Leader: Race for Rio Scots can’t win
LONDON 2012 has been a triumph, not least for Scottish athletes; but could Scotland enjoy an even higher profile at Rio 2016 by fielding its own national team?
Without in any way pre-empting the result of the 2014 independence referendum, the only realistic answer is no. Even if Alex Salmond secured a landslide majority, independence negotiations could not conceivably be concluded by the time the Olympic torch arrives in Rio. Unpicking a Union that has lasted for more than three centuries would be a complex and time-consuming business. Furthermore, the Olympic rule book stipulates that a new nation’s application for membership of the organisation must take two years: South Sudan is currently excluded under that rule. By that criterion, even the 2020 Olympics could be a tight deadline for an independent Scotland.
Even today, at the climax of this summer’s Olympic fever, common sense tells us Scots will not decide the destiny of their country on the basis of considerations relating to the Games. But an independent Scotland’s future Olympic prospects is one piece of the mosaic that illustrates the likely outcome of going it alone. In headline figures, Scotland’s claims look good, with 14 medals so far. Measured per head of population, Scotland’s performance has been better than England’s. The downside of the population ratio, however, is the problem of producing multiple champions within the same sport. Of Scotland’s 14 medals, only three were won by individuals: Andy Murray in the men’s singles tennis, Michael Jamieson in swimming and Chris Hoy in the keirin. All the rest were won by team participants.
If Scottish athletes left Team GB they would be sorely missed; but it would be less challenging for an English team to fill one vacancy than for a solitary Scot to create a local team of peers. Equestrian gold medallist Scott Brash, for example, would need to recruit three riders of similar calibre to himself. Even where a two-person team is involved, where is the world-class Scot who could partner Kath Grainger in rowing’s double sculls? Even Chris Hoy won one of his gold medals as part of a three-man cycling sprint team. The reality is that Scotland has been able to win more medals through participation in Team GB than it could hope to gain fielding its own team. Yet there is more to sporting fulfilment than a medal count. Ireland is not a major Olympic contender but its boxing success has provoked joyous national celebration.
Arguably a newly independent nation should play the long game rather than look for instant success. Jamaica is currently celebrating 50 years of independence and also celebrating the mega-stardom of its sprinter Usain Bolt; when he won the 200m, the silver and bronze medallists were also Jamaicans – out of a population of under three million.
A serious disincentive for Scotland is the cost of funding the facilities necessary to train a pool of Olympic-standard athletes, as well as the expense of participating independently in the Games. Gold does not come cheap. These costs would be incurred alongside the financial liabilities of establishing embassies, defence forces and governmental structures for a newly independent Scotland. On balance, the disadvantages of an independent Scottish Olympic team seem to outweigh the patriotic gratification of cheering it on. But realism dictates that the crucial decision on Scotland’s future, with such profound implications for our children and grandchildren, should not be determined by a once-in-four-years sporting event.
Not before time, the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) has published plans for closing Cornton Vale, the notorious women’s prison that is a blot on Scotland’s reputation, and replacing it with separate facilities by 2015. New units in Edinburgh and Greenock for the most
serious offenders will be complemented by community prisons, with a geographic spread across the country, including Peterhead and Inverness. That will make prison visiting easier for inmates’ families as well as reducing prisoners’ psychological disorientation. Theoretically, these are interim provisions until a modern prison unit can be built to replace Cornton Vale as a nationwide specialist centre for the housing of female
The consultation report by the SPS concedes that plans for this replacement prison, either on the Cornton Vale site or in Glasgow, may never materialise due to financial constraints. That is not necessarily to be regretted. Why must there be a single women’s prison? It is possible the supposedly interim facilities may prove more satisfactory than a centralised unit – with the crucial proviso that they must be properly constructed and equipped. The SPS should keep an open mind and regard the new arrangements less as a temporary expedient than as a pilot scheme.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 26 May 2013
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