Olympics fever shows that a soft sell is best for the Union cause

Now here’s a great campaigner for the Union, no?  With his keen nose for an impending win as sharp as ever Gorgeous George brazens out an embarrassing prediction of Olympic failure and turns to his advantage.  You can almost hear that stingingly precise articulation cutting through the print.

I underestimated just how much we would all enjoy the London Olympics and how, from Land’s End to John O’Groats, we would all feel together again.

As I say, a good time for a referendum on Scotland’s future, no?

Historian Simon Schama passes a similar verdict in the Financial Times (£)

Tough luck Alex Salmond. Britain right now seems like a real nation, not a garden of toffs endlessly recycling Downton Abbey. Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, Greg Rutherford and the rest are not toffs. Charlotte Dujardin started as a groom. All colours and classes turn out to belong to the same family. What do you know? Britain is, after all, a community

David Cameron’s support is not necessarily an advantage – although what else can he say?

Trouble is, 2012 is not 2014 and London is not Glasgow. The 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow are a different kettle of fish and could play into Alex Salmond’s hands.

Unlike the Olympics, where Team GB rallied all parts of the UK in support of its athletes, Scots, Welsh, English and Northern Irish alike, all these nations will field competing teams at the Commonwealth Games. Hoy and Murray, the Scots stars who both draped themselves in the union flag in London, will compete against Ennis’s England.

Pro-UK politicians, including Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, saw the surge in support for Team GB during the London Olympics as proof of the strength and resilience of the United Kingdom. They will search for ways to underpin that collective identity at the Glasgow Games.

The Olympics are a rare example of Salmond getting it tactically wrong, says  Kevin McKenna ex Herald, writing in the Guardian. Equally rarely the Olympics were a rare case of the Union asserting itself withour really trying.

Even if you discount mad Boris Johnson‘s claim on Thursday that the sense of UK national pride springing from the Olympics has “retarded” Alex Salmond’s campaign for separation, it’s clear that Scotland’s first minister is having a bad Games. … Instead of confining himself to a dignified “good luck and God speed” message to the Scots representing Great Britain, the first minister simply couldn’t resist the opportunity to indulge in grandstanding. Thus the Scots were “Scolympians”; London’s Army & Navy Club became “a little bit of Scotland” and in Rio 2016 Scotland will compete separately after independence has been gained. It was wretched stuff and simply made our normally surefooted senior statesman look tawdry and unkempt.

The past fortnight may show that for the Union a soft sell is best.

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  • Ruarai

    Brian, maybe be so but finish the article… Is there any evidence whatsoever that feelings generated by what was essentially a TV event for most people are related to feelings and preferences on questions of constitutionality?

    Maybe there are but your article merits finding them, no?

    I’m a Irish nationalist – to the extent that these binary terms must be used – and I was just as attracted to Ennis and Farah as everyone else. I’m not even sure why but I was delighted for them, cheering them on. And you know what? This didn’t dilute my nationalist preferences one iota.

    If anything, it reminded me that there are probably more pro-Briton feelings in Ireland than in any other country in the world – by a mile. But these are cultural affinities.

    The real Olympics lesson for these pages, I suggest (with as much data support as you’ve offered), is that these two islands would have a great relationship if their political arrangements were based on nations of equals, thereby allowing the cultural and kinship ties to thrive and integrate on the basis of mutual respect and admiration.

  • JR

    I have to agree with Ruairi there. Just because I enjoyed seeing bolt winning doesn’t make me want to be Jamaican. I have to say I enjoyed the Olympics and I don’t think London could have done a better job but it was primarily a London Games. I enjoyed the opening and closing ceremonies but there was nothing I identified with as part of my culture in them. I enjoyed seeing great athletes winning, including British ones but I never felt the heart pounding excitement you get from seeing an Irish athlete perform well.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Congratulations to the Brits on a fabulously successful games, which went off without a hitch. The opening ceremony, particularly, was as strong a pitch for the union as I’ve ever seen – partly because it wasn’t trying to be anything of the sort.

    Congratulations also on their tremendous success in competition. The feats of Mo Farah, Jess Ennis and Bradley Wiggins, in particular, will love long in the memory.

    Personally, my respect and affection for the British people has not changed as a result of these games. They were already profound.

    As Slugger’s officer class knows full well, these are the best of times for the agenda-pushers of unionism.

    But they will be fleeting. They may even be over already…

  • Mick Fealty

    Pat kane sent me a link to a piece in the Sunday Times yesterday which seemed to suggest a slight bump in the nationalist cause off the back of the Olympics…

    Been looking for it ever since and cannot find it… will post here when I can…

  • Republic of Connaught

    Not surprised to hear that, Mick.

    I’m sure many Scots noticed only too keenly Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark etc.. having their own teams and national flags and wondered why exactly Scotland is there too with its proudly independent small nation cousins.

  • Mick Fealty

    Okay, for Billy’s sake:

  • Mick Fealty

    That said, capacity is a serious problem. I want to come back to that question of the Irish authorities missing the British trick…

    Why did Yorkshire do so much better than the rest of us? Hardly a bastion of English privilege!

  • “The past fortnight may show that for the Union a soft sell is best.”

