Leaders: Building on sporting excellence
Andy Murray’s status as a Scottish sporting legend is, as the First Minister remarked yesterday, already assured. At the tender age of 25, he is the only Scot to have won a tennis grand slam tournament and an Olympic gold medal.
Thus there is some pressure on Alex Salmond to mark this incredible achievement in some more permanent way than in the joyous homecoming Murray has received since his victory last week in New York.
When they met Mr Salmond on Sunday, Murray and his mother Judy, the guiding light in his career, were naturally keen to press this point, serving up a request that the Scottish Government should finance the creation of a Scottish tennis academy. The First Minister’s return was not game-winning, but at least he got the ball back over the net by promising to discuss it further over the coming months.
We hope there was not an element of heavily disguised top spin in the First Minister’s response to the Murrays’ heartfelt plea. For the cost of a tennis academy that will produce more Andy Murrays will just not be in the bricks and clay, or any other surface – welcome though new facilities would be – but in the coaching, where the best get paid a lot of money.
As a keen golfer, Mr Salmond must be aware of the example of another Scottish sporting icon – Paul Lawrie – who ploughed money into a foundation to encourage more youngsters to take up the game. We wonder if he suggested a similar model for tennis, with some public money to pump-prime it? A national tennis centre, with properly funded coaching, would be a fitting long-term legacy of Andy Murray’s fantastic achievements.
Light at the end of the referendum tunnel
Light at the end of what had become a very tedious tunnel has been sighted. Michael Moore, the Scottish Secretary, has told MPs at Westminster’s Scottish Affairs committee that he hopes negotiations over the precise nature of the constitutional referendum the Scottish Government wants to hold in autumn 2014 will be concluded on 22
The operative word is, of course, “hopes”. It takes two to reach an agreement, and the Scottish Government has yet, officially, to signal that it is ready to shake hands on a deal. In truth, it cannot do so in any detailed way because it has yet to publish the results of its consultation with the Scottish people on the draft referendum deal. To announce conclusions before disclosure of what the people think about it would be to treat the people with contempt.
Nevertheless, it would be astonishing if the consultation results were not well known to the Scottish Government and its officials by now and if those conclusions had not informed their viewpoint in those negotiations. And it is reasonable to think that Mr Moore knows enough about the talks’ progress to be able to signal that they are close to an end.
The major issue at stake is whether there will be just one question – about independence – or two – the second being about maximising devolution by handing over much of Westminster’s taxation and welfare powers to Holyrood. David Cameron, the Prime Minister, and supported by most unionist opinion, has made plain his preference for a single question.
While Mr Salmond has not ruled out two questions, it is noticeable that the Scottish Government machine and party spokespeople have gone quiet about this in recent weeks. That may be because the First Minister does not just face opposition questions about the possible confusion from a two-question plebiscite, but also because a section of his own party wants the clarity of the single question. Thus the portents are that the Scottish public will be asked to indicate a straight “yes” or “no” to independence in 2014, though the precise form of the question has to be agreed. If, and only if, Mr Salmond agrees to that, Westminster will pass the necessary legislation to immunise the Scottish Government from a legal challenge that it is acting outside its powers.
The risk for the UK government is that if the SNP government is given enough room to claim that Westminster is not allowing Scotland to ask the question(s) it wants posed, it
creates a get-out clause permitting the SNP to claim Scotland has been finagled out of the referendum that Scottish public opinion demanded. That would mean that even if the Westminster-
authorised poll produced a definitive rejection of independence, the argument would not be dead. So, as we reach the end of that tunnel, the Prime Minister needs to ensure this process leads to
political, as well as legal, certainty.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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