Michael Kelly: Salmond flag row mars Murray’s win

THE First Minister’s flag-waving antics are symptomatic of the only argument left to his separatist cause, illogical emotion, writes Michael Kelly

First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond celebrates with a Saltire after Andy Murray's victory in the Wimbledon final. Picture: SNS
First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond celebrates with a Saltire after Andy Murray's victory in the Wimbledon final. Picture: SNS
First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond celebrates with a Saltire after Andy Murray's victory in the Wimbledon final. Picture: SNS

TRUST Salmond to cheapen the moment. That was my thought as I bounced back on to the couch after Andy had secured championship point. I am glad that so many readers share my view that this crass behaviour embarrassed Scotland. Our First Minister’s flag-waving had nothing to do with supporting Murray’s historic slam bid. He admitted as much himself when he confessed that he had sneaked a Saltire in last year as well but “didn’t have the opportunity to use it”. Of course he did. In fact, last year Murray was in more need of support and comfort. But he didn’t win and Salmond’s premeditated gesture was entirely about trying to associate himself vicariously with success. Why else hide the flag in his wife’s handbag?

A supporter would have carried it openly or even had it draped over his shoulders. But he knew it would have been removed at the door as it contravened the rules of the All England Club. And that was what was so gauche about Salmond’s action. It showed he simply does not know how to behave. A guest observes the house rules or declines the invitation. Salmond seemed surprised no one in authority later questioned him about his actions. Again he showed his ignorance of the etiquette. A host does not pull up a guest. He’s just sorry that he asked him in the first place.

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It may turn out that Salmond’s gesture was his biggest public relations faux pas, worse even than misleading Andrew Neill over legal advice and the EU. It has alienated many in the middle ground that he must capture if he is to win the referendum. For many, it summed up him and his cause. But it did go down well with his core support. The social media were full of crowing over this blow against the English establishment, as if the English establishment gives a damn about what Salmond says or does. Through the controversy the old hatred of the English has re-emerged, the determination to see a conspiracy against Scotland at every turn.

The SNP officially distances itself from this nonsense. But in truth, nationalists need it. It is this burning resentment that drives its volunteers. Salmond deliberately played to them and their irrational prejudices. Little wonder because every time he has tried to argue the case for independence over the European Union, Nato, or a currency union, he has lost the argument. Emotion is all he’s got left.

There is emotion on the other side. Adding to the pleasure we Scots got at the victory was the way it was greeted with such wholehearted joy by the English. They demonstrated a generosity of spirit that would never have been shown here if it had been, say, Henman who had been the first British winner since 1936. We wallowed in the blanket coverage by the BBC which only happened because we are one country. Let’s imagine that the worst nightmare comes true and Scotland is independent by 2016. How would the English media treat a Murray win then? Not in the same way for sure. It would then not matter to them if it were a Serb, Swiss or Scot who won. Their media would be back to counting the years from Fred Perry. “It is now eighty years since an Englishman won Wimbledon”, would be the focus. Not much mileage in “another foreigner triumphs in our national tournament”.

This is an example of the intangible links that would be broken with separation. Decades and centuries of tradition would be ended across all fields, not just sport. We’d be dancing in the streets alone – nothing like as much fun as watching our neighbours joining in the celebrations. But that would be the narrow, insular result of breaking away. We would no longer be British despite the current propaganda to the contrary. I don’t think Scots could stand being ignored by the English.

Moving on to the next great sporting event, our dear leader is going to find it difficult to exploit the Open. In another empty gesture he announced he will be boycotting the event because he does not like the perfectly legal constitution of the club over whose course it is being played. If he really wants to do something about ending gender discrimination in private clubs let him use his position which he is so willing to exploit for party political purposes to change the law. The matter may not be devolved. But he could campaign for it to be. He could petition Westminster to change the law for the UK. He could promise that in an independent Scotland all clubs would be required to accept men and women equally. Is that his position? Notice that he’s not been urging others to follow his example and shun the event. So it’s hardly much of a protest. Indeed, other arms of his government have been actively promoting it. There are even motorway signs advertising its dates. Facing both ways sums up the policy.

If one of the ten qualifying Scots happens to win the Open then Salmond has painted himself into a corner. Will he be rushing round to Muirfield with his wife’s handbag at five o’clock on the Sunday evening to wave her flag behind the winner’s head? He can hardly celebrate a win at a venue that is anathema to him. But his ego will demand a way of muscling in on the act.

To finish on a footnote to a super fortnight of tennis, it is unfortunate that Murray has allowed himself to be pressurised into promising to evaluate the arguments and announce his conclusions on the independence debate. He should not bother. His political views are of no interest to me. If he wants to give me advice on how to cope with sporting stress, I would sit at his feet. But he is in no way qualified to pontificate on politics. While I suspect his international experience of life would lead him to vote “No”, I do not want him or any other personality influencing others. He sacrificed his academic education to pursue his sporting career. He knows a lot less about the constitutional or economic arguments than most Scotsman readers who can make up their own minds. I would, however, like to hear what he thinks of Salmond’s decision to deprive him of a vote on the issue.