Leader: True Scot and great Briton

THE debate comes around with the regularity of Wimbledon. “I am Scottish” says Andy Murray but, he adds, “I am also British”. In another place or at another time this might be considered a statement of the obvious. But in Scotland today, sport is politics by other means.

Few things are more tiresome than the claim, much enjoyed by the chippier brand of Scot, that Murray is British when winning but Scottish any time he is defeated. This is a joyless, whining brand of parochialism that, consciously or not, seeks the pleasure of being slighted so that pompous, thin-spirited umbrage may be taken. It is juvenile and, worse still, based on a myth for, actually, few, if any, English commentators make any such distinction.

It is also untrue that English tennis fans are somehow scunnered by Murray’s Scottishness. He may not be quite as popular in the Home Counties as Tim Henman was but this scarcely means he is unpopular. The suggestion Murray is somehow “anti-English” is similarly absurd.

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In fact, millions of English people derive great pleasure from Murray’s performances just as much as Scots take pride in the achievements of the country’s most successful athlete. Murray is by some distance the greatest Scottish tennis player of all time and, by any reasonable definition, the finest British player since Fred Perry. That is no small achievement. He deserves the support he receives, wherever it comes from.

Similarly, only the most stubborn or narrow-minded brand of nationalist will fail to be pleased by the successes of Britain’s Olympic athletes this summer. If Scots derive extra satisfaction from the performances of athletes such as Sir Chris Hoy this scarcely means they cannot appreciate sportsmen and women from other parts of these islands. Did Scots not thrill to the achievements of Olympians such as Sir Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent? Of course they did. And when Britain plays a Davis Cup match in Glasgow do Scots hesitate before supporting Murray and his colleagues because they’re playing under the Union Flag? Of course not.

Nevertheless, if some nationalists are prone to taking a narrow view of these matters so are some Unionists. Alex Salmond – a keen tennis fan, if not a player himself – will take his place in the Royal Box to watch today’s final. Doubtless Salmond’s more churlish critics will consider this yet another example of nationalist grandstanding even though no-one is surprised, or thinks it worthy of comment, when other political figures attend sporting events in which one of their compatriots feature.

After Murray’s semi-final triumph Downing Street announced that the saltire would fly alongside the Union Flag at Number 10 yesterday. This nod to Scottish sensitivities – and pride – is both fitting and another reminder, if it be thought needed, that many English people are more mindful than once seemed the case of the layered nature of national identity in Britain today.

Of course, it is only a tennis match. Win or lose, Murray has given his supporters, wherever they hail from, a fortnight to remember. Sensibly, he is reluctant to be drawn into political matters, but Scots – and other Britons – of any and all political persuasions will unite to support him this afternoon.

Murray has a good claim to be considered the finest player to have never won a Grand Slam tournament. With luck – and given Roger Federer’s presence, some luck may be required – he will no longer enjoy that dubious distinction this evening.

Food for thought

The pattern of the recession has largely been that of small-scale redundancies and bankruptcies rather than the mass

industrial closures of the past. Which is why the threat to 1,700 jobs last week at the Hall’s meat processing plant in West Lothian came as such a brutal shock not only to the loyal workforce but to the body politic as well in Scotland. The Scottish Government was right to send out its big guns – Alex Salmond and John Swinney – to get over the message that it is worth fighting to avoid the pain of jobs losses to so many families. If the plant does go under, a comprehensive plan to help workers improve their skills will be required so that, if and when the economy revives, they can take advantage of opportunities. But aside from short-term rescue plans, a longer-term culture change over food production is necessary, where the merits of high-quality, locally sourced and affordable food is encouraged and promoted with far more enthusiasm. Govern­ment should play its part, but so, too, must the all-powerful supermarkets whose financial muscle can make all the difference. They need to show they are paying heed to local suppliers and processors, not just playing them off against one another. Ultimately, however, it is a question for consumers as well: are shoppers willing to pay more for their food at a time when austerity is in the air, just because it has “Scottish” on the label? The negative answer to that is being paid in Broxburn.