Games feels like penultimate act of national confidence

Erraid Davies was just one of many Scottish success stories at the XX Commonwealth Games. Picture: PA
Erraid Davies was just one of many Scottish success stories at the XX Commonwealth Games. Picture: PA
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MANY have talked about Glasgow’s Games as a moment of respite from the grinding attrition of the referendum campaign, writes Pat Kane.

As a rule, I don’t impose “self-denying ordinances” on connecting sport to politics – and I won’t exercise much restraint here either. But a general point can be made to begin with.

When our gaze falls upon the media spectacle at the moment, we can be forgiven for an involuntary flinch. Whether home or abroad, the behaviour of our state elites can seem a repulsive mix of neglect, blood-soaked rage, even sexual corruption.

Of course, compared with the Ukraine, Mr Savile and pals, or Gaza, the independence referendum – and its fevered nit-combing of social media for political sins – is a rather shilpit horror show.

Still, in the popular exhaustion and impatience with the realm of politics and power, us indyref anoraks – on all sides – have played our part. “Alas, we who wanted to prepare the ground for friendliness,” wrote Bertolt Brecht, “could not ourselves be friendly.” Guilty as charged, when the cyber-thumbs fly too fast to be halted.

But oh the friendly Games, and oh the beautiful athletes! I’ve had a few wanders through the town on a busy, sunny Games day. What is absolutely striking has been the “general wellbeing” (to quote, rarely, from David Cameron) that glows from the cast-list of Glasgow’s streets.

“You’re a lovely, lovely man for letting me take this photo”, said a lovely, lovely young volunteer to me, as she framed a beaming South-East Asian family on the Squinty Bridge.

Yes, it’s the Weegie excess – in everything, emotion as well as hardness – fully operating here. But it’s also a direct answer to a comment Neal Ascherson once made to me a decade or so ago. “When Scotland overcomes the lovelessness inside it, then things might really change.”

One of the brilliant aspects of the opening ceremony was the way that it played around with Scots’ thrawn nature. Any event that starts off with a hyper-kailyard panto (that got our whole Yes family spitting), and ends with an actual “black girl fae yont Nyanga” singing Hamish Henderson’s Freedom Come A’ Ye, knows exactly what it’s doing.

It was the carnivalesque sequel to Gregory Burke’s Black Watch. Both were ways for Scotland to display its maturity about its complex legacy, both its kitsch and its warring, to an attentive world.

The most advanced thinking on a nation’s soft power says that a people is most attractive to the globe when it is most authentically itself – evident flaws, rough charm, and all. And not when it spins a boosterist line which, in the internet age, can very quickly be unravelled.

I’m wearing Yes-goggles, of course. But in its urban swagger, the richness and subtlety of its cultural commissioning, and the unforced warmth of its participants, our 2014 Commonwealth Games feels like the penultimate triumphant act of national confidence – banishing the Scottish cringe to the dungeons forever. Setting us up for the ultimate act, on 18 September, very nicely indeed.

The other shot of pure positive energy from the Games, which I will also opportunistically claim for Yes, are those young athletes themselves. Until this medal haul cascaded down upon us, most Scots would describe themselves as sporting ironists, if not fatalists.

For all the spluttering over the Economist’s recent cover, the blue-face and Jimmy hat is the regulation costume of the Tartan Army – humour as a shield against endemic sporting failure. Poor Andy Murray, the tensions of his Scottish-British identity visibly writhing in his body, can surely be given a break by now.

Yet the deep, broad success of Team Scotland surely reinforces more than a few of the progress narratives of the Yes campaign. For one thing, it’s another clear display of Holyrood competence, if not excellence, in policy, planning and governance. Sport development programmes, painstakingly set in place for nearly a decade, have come to fruition in a spectacular way.

The other indy boost is surely the cynicism-defying, relaxedly patriotic, and recognisably everyday character of the winners themselves. I had to laugh at the tweet which claimed that if Coatbridge – my home town – was a nation, it would be 14th on the medal table.

Those judo sisters are indeed fine ambassadors for the Brig. But, in the same way as Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah burnished Britishness with their unaffected excellence, so have the Scots athletes imprinted on Scots citizens just how much a global aspiration for your nation can be a daily part of your life.

Independence will be more demanding than the status quo, I am at pains to tell any community centre that asks me. That’s its point. It raises our game as a people in the 21st century, which at the very least will demand much of us.

We have been through a fortnight which shows that through organisation, determination, the thoughtful development of skills, and the support of the commonweal, ordinary people can do extraordinary things. A Saltire across their shoulders, ready for the world.

Have the Games had a political effect? I bloody well hope so.

Twitter: @Thoughtland