A STRANGE thing happens in Scotland when Andy Murray takes to the centre court at Wimbledon.
It’s as if a sunbeam has cast a sudden patch of light on a rainy day. Or someone has switched the dial on the radio from fuzzy interference to a triumphant symphony. Like the prisoners in the Shawshank Redemption when another Andy – Andy Dufresne – broadcasts Duettino Sull-Aria across the yard, we briefly put our humdrum lives on hold to glory in the moment.
Best of all, for those of us weary of the constant bickering, each time Murray lifts his racquet the pause button is pressed on the independence debate. Every step he takes towards a Wimbledon victory is more than merely another landmark in the nation’s sporting history, it is a welcome detente in the referendum hostilities. It is as if, for the duration of the match, a ceasefire has been called and we can all play happily in no man’s land.
This happens on a micro level, where families like mine who are split on independence gather round the television to drink wine and cheer Murray on. And it happens on a national level where Twitter – aka the Western Front – suddenly mellows, and combatants who would normally be lobbing verbal grenades across the wires speak with one voice, even if all they’re saying is #MonAndy.
Contentious issues which would, in any other context, lead to an entrenchment of positions now foster a sense of solidarity. Take the great semi-final roof debacle: whether our sympathies lie with the Yes campaign or Better Together, we can all agree Jerzy Janowicz was trying it on and we can all breathe a sigh of relief that our man – our common champion – managed to stay focused and win through.
There’s something else I owe to Murray beyond a lull in the political conversation. He has, by dint of all those personality quirks his detractors loathe, restored my sense of national identity. It’s a lot of weight for man who just wants to play tennis to carry on his shoulders, but, at a time when I am being made to feel less Scottish for rejecting the insularity peddled by a vocal minority of uber-nationalists, Murray reminds me of all the things I love about my country and its quirky, thrawn and much-misunderstood people.
Of course, we have other sporting heroes – Sir Chris Hoy, Liz McColgan, Katherine Grainger – but there is something about Murray that makes me want to rally behind him, particularly when his back is against the wall. In part, I think the fact I have watched him grow from boy to man (on TV, I mean, I don’t actually know him) plays on my maternal instincts. Every time he cries – or looks a wee bit vulnerable – I want to rush over and say “there, there”, even though I know he has a perfectly good mammy of his own.
But principally it is because, though national characteristics are hard to pin down, he is unmistakably Scottish. Indeed, if you could distil male Scottishness it would be called Eau De Murray; or “usige” or “watter” of Murray, perhaps, depending on which part of the country you hail from. Those traits an (admittedly diminishing) number of people hold against him – his occasional gruffness, his understated demeanour – are the very things those of us who have lived north of the Border, or met and loved Scots men anywhere, find most endearing, because they are hallmarks of a people not much given to gushing; a people of hidden depths.
“Getting” Murray – understanding that whatever people say about him that’s what he’s not – is like being part of an exclusive cultural club. “Hey you outsiders, who carp and whine”, fully-fledged members can yell: “What you criticise as truculence, we recognise as fighting spirit; what you criticise as a lack of humour we recognise as dry wit; and what you call sullenness, we recognise, and greatly applaud, as a refusal to pimp your back story for the delectation of the X-Factor generation.”
There are many more things that can be said in Andy Murray’s favour, most of them unrelated to his nationality. He’s a man who sticks by his friends. The other day, his former doubles partner Ross Hutchins, who is suffering from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, spoke of how Murray is always there for him.
Murray’s tolerant, too – just look at the way he defended hapless BBC reporter Garry Richardson when he got pelters for his car crash of a post quarter final interview.
Nor am I suggesting that there is one definitive way to be or feel Scottish; there are plenty of more obviously jovial, loquacious men – Alan Cumming, for example – who are as much a product of their roots as Murray. All the same, there’s something at the core of him, that reminds me I’m proud to be a Scot, even as others question my loyalty on the grounds I don’t much care who runs our national institutions (so long as they’re good at their jobs).
But there I go, wallowing in indy-ref bitterness again when today should be a resentment-free zone. Instead, let me finish by rejoicing in the knowledge that, for a few hours this afternoon, our divided country will feel whole again. It’s a gift from Murray that is all the more precious because it is so fleeting; because we are aware that the minute he lifts (or doesn’t lift) the trophy, everyone will retreat to their bunkers and hostilities will resume. «