SOME political observers have suggested that Scotland’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games this summer might have an affect on the result of the independence referendum in September.
Certainly, the timing of the Games in Glasgow, from 23 July to 3 August, would suggest that Alex Salmond’s SNP might be able to tap into any patriotic fervour that emerges during the Games, which coincide with the run-up to the referendum.
Nationalists might be hopeful of getting a poll boost of a few per cent that some might feel would be enough to make the referendum result far closer than expected. But it is perhaps worth taking a look at how much sporting results actually can and do affect elections and referendum results.
It’s arguably somewhat of a myth that the success or failure of a national sporting team determines voting habits, although there are examples that could perhaps give some hope to both sides of the referendum debate. One of Labour’s biggest ever UK victories came in 1966, when Harold Wilson defeated the Tories to win an overall Commons majority of 96. An oft-repeated myth is that the re-election of Mr Wilson was in part due to England’s only ever World Cup victory that year. Being the astute politician that Wilson was, the late Labour leader clearly attempted to dine out on England’s hosting of the World Cup during an election year. But Labour’s triumph in the 1966 general election was on 31 March, with that year’s famous World Cup final taking place 17 weeks later.
However, England’s defeat at the hands of West Germany in the 1970 World Cup quarter-finals came just a few days before Mr Wilson was defeated by Ted Heath in that’s year’s general election. Mr Wilson’s minister of sport, Denis Howell, a former referee, famously wrote in his autobiography that “everything simultaneously began to go wrong for Labour” after Sir Alf Ramsey’s England’s were on the plane home from Mexico, which staged the 1970 World Cup.
Some commentators attributed the failure of the 1979 devolution referendum in part to Scotland’s disappointing World Cup campaign in 1978, when the nation had high hopes but saw the team embarrassed and knocked out in the group stages, in what was an enduring blow to collective confidence.
But, in reality, how likely is it that the independence referendum result will be swayed one way or another by the Commonwealth Games? Of course, Mr Salmond, being a highly astute politician in the mould of Harold Wilson, will attempt to cash in on Scotland’s biggest city hosting the Games just as the late former Labour premier did back in 1966. But whether this will make any difference to the outcome is debatable.
Would it really have been believable, for example, that John’s Major crisis-ridden Tory government would have been re-elected in 1997 if England had triumphed when the country hosted Euro 96 the year before?