THERE was much talk at the start of the independence referendum campaign about the effect the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games might have on how people would vote.
A common expectation was that a surge in Scottish patriotic fervour would favour the Yes camp. Indeed, there was speculation that the 18 September, 2014, referendum date was specifically chosen by the SNP in the hope of the Games providing a bounce in support for a Yes. With Glasgow 2014 now coming to an end, has this been the case? The next few opinion polls will begin to answer that question. But a good guess at this stage is that those predisposed to one side or the other in the referendum will have found their position reinforced by the Games, with the nation’s shared experience invested with two meanings depending on whether someone is broadly inclined to vote Yes or No.
For No supporters, the Games disprove the fundamental Yes belief that in order to be a confident, successful, accomplished and ambitious nation, Scotland needs to slough off the shackles of the Union. The Games have shown Scotland in possession of these qualities in abundance, while Scotland remains within the UK. So why the need for independence? We are capable of all this here and now. You can give full voice to your Scottishness first and still celebrate the successes of the other “home nations” (a phrase now back in common usage after a period of neglect) that are our siblings within the UK. The Yes caricature of leaden skies under the Union and sunny possibility under independence has been left exposed.
For Yes supporters, the lesson of the Games is very different. The sunny positivity to be found on the banks of the Clyde over the past fortnight is not just a celebration of what Scotland is like now, it is a promise of what Scotland can be like in the future. It is a taste of a different way of carrying ourselves, with a greater self-belief imbuing every aspect of our life as a nation and as individuals. Glasgow 2014 has revealed to us our better nature, and our latency. The Yes message from the Games can be summed up thus: “See this? We could be like this all the time.”
The effect of the Games may be more pronounced on small pockets of Scottish opinion that could be crucial come 18 September. There is general agreement between the official campaigns that Scotland could be independent – the issue is whether it should be. But anecdotal evidence from the doorsteps suggests there remains a minority body of pessimistic opinion – particularly in working class areas – that Scotland is simply too wee and too poor to be able to go it alone. Perhaps this dour demographic – a key battleground in the campaign – may have had its negativity dented by the Games’ tsunami of positivity.
Another group with its prejudices challenged may be those Scots who think Scotland’s problem is being governed by “the English” – a nation they characterise almost exclusively as Old Etonian Tory toffs in the David Cameron mould – white, privileged, right-wing and rich, with a plummy accent. The Games has instead shown “the English” as a wonderfully diverse nation in race, class, accent and background, who seem on the whole to want us to stay within the multi-national and multi-ethnic arrangement that is the UK. This demographic’s Scottish exceptionalism may also have been challenged by the delightfully confounding fact that many Scots medal-winners speak in Estuary English.
There are no doubt other pockets of opinion effected in other ways. The impact of the Games will be multi-faceted and may not manifest itself immediately. But if the effect has been to challenge some dusty and unexamined notions about Scottish identity in the 21st century, it will have had a useful political purpose as well as a sporting, economic and social one.
No simple solution to complicated births
RECESSIONS come and go, and levels of prosperity, poverty and inequality vary with the economic and political orthodoxy of the age. But there are some aspects of life that we expect always to get better, especially when it comes to health. Childbirth complications are one of these. A century ago, death in childbirth and high infant mortality were simply part of the fabric of everyday life.
To an extent the modern mind finds it hard to grasp the fact that the very act of childbirth posed a mortal danger to both mother and baby. This is one of the aspects of human health that has improved immeasurably down the years. The natural – and rational – assumption is that the constant improvement in medical technology and techniques, coupled with new and improved drugs, ensure that childbirth will become ever safer as years go on.
This is true when it comes to the quality of healthcare. It does indeed steadily improve. But the patients change. As we reveal in a sobering report today, a ten-year study of childbirth in this country shows that increased numbers of older mothers and an increase in obese mothers have contributed to a rise in the rate of what are termed “complicated births”.
These are two distinct problems. The phenomenon of women having children later is unlikely to be reversed. It is a consequence of a number of wholly positive developments in society – the increase in women’s educational attainment, their increased economic independence, and their increased control over their own fertility. None of these, thankfully, will be reversed. There may be a tendency for women to underestimate the potential for complications in childbirth as they grow older, but it is unlikely that increased awareness would reverse a trend that is wrapped up in a complex mix of 21st-century circumstances and life decisions.
Obesity is quite another matter. We have become used – if not inured – to incessant warnings about the health implications of failing to watch our weight. A degree of fatalism is one of the reasons such warnings are increasingly falling on deaf ears.
But when the health danger is not to you, but to your unborn child, the risk takes on another dimension altogether. This is a risk factor with much greater scope for improvement.