Duncan Hamilton: Don’t let petty political point-scoring ruin Olympic team spirit
I’M STARTING really to dread global sporting events. Not because of the sport – the London Olympics has been utterly sensational – but because in Scotland these events are increasingly abused by politicians determined to make a headline or score a cheap hit.
Let’s get a few things entirely clear.
First, the Olympic Games has nothing whatsoever to do with whether Scotland wants to become independent in 2014. One is a global sporting spectacle showing human endeavour and spirit at its most fabulous, the other is a local political decision for Scots on the best political and economic future for our country.
Secondly, it is wholly possible to be a passionate Scottish Nationalist supporting “Team GB” (I’m happy to be “Exhibit A”) just as avowed Scottish Unionists will doubtless be right behind “Team Scotland” in the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
Nationalists don’t exclusively own Scottish patriotism, just as Unionists don’t own the modern concept of “Britishness”.
No-one, for example, doubts that the social (as opposed to political) union across the British Isles will maintain regardless of independence. Irish independence, for example, hardly broke the ties of kin, affection and commerce between that nation and our own.
Perhaps even more importantly, the modern idea of “independence” is wholly removed from any notion of isolation. The truth is that both by choice and necessity, an independent Scotland would work hand-in-hand with England, Wales and Northern Ireland in areas of common interest, aspiration and concern.
The sense of cohesion and co-operation which “Team GB” exudes is all about parity of esteem and harnessing individual ambition towards a common goal. I can’t think of a better description of precisely what an independent Scotland would be seeking to achieve.
But already I am falling into the trap I set out to decry – engaging in this debate in political terms. This madness needs to stop; we need to return the Olympics, the World Cup and whatever else to where it belongs – the world of sport.
Michael Phelps embodies all that is good about these Games. The headlines were about his becoming the greatest Olympian of all time with another haul of medals. Quite right – the man is immense. Consider also, though, his supreme dignity in defeat when unexpectedly beaten into second place by young South African Chad Le Clos. He was utterly gracious in defeat; a stark and welcome contrast to the usual infantile petulance of overpaid Premiership footballers. It was big, proper, human.
That’s what people like former Labour minister Brian Wilson maybe just aren’t getting. He may want to use the Olympics, in his own words, as a “sporting metaphor for the wider Scottish debate”, but the rest of us don’t.
The sofa dwellers of Scotland (hang on, there’s an idea – surely if the IOC ever make that an Olympic sport we’re sorted?) are enthralled by the drama and dedication on show, not by a daft and clumsy means of asserting a political case for the Union.
Is Brian Wilson seriously asking us to believe that because the majestic Sir Chris Hoy was in a relay team with a bloke from Bolton and another guy born and raised in Germany, Scotland should just forget about this whole independence lark?
On that analysis, imagine if Hoy had only got the team silver, and then goes on to win the Keirin (his individual sprint event)? Would we take it that being tied to Bolton was somehow keeping Scotland back? Or that Scots really prosper when independent? Or would we be looking to blame the half-German chap for not giving it everything he had?
By contrast, I’m happy to back every one of the “Team GB” members. In this Olympics, they are our team. I have no difficulty whatsoever, and nor do the vast majority of Scots, in identifying with the collective effort.
Sport is about both diversity and unity. The Olympics is a celebration of diverse nations across the globe meeting in sporting combat with shared sporting values and ideals. Scotland may well in future have her own team at the Olympics, just as we do in the Commonwealth Games.
The point is really this – we are already a fusion of different identities. That is the inevitable consequence of our history. It is also the nature of the modern world where the EU, IMF and UN dominate the daily news in a way that rams home the advent of global citizenship.
There are two paths here – one is to become obsessed about purity of identity, the other to relax and enjoy the inevitable cross-currents of an interdependent world. My overwhelming sense here is that Scots, like most others around the globe, have already chosen that second path.
Anyway, there will be plenty time in the years to come to engage in these identity debates. For now, what about we just enjoy the sport, banish political intrusion and wish “Team GB” every success? «