Brian Wilson: SNP convert to Olympic supporters
After years of Anglophobic sniping, Salmond and co have decided the Olympics might be good for Scotland too, writes Brian Wilson
IT IS always a pleasure to agree with a minister in the Scottish Government, so I rejoice in the wise words of our sports minister, Shona Robison: “London 2012 is a huge opportunity to showcase Scotland to the world.”
Ah, if only… If only Shona had been in charge of SNP policy towards the Olympics for the past eight years, how different things might have been. The whingeing, the mean-mindedness, the denigration, the Anglophobic sniping, might all have been avoided.
Instead they could have celebrated the opportunity with the rest of us, and maybe even done something useful about it. As death-bed conversions go, the SNP’s professed enthusiasm for the London Olympics as “an opportunity” scarcely rates with joining Nato or loving the Queen, but it is still pretty spectacular for those of us blessed with a memory.
Ms Robison was speaking at the opening of Scotland House, normally known as the Army and Navy Club in Pall Mall, which the Scottish Government has taken over for the duration of the Olympics. I do not go along with allegations of pointless junket; I just wish it had not been such a cobbled-together, last minute effort, and underpinned by a little more credibility.
Any rational person could have seen all along that the Olympics would be as great for Scotland as for any other part of the United Kingdom – to inspire youngsters, establish role models, create once-in-a-lifetime spectator opportunities, attract events and training camps, foster commerce, develop tourism potential… all for the love of sport.
For such reasons, the Scottish people were behind the London Olympic bid from the outset. In 2004, when it was launched, polling showed that the highest levels of support were in Scotland and Northern Ireland, both at over 80 per cent. It was a joy not shared by the SNP who saw only an opportunity for division and the fostering of resentment.
This did not take long to express itself. When a piece of legislation to establish funding for the Games bid came before the House of Commons, the SNP sports spokesman, Peter Wishart, delivered one of the most misanthropic speeches it has been my misfortune to witness, culminating in the rallying cry: “If London wants the Olympics, London should pay for them itself.”
At the end of the debate, the SNP divided the House and five votes were cast against the legislation, which allowed for an additional tax on Londoners but also created a special Lottery game which people throughout the UK could opt in or out of. The five included Alex Salmond.
For the next several years, Wishart was given the mission of rubbishing the Olympics at every opportunity. “Scotland will get absolutely zilch from the London Olympics,” he assured us. They were “a Games for London and the South East”… “All we are going to get is the opportunity to bask in the reflected glory from London”… “Scotland has absolutely no interest in Team GB”. And so, endlessly, embarrassingly on.
The Nats’ oft-repeated demand for London to foot the whole bill subsided for a good reason. When Glasgow won the right to host the Commonwealth Games in 2014, Salmond was more than eager to clamber aboard. But Glasgow’s bid was based on the same principle as London’s – that the event should be used as the basis for large-scale economic regeneration of the city’s east end. And very properly, the whole country will contribute to the cost. The slogan “If Glasgow wants the Games, Glasgow should pay for them itself” would not have had the same divisive value.
Alongside the relentless negativity towards the London Olympics, there was the accompanying theme of the need for a Scottish team. To most people, the matter is quite straightforward. If Scotland becomes a separate country, then it will have its own Olympic team along with its own army, air force, navy and place in the Eurovision Song Contest. The whole thing comes as a package.
However, Salmond went into the 2007 elections with a very specific agenda of delivering a Scottish Olympic team “in 2012” and promising “a convention of Scottish athletes” (of which no more was heard) to take this ambition forward. This rhetoric intensified in the wake of British successes at the 2008 Games in Beijing, at which point the Scottish Olympians themselves felt obliged to pour near-unanimous scorn on it.
Chris Hoy came in for the full brunt of Nationalist opprobrium when he declared himself “proud to be Scottish and proud to be British” and added: “I wouldn’t have three medals hanging round my neck if it wasn’t for the British Olympic team.” One might have thought that Sir Chris, as he became, might have been qualified to take a view on the matter.
Sir Craig Reedie, the Scottish chairman of the British Olympic Committee, pointed out that – with the possible exception of curling – it was unlikely that any Scottish team would qualify for Olympic finals, thereby displacing about half the Scottish Olympians. As part of a wider British team, they compete happily with their partners from other parts of the UK and share in the success – anathema to those who believe that it would be better for them not to be there than to share a canoe or a badminton court with an English person.
The next, easier target for the Nationalists was the proposed GB under-21 football team. History – mainly the fact that there was nobody to play against 150 years ago – has bequeathed a separate Scottish football identity. The cry went up that participation in a GB team would jeopardise that status. All assurances to the contrary were ignored. Now the matter will be put to the test, since five Welsh players are in the squad.
I am absolutely sure that the separate identities of the four home nations will not be taken away as a result, confirming that the campaign against a GB football team was just another front for the same anti-British campaign. As Ms Robison relaxes in Scotland House, she may reflect that maybe half a dozen young Scottish footballers, male and female, were pointlessly denied a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take part in the Olympics as a result.
The opening ceremony of the London Olympics was a great pageant which reminded us of our shared history and the fact that Britain was at its best when the ordinary people worked together to create great institutions and overcome common challenges. But beyond that, I don’t think it set out to make political statements and I doubt very much if, in two years time, it will make a whit of difference to the constitutional debate which Scotland will still be lumbered with.
But as the soft-sell of separatism progresses, it is always worth remembering what it is trying to conceal. I doubt if Scotland House, land of opportunity, will be adorned with the great Nationalist slogans: “Scotland Will Get Zilch from the London Olympics” and “If London Wants the Olympics, London Should Pay for Them Itself”. But to be honest, it should be.
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Tuesday 18 June 2013
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