During the summer of 2012 the world’s focus seemed to land on London with a series of events culminating in the Olympics of that year. With the success of an exceptional Commonwealth Games, the start of the Edinburgh Festival and the Ryder Cup (to name but three) a similar spotlight is now being turned on Scotland.
Firstly, I would be the first to say these Commonwealth Games are the best I can remember – well organised, a high sporting standard and really enjoyable to watch. I’ve also been one of those irritated by the comparison (either favourable or less so) with the 2012 Olympics. They are a different beast with massively different budgets and ethos. For what it’s worth, the commonwealth Games has felt more representative of the underlying ideals of the Olympics. It’s interesting that the games can progress at such a high standard without the major corporate sponsorship deals, hoards of ‘hangers-on’ from the IOC and death by corporate hospitality which has often marked past Olympics. Well done Glasgow and Scotland.
Inevitably, political and sporting commentators alike have commented on the feel good factor the games has brought to Scotland. Many have speculated on the impact this Caledonian summer may have on the Scottish independence referendum scheduled for 18th September.
To declare an interest, as someone who feels more British than English, I would feel a tangible loss if Scotland chose to leave the United Kingdom. With family links to Scotland and a great love of the country, I believe both Scotland and England would be diminished following separation.
Given that position, I took the opportunity to test Scots views on the subject when I visited the games last week. As the games have progressed, it has been interesting to follow the emerging debate on the impact of the games on any decision.
The Scotsman debate (http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/video-commonwealth-games-and-scottish-independence-1-3490864) made some interesting points. The suggestion that the Games were times to suit the referendum made by some seems to put the cart before the horse given that the games were scheduled over seven years ago. Of course, the referendum may well have been positioned by the political class to give the best chance of success. But is that a sensible stance to take? Is there real evidence of the undoubted feel good factor spilling over into the political arena.
The evidence may not be as strong as suggested. The Scotsman make the point that if the referendum was subject to such influences the ‘No’ campaign could have expected a boost when Scotland failed to make the final stages of the football World Cup. This wasn’t evident and many believe the expected tartan surge may not materialise. Others say decisions of this magnitude simply aren’t influenced by sporting success. Certainly, the undoubted ‘Brit-pop’ resurgence of 2012 didn’t stop the anti-government result in local by-elections or the UKIP surge in the European elections of 2013. The indications from England and elsewhere suggest the euphoria of the games diminishes fairly quickly – potentially before the referendum.
One theme (reflected in some of the blog comments to the Scotsman debate) reflect on the origins of the Commonwealth Games which began as the 1930 British Empire Games in Hamilton, Canada. Many of the strongest supporters of the independence debate point out their belief that Scotland was never part of the British Empire. It is unclear (at least to me) where the evidence to support this can be found. However, they believe it would be unthinkable for an independent Scotland to continue in an organisation which perpetuated the concept of the British Empire. It would be ironic if the Commonwealth Games which are reported to boost the ‘Yes’ campaign were to be the last in which Scotland participated.
One of the most striking memories I have of the Games is how all members of the ‘Home Countries’ were cheered with equal enthusiasm. I for one saw no evidence of ‘Anyone but England’. Indeed, there was a realisation from all the competitors that there was more in common with each other than had perhaps been understood.
A private comment from one of the Glasgow council party indicated that the Games may not have been able to be supported had the UK not backed the bid. There was no suggestion that an independent Scotland wouldn’t have been a credible venue. However, there was doubt that the inward investment (much of which came from the UK as a whole) would have been available were other demands on the exchequer being met from Edinburgh alone.
Finally, the return to Scotland of those Scots who for whatever reason live and work in England, Wales or elsewhere has raised a strong belief that only some Scottish voices are being canvassed. I couldn’t help but contrast the ability of Australians resident in the UK to vote in their home elections yet Scots who have moved across the border have lost their franchise.
I believe the games have been an overwhelming success and I would be one of the strongest voices congratulating Glasgow in its achievement. But surprisingly, the resurgence in Scots identity brought on by the games has raised the question of what it means to be Scottish – particularly if you are a non-resident Scot. These questions have not been lost of Scots living in the country. Ironically, the broader politics and questions of identity raised by the games could be just as beneficial to the ‘No’ campaign.
Whatever the outcome of the referendum I hope it isn’t the last time Scotland is seen at these games.