ALEX Salmond yesterday pledged to keep politics out of the Commonwealth Games as Glasgow prepares to host the 11-day event, which begins tonight with a star-studded opening ceremony to welcome athletes from around the world.
During a conference of Commonwealth business leaders yesterday, the First Minister admitted that he has imposed a “self-denying ordnance” on himself for the duration of the Games to avoid talking about the referendum. However, with 24 hours to go before the sporting extravaganza got under way, Mr Salmond took the opportunity to assure representatives of the 71 nations and territories that a Yes vote is nothing for them to worry about, pointing out that many of them have secured their own independence from UK rule.
At the same event, Chancellor George Osborne told delegates that the independence debate is “not for now”, but went on to warn that breaking away from the UK would create “economic risks” for Scotland.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who will address the business conference today, has revealed that the UK economy enjoyed a £14 billion boost following the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and said Commonwealth organisers can build on this to “make Glasgow 2014 so much more than just an amazing sporting event”.
Excitement is building in Glasgow ahead of tonight’s opening ceremony at Celtic Park, where more than 60,000 spectators will welcome athletes from all 71 competing nations and territories.
The First Minister will be present, along with the Queen and other heads of state. But Mr Salmond revealed he had imposed a “self-denying ordnance not to speak about politics” for the duration of the Games as he addressed yesterday’s conference at Glasgow University.
However, he was pressed by the event’s host, BBC radio presenter John Humphrys, to explain the impact that Scottish independence would have on the Commonwealth nations.
Mr Salmond said: “I don’t think that, given the vast majority of the 71 countries and territories represented here of course went through the process of becoming independent – just about all of them – I don’t think that will be a real worry for people coming from that background.”
He also urged people to “look at the book” when it comes to the prospect of independence.
He said: “Some people, two or three years ago, argued that the prospect of having an independence referendum would deter investment in Scotland.
“They said even the prospect of a referendum would be really bad for investment. Actually, inward investment is at a seven-year high. Things could not have gone better as far as inward investment is concerned.”
The Scottish economy has also now surpassed its pre-recession high of 2008, the First Minister added.
Mr Salmond went on to say that the Commonwealth Games has boosted Scotland’s international profile in 2014, which means it has never been easier to promote the country overseas.
“Scotland is in the news for all sorts of reasons – we’ve got the Commonwealth Games the Ryder Cup, the Homecoming year, the referendum. Scotland has never had a higher profile.”
And he said: “More than 7,400 jobs have been created and safeguarded in the last year thanks to inward investment; 6,161 jobs have been created or safeguarded as a result of Regional Selective Assistance and the value of research and development projects has almost doubled to £200 million.
“We know that inward investment is already at a 16-year high and international visits to Scotland increased by 13 per cent last year. We hope to build on that success.”
The Prime Minister will address the conference today. He is expected to say that the findings of the second annual report on the legacy from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, released today, show the UK has comfortably beaten its target of £11 billion being created in four years.
The £14.2bn generated in two years by the 2012 events comes from businesses securing contract wins, additional sales and new foreign investment in the two years since UK Trade & Investment’s British Business Embassy at Lancaster House hosted the largest programme of business events ever held in Britain during London 2012.
Mr Cameron will say: “Part of our long-term economic plan is about promoting every part of our country to the world and Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games will give us another fantastic platform to do this.
“It follows on from London 2012, which was not just an amazing sporting event, but also a great opportunity to secure a lasting economic and sporting legacy for the whole UK.
“I am confident we can build on our experience in London and make Glasgow 2014 so much more than just an amazing sporting event.”
The Chancellor agreed the Scottish referendum debate should be kept out of the Games as he addressed the conference yesterday.
But asked by Mr Humphrys what delegates can expect in the event of a Yes vote, the Chancellor said he wanted voters to be in possession of “all the facts” going into the referendum.
He said: “I’ve set out some of the economic risks that people need to be aware of, but it’s very much up to the people of Scotland to make that decision themselves.”