy García-Margallo. He was interviewed on the Spanish political discussion programme El Cascabel (“the Rattle”) on Canal 13 TV, and he made some very interesting comments about Scotland. Funnily enough these comments have not been plastered all over the front pages of a Unionist media which gives maximum publicity to any Spanish story which puts Scotland’s independence hopes in a poor light.

After speaking about Spain’s difficulties with the Catalan independence movement, the Foreign Minister moved on to the problems caused by the influence of extremists in European politics. He mentioned the far-right candidate in the Austrian presidential elections, and then cited the malign influence of Nigel Farage and UKIP in dragging the Conservative party and the UK out of the EU. He went on to say that as a result it was in his view likely that “within four or five years England will return to its sixteenth-century borders”.

The interviewer, Antonio Jiménez, asked him if he was referring to Scotland, and García-Margallo confirmed that he was, adding that Scotland would seek another independence referendum in order to preserve its EU membership. Then speaking of the British Conservatives he said, “When you put the interests of your party before your country, the result is a catastrophe.”

At no point did García-Margallo threaten to veto or block Scottish membership of the EU. Quite the contrary, he spoke as though Scotland’s actions in seeking another independence referendum were perfectly understandable given the impossible situation we’ve been put in by the Conservatives. It would have been very easy for him to threaten an iScotland veto, given that he’d just been speaking about the actions Spain would take to frustrate Catalonia, but instead his tone was sympathetic.

So next time someone tells you that Scotland can’t become a member of the EU as a result of the fallout from the Brexit debacle because Spain would veto our membership, you can tell them that there’s only one party that Spain has explicitly threatened to veto. Spain has only ever threatened to veto the Conservatives and the UK Government, never to veto an independent Scotland in the EU. There’s an irony you won’t read about in the Unionist media.