THE Olympic opening ceremony’s spectacular celebration of modern Britain will drive support away from Scottish independence, pro-UK campaigners claimed last night as they declared it could prove to be a major turning point in the run-up to the referendum.
Pro-Union campaign chiefs seized on the three-hour display of a caring, contemporary and self-deprecating country, saying it had shown people across the UK the strength of their shared heritage.
They claimed that Nationalist arguments that Scotland and England should be on an irrevocable path to separation were weakened by a display which demonstrated the value placed in UK institutions such as the NHS, the love of a shared culture and a team led into the Olympic stadium by a Scottish athlete.
But the claims last night prompted a spokesman for First Minister Alex Salmond – who attended the event in London – to accuse the pro-Union campaign of a “puerile attempt” to make political capital out of the ceremony and the Olympic Games.
Friday night’s spectacular received almost universal praise yesterday with director Danny Boyle being lauded for an event which surprised millions with an open celebration of some of the highpoints of British history and modern culture.
In an emotional note for the ceremony, released yesterday, Boyle said the celebration had been devised to project “the idea of Jerusalem” that can be built “through the caring nation that built the welfare state, through the joyous energy of popular culture, through the dream of universal communication.”
The display combined stories of the industrial revolution with something as diverse as a traditional Saturday night out. It culminated with Sir Chris Hoy, watched by a TV audience of nearly 27 million in the UK and by billions worldwide, carrying the Union Flag at the head of the British team.
The Better Together campaign said yesterday that Boyle’s achievement was in successfully projecting to the entire country a new and more positive image of Britain which would have huge resonance among people across the country, including Scotland.
Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, a leading pro-Union campaigner, said: “Friday’s opening ceremony was a big cultural moment that will impact on our sense of ourselves and politics here in Scotland even after the athletes have headed home. To win the referendum the Nationalists need to convince us that the rest of the UK has become so foreign a place with such different values that we should split apart.
“Friday’s ceremony did something completely different – by attempting to capture and define the essence of Britishness it reminded millions of us what we so cherish.”
He added: “It captured authentically a modern Britishness that is confident, generous, warm, inclusive and funny.
“From the NHS to Gregory’s Girl to Chris Hoy it was about who we are today. As Scots we may believe there’s nowhere better – but Friday reminded us there’s something bigger and why on earth would we want to give up part of who we are?”
Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser added: “There is always a danger of reading too much into these things, but I think we have seen a reclamation of British identity over the last year with the Queen’s Jubilee and the passage of the Olympic torch. The ceremony wasn’t just about London or about England, it was about the whole of the UK. No matter where they lived, I think people will have associated themselves with a lot of what they saw.”
Pro-Union supporters also tweeted about the ceremony’s impact. “After last night and the genuine pride people felt across the UK, why would you want to throw it all away with independence,” said one.
Another added: “Right, well, that’s the campaign to save the Union sorted. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that Britain?”
However, with independence supporters also saying they found the ceremony “inspiring”, a spokesman for Salmond hit back last night.
“This puerile attempt to politicise the Olympics certainly wouldn’t win any medals. With the latest poll putting the SNP even further in the lead than last year’s election landslide, and independence ahead of every other constitutional option, Douglas Alexander and his colleagues in the Tory-led anti-independence campaign are clearly getting desperate,” he said.
He went on: “The First Minister loved every minute of the opening ceremony, and the Olympics are a global celebration of sport – with over 200 nations across the planet fielding the very best of their talent. This is time to get behind our athletes and sportsmen and women and cheer them on to success – Douglas Alexander and his straw-clutching colleagues in the anti-independence campaign would do better just to watch the Games.”
The table may turn in 2014 when Scotland will get the chance to hold its own opening ceremony at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, three months prior to the SNP’s scheduled date for the independence referendum.
Recent opinion polls have shown support for independence falling.
The latest YouGov poll published in May showed 33 per cent of voters in Scotland want independence and 57 per cent are opposed.