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Euan McColm: Ugly row over Team Scotland tartan

Team Scotland athletes model Jilli Blackwood's controversial tartan. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Team Scotland athletes model Jilli Blackwood's controversial tartan. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

  • by Euan McColm
 

THEY stand there, by the edge of a loch, looking like the cast of a science-fiction drama made by BBC Alba.

The men wear kilts of pulsating fuschia and turquoise, a pattern repeated in the shawls draped around the women’s shoulders. Shirts and dresses are cut from a electric blue fabric of such jangling brightness that it appears to clash with itself.

In the design of the uniform to be worn by members of Team Scotland at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow later this month, we see the mangled result of a head-on collision between tradition and innovation. Subtlety has been declared dead at the scene.

The unveiling, last week, of the outfits – created by designer Jilli Blackwood – was a delightful moment, bringing together the nation in not-entirely-serious outrage.

First it was Twitter, where the jokes came bubbling over: “Made in Scotland from curtains” and “Brigadon’t” were among my favourites. Within a few hours, the matter had hit the mainstream, with television and newspapers joining in.

The pros and cons of the design were dissected, people were moved to call radio stations to vent their opinions. Suddenly the national debate was about just how ridiculous our athletes might look during the parade.

In all its psychedelic awfulness, the Team Scotland uniform instantly became iconic. It has earned its cost with the substantial amount of gaiety it’s already brought to the nation.

So, I’m troubled – and not a little guilty, given that I joined in the chorus of criticism this week – that a petition has been organised, demanding the uniform be ditched.

That’s not in the spirit of things, not one little bit.

The petition – signed by thousands of Scots – calls on the Scottish Government to intervene as a matter of urgency. Ministers are urged to act to prevent the use of the uniform before “our poor, brave-faced athletes are subjected to parading around in them”. Not only, adds the petition, is the uniform an embarrassment to our athletes and to Scotland, but there should also be an investigation into who selected “this travesty of adesign”.

The author of this demand, a Mr Richard Brown of Glasgow, stops short of proposing which punishment should then be meted out to whoever allowed the uniform to happen.

All of those supporting the petition are guilty of a colossal over-reaction. They’re turning something fun into something rather nasty.

An investigation? What madness is this?

Petitioners, you may remember, have previously succeeded in changing the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony. But on that occasion, those protesting had an impenetrable case.

In a moment of inexplicable collective bone-headedness, organisers decided that a great wheeze would be to blow up a number of tower blocks as part of the opening ceremony.

This was defended as a bold idea by city council leader Gordon Matheson, who said bringing down the famous Red Road flats would be symbolic of the changing face of Glasgow. Others pointed out that demolishing five of the six blocks – leaving one standing to house asylum seekers – might credibly be judged as being in quite astonishing poor taste.

Within days, it was announced that the opening ceremony would no longer include blowing up part of the city.

Former socialist MSP Carolyn Leckie attracted more than 17,000 signatories to her petition calling for the flats to remain standing during the ceremony. Even more have backed the call for the athletes’ uniform to be ditched. And their numbers continue to soar.

They won’t succeed, this time, of course. And nor should they.

For one thing, the opening ceremony takes place a week on Wednesday, and designing and creating a suitable alternative would be impossible. For another, who might be appointed to decide whether a replacement design passed muster? Richard Brown? You? Me?

But, most importantly, the outfit is now much more than a mere uniform. So many Scots have played with the image that it’s now a spirit-lifting piece of public art. We all own it. And we should celebrate it.

Team Scotland athletes may next week parade in front of the world looking like the staff of a garden centre that appears only once every 100 years, but let’s cheer them as they do.

Let’s rejoice in the perfectly Scottish, brash wrongness of the team uniform.

What a joy it would be to see fans arriving at games’ venues, wearing their own homemade takes on the design. Let the streets of Glasgow shimmer with candy-store tartan and swimming-pool blue.

Ms Blackwood answered criticism of her design by saying that if everyone had liked it, then she wouldn’t have been doing her job. It is easy to dismiss that as a defensive response but, of course, she is quite correct. An artist whose work provokes no reaction might as well give up.

The response to her creation might not have been the one the designer hoped for, but she certainly made Scots sit up and take notice. But, whether one considers the uniform a monstrosity or not, it is hardly worth getting in a fankle over it.

If you signed the petition demanding the athletes’ outfit be ditched then I accuse you of a catastrophic sense-of-humour failure.

The world will not judge us by the clothes Team Scotland wears next week but by the spirit of the Commonwealth Games. All the signs are that we can expect a fantastic 12 days of competition.

Lawyer Sarra Hoy – who may have a particular sympathy for athletes given her husband Sir Chris has won a bike race or two – had wise words on the uniform. Despite all this talk about the outfit, she said, our hearts will swell with hope and pride for the Team Scotland members we see wearing it.

I’ll bet she’s right.

The Team Scotland uniform is gaudy, over-the-top, as Glasgow gallus as it is possible to imagine. And it has made us come together and laugh at ourselves.

It’s perfect. I love it.

Twitter: @euanmccolm

 

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