The sight of Sir Chris Hoy et al draped in the Union flag has clearly hurt the first minister
Details of next month’s victory parade for Scotland’s Olympic competitors remain sketchy. Thus far, Scots have contributed to more than a quarter of Great Britain’s record haul of gold medals at London 2012. And so I suppose it was only to be expected that the government will want to show that we’re one of the most athletic small nations in the world.
Nevertheless, Alex Salmond ought to be careful here about what he is wishing for. The sight of Chris Hoy, Andy Murray and our other Olympic heroes stravaiging about Arthur’s Seat waving huge Union flags would normally bring the first minister out in the sort of sweat that he only gets from one of his favourite curry. And surely the organisers of the parade wouldn’t be so crass as to insist that they all must only bear the Saltire.
For one of the most enduring features about London’s splendid Olympiad has been the Scots medal winners’ palpable sense of pride in being part of Great Britain. Indeed, following his gold medal in the keirin cycle event that made him Britain’s greatest Olympian, Sir Chris spoke eloquently about how comfortable he felt being both Scottish and British. “I’m British. I’m Scottish and British. I think you can be both – they are not mutually exclusive. All I can say is I’m very proud I’ve been part of this team, to be part of the British team, to be alongside the English and Welsh and Northern Irish, guys on the Isle of Man – everybody. It’s been a great team and I’m proud to be part of it.”
Even if you discount mad Boris Johnson’s claim on Thursday that the sense of UK national pride springing from the Olympics has “retarded” Alex Salmond’s campaign for separation, it’s clear that Scotland’s first minister is having a bad Games. I’m unaware of any official line that SNP party managers were seeking to advance during the Olympics, but it’s clear that not much thought went into dealing with the problem of Team GB and a subsequent unionist groundswell. Instead of confining himself to a dignified “good luck and God speed” message to the Scots representing Great Britain, the first minister simply couldn’t resist the opportunity to indulge in grandstanding. Thus the Scots were “Scolympians”; London’s Army & Navy Club became “a little bit of Scotland” and in Rio 2016 Scotland will compete separately after independence has been gained. It was wretched stuff and simply made our normally surefooted senior statesman look tawdry and unkempt.
It would be absurd not to acknowledge that the vibrant and muscular Britishness evident at the Olympic Games has reinforced feelings of unionism. Even a worthless and Olympics-denying cur such as me has been captivated by some of the feats of the last fortnight. Andy Murray’s pride and passion as he destroyed his nemesis, Roger Federer, was one of my highlights. Without getting too geopolitical, I like it when the country that refused to fight Nazism yet hid its war loot gets a right good kicking from time to time. And how could you not be moved by Sir Chris Hoy’s serenity and grace in his hour of triumph?
But let’s not get carried away. To listen to some of the BBC’s more hysterical commentators, you might think that we are about to take to the high seas and reclaim our lost empire. Before tonight’s closing ceremony has ended we will be insisting that Usain Bolt is really British. After all, the Jamaican tradition of running very fast in one direction is probably rooted in their ancestors’ desire to escape the rapacious clutches of the English and Scottish colonial thugs who once carved up the island.
The Olympic euphoria will evaporate as quickly as it takes the scions of England’s public school elite to put their craft in the waters of Eton Dorney again and reclaim their sport and their paddling pool. Already, a lot of people who really ought to know a lot better are predicting an Olympic legacy that will transform our fey and pasty youth into rippled, rosy-cheeked titans. Before you know it, we’ll all be getting up at 6am to throw a few of those falun gong manoeuvres before an ice bath and a wee herbal infusion.
But if you take away the rowing and the cycling and a boutique sport such as yachting then Britain would still be down there fighting it out with some of the former Soviet republics and Holland for a place in the top 10. Only time will tell if the tens of millions of pounds spent on getting a clutch of golds in those luxury pursuits that are safely out of the reach of most of the planet have been well spent. I wouldn’t hold my breath, though. And we await confirmation of the time of the first tumbleweed blowing through the Stratford site after the circus leaves town. In the meantime, the overwhelming majority of Britain’s pupils who don’t attend a school with its own water facility and properly maintained five-star sports tracks will do what they’ve always done: try to get into the school football team to chase their sporting dream.
The Nationalist government in Scotland has a chance to make something worthwhile of the Commonwealth Games when they arrive in Glasgow in 2014. But they would do well to leave out all the political posturing. If the SNP are serious about leaving a proper and enduring legacy after 2014, they could put their Holyrood majority to good use for a change and end the ridiculous charitable status of our independent schools. Perhaps the money clawed back from these exclusive and self-serving institutions, with their sprawling sporting facilities, could be spent building modest sports centres in those areas where the only shooting that occurs is at the tip of a needle.
And perhaps, too, they could prevent our Toytown local authorities selling off community playing fields while pretending that they care about childhood obesity and heart disease.