Monday, 6 August 2012

How the London Olympics show we are better together

Today's Herald has a great cartoon by Stephen Camley. It shows a radiant sun made of GB gold medals over a sunny meadow with, in one corner, a  glum Alex Salmond soaking under his own personal rain cloud. It neatly encapsulates the Nationalists' problem with the Olympics: it represents a great UK achievement, with Scots, English, Irish and Welsh competitors playing for team GB. And the Scots are doing well, winning medals and even singing God Save the Queen. But how do the Nationalists react to this obviously good news story?

In contrast, the letters page is full of Nationalists claiming that it's all fine by them, there's no sour grapes and anyway it's not that important. The letter by Ruth Marr, a veteran Nat, is representative. She says;

".... would appear to have a touch of Olympicitis if he seriously believes the frenzy over London 2012 being whipped up by the media on a daily basis will seriously impact on the independence debate and result.......I cannot believe many voters will be lulled into the belief that the biggest factor in deciding whether or not Scotland should regain her independence is Team GB's performance at the Olympic games."
For me the cartoon is nearer the mark: the Games are giving the Nationalists a headache. If they ignore them or are dismissive it looks mulish and adolescent. If they endorse the spirit of the games they risk admitting that the Scots are part and parcel of the whole team, and team GB is doing great things. Since it's a foundation of Nationalist dogma that nothing good can come from anything UK, this is a real problem for them. Seeing the likes of Andy Murray and Chris Hoy, the pre-eminent Scottish sportsmen, fighting and winning and giving their all for team GB, bursting as gut and showing evident pride and emotion in their own and their team's achievements, must be galling for the party that thinks if you're not a Nat you can't be Scottish.

As for Ruth Marr: she's right that voters will not vote on sporting success or failure, but she's wrong to dismiss the Games, because the results are just part of  their significance. Andy Murray winning a tournament isn't really news. Andy Murray winning the Olympic Tennis Singles, draping himself in the Union Flag and even singing (or mumbling) the words of God Save the Queen are another thing altogether. It says: I'm the champ, I'm Scottish and British and I'm perfectly happy with that, thankyouverymuch.

And, crucially, the games are providing a narrative and reasons to be British with added emotional content.

In the context of the "independence" referendum the emotion, the feel-good factor, is vital. It's generally acknowledged that the Nats (like the Devil) have all the best tunes. Emotion rules their case. For them history = Braveheart, with nasty Englishmen in britches cheating and flogging honest Scots in kilts. Every Nationalist broadcast has skirling bagpipes and swirling kilts and people climbing Scottish hills to cry from the topmost point: Freedum! For Nationalists the facts are subsidiary to the conviction, and the conviction is cemented by the raw emotion. "I love my country, therefore I'm right and the majority is wrong".

The case for the UK tends to be more reasonable, less emotion-based. The logic is with the better together camp, now the Olympics are adding emotion to the case for the UK, making it the full package: head and heart.

Which can only be a good thing, IMHO.


  1. I think Salmond scored a major own goal with his "Scolympians" comments. He had a chance to appear statesmen like and wish Team GB every success in which Scottish atheletes will be playing a major role. Instead he he issued a clumsy statement which looks bitter and totally fails to encapsulate the national mood.
    A good nationalist friend (see, we can get on!) of mine posted on Face book that "Interestingly wee-Scotland would currently be 6th overall in the Olympic medals table (6 golds), and also 1st place for medals per capita (10 medals)." I'm not "talking Scotland down" - but like many Scottish acheivements, they've come from working together in a larger context - sharing GB training, coaching and finance.

  2. That's exactly what Chris Hoy said in 2008. He's just been interviewed on channel 4 news saying he's comfortable being Scottish and British. Let's be honest as Braveheart says they hate it, but have to pretend otherwise.

  3. I've never had a problem supporting the Brits even when I was more Nationalist minded (back in my teen years).

    I've even discovered that if I turn off the commentary I can even be neutral regarding the England football team -though schadenfrude kicks in if they get beaten on penalties.

    Much as I've enjoyed the sporting events, I can't help but think that the money could have been better spent.

  4. Braveheart

    I presume in your enthusiasm for Team GB, better together etc you will be advocating the abolition of the home nations football and rugby teams and the bulldozing of Hampden and Murrayfield stadiums------

    I look forward to your letter in the papers advocating that.

    Question - what do you think they should build on top of the demolished Hampden site? A giant Britannia?

    (Murrayfield site will naturally be turned into executive flats)

  5. Aberdonian, you've just proved Braveheart's point - the nationalist "positive" narrative of a wee, free Scotland has be usurped by a bigger picture of mutal co-operation in which all constituants of a United Kingdom can pull together. Your nationalist narrative can't cope with the fact that most Scots don't see an issue with us being Scottish and British and contributing to something that goes beyonf the River Tweed. We don't have to pull down Hampden and have a Team GB only - they are not - to quote a Scot you may have heard of - Chris Hoy "mutallaly exclusive". We want and are happy with both a Scottish and British Identity.

    On a sporting point of view, the *only* sport that gets in a fizz about a "team gb" in football. Hockey, since it's inculsion in the olynmpic games has had Scotland, England, NI and Wales and the FIH has never said "you can't have home nations, only GB". Rugby likewise with the Lions. Only the navel gazing SFA wouldn't support talented young Scots making themselves available for Team GB - that's why Stuart Pearce wasn't allowed to pick any Scots. Quite franky, given the state of Scottish football, a postive experience for Scottish football as part of team gb would have been great for the domestic game.

    So, Aberdonian, at the next olympics I'll be looking forward to seeing a TeamGB football team, but in the mean time, next summer when (I belive) they are reinstating Scotland vs England games, I'll be hoping Scotland stuff England :-)