    Though it seems that one man’s soft sell is another man’s extravaganza of Greater English nationalism. From Newsnet Scotland:

    “The London Olympics, which were hailed as a reaffirmation of Britishness, have in fact made Scots more likely to support independence, according to a poll published in yesterday’s Sunday Times.

    The Panelbase survey found that 12% of respondents said that the Olympics had made them more likely to vote in favour of independence, as opposed to just 8% of Scots who say they feel more British because of Team GB’s performance.

    The poll also found that the gap between support for independence and support for the Union is now only nine points – requiring a swing of just 4.5% for a Yes vote in 2014. 35% of Scots say they intend to vote in favour of independence, with 44% saying they intend to vote against.

    The poll of almost 800 Scots also showed that 29% believe Scottish athletes should compete for Great Britain after independence while double that, 58%, say Scotland should represent itself.

    The findings show the opposite effect to that predicted by the anti-independence parties and the London based media. It was widely claimed that the London Olympics would create a wave of pro-British sentiment which would make Scots less inclined to vote in favour of independence in 2014.

    The results of yesterday’s poll suggest that Scots feel more alienated from the UK’s version of Britishness as a result of the Games.”

  • Brian Walker

    I’m not treating any of these opinions as Gospel, just looking at the ebb and flow as an admitted supporter of Union. There are no clinching arguments available. The result will come down to personal preferences. I happen to think that Scottish separation is a perversity, a symptom of decline rather than growth, but lots of good people think otherwise. The euphoric view of Team GB was always bound to be over influenced by TV and the assumption – so often proved wrong – that what is experienced by the crowd at the centre is felt everywhere.

    All the same I wouldn’t be surprised if another poll records a different result. The Olympic effect is a one-off phenomenon and probably shouldn’t be judged by a single smallish sample.

    This is the expert’s view of the Sunday Times poll showing at least that support for independence runs deep.


    John Curtice, a professor of politics at Strathclyde university said that the Olympics had reaffirmed people’s constitutional views.
    “The increase in support for independence in the poll has come from those who were already SNP supporters and those who are less likely to vote for independence were already committed unionists,” he said.
    “For those who believe in the UK, the sight of a Scot rowing alongside English rowers shows the power of the union: for nationalists, the number of medals won by Scots shows what Scotland could achieve as a team on its own.”

    At last! The Silent One Gordon Brown has weighed in tonight with his long trailed Donald Dewar lecture.

    Mr Brown said he was not in favour of full financial powers for Scotland, short of independence, saying the move would result in taxes being raised.

    Mr Brown, who served as prime minister until the Tories’ victory at the last UK election, said the different parts of the UK had been able to come together to better combat issues like inequality in ways that other countries, including the US, had not been able to.

    He said: “Break up the union and then you will have regionally-varied minimum wage rates, and that will mean there will be a race to the bottom with one unit trying to undercut the other and then the good undercutting the bad and the bad undercutting the worse.
    “Break up the union that we’ve created and you will have different social security rates. Some people may welcome that at the start, but you will end up with a pensioner being treated completely differently in one part of the United Kingdom from the other and people who are unemployed giving a completely different kind of treatment or disabled people a different kind of treatment.
    “I think people will think that is not progress, that is moving backwards, and there’ll be a competition to see who can cut resources more quickly.”

    More on this later…

  • I don’t know how “the Scots” feel. I don’t know how “the English” feel. I suspect: Quot homines, tot sententiae [“There are as many views as there are people”, but Publius Terentius Afer got there over two millennia ago].

    I am also profoundly suspicious about any argument which uses a single public event (and, even more so, opinion polls) to extrapolate to long-term polity.

    My confident expectation is, once the evenings have closed in, we won’t be chewing over the “Olympic legacy”. I spent this afternoon just using some of it (the DLR extensions and the Overground link through Stratford International) — all I heard were complaints that the trains were crowded; not benisons on Ken (which would be partly deserved) or Boris (which definitely wouldn’t) for the provision. As far as I can see, the immediate “Olympic legacy” amounts to Gucci and fancy knicker stores in Stratford (and I don’t mean “on-Avon”)

    So, can we move on? The trade balance? The imminent demise of the ConDem government, and how the other parliaments/assemblies can empower themselves thereby? Indeed, can fixed-terms ever meet what the public expects of its elected? Is wind-power really the answer? And, if so, what is the question? Why are dollaghan trout unique to Lough Neagh, and how can we protect them? Whatever happened to the Boris Wrightbus, and is it now safely buried by the Singapore contract? Will Norwich City do as well next season?

    So many really important matters to ponder on in the fastnesses of the night.

    And, yes, I’m an irredeemable cynic.

  • the future’s bright, the future’s orange

    Pretty big year with the wedding, Jubilee and Olympics. All carried out superbly well. A welcome change for the economic crisis but probably doesn’t do the bank balance much good lol…. Back to the doom and gloom……

    ps thought the belfast boxers have come across really well in any interviews I’ve seen – tiniest boxers I’ve ever seen but I wouldn’t dare say that to their faces lol. hard as nails!

  • antamadan

    I think we are getting to a parity situation i.e. the parity of esteem long ‘agreed to’ but not fully implemented. Cameron is a disgrace only really valing the 1/3 of NI sportspeople who competeted for GB (as the shirts say). I think the future for everything – not just olympics- will be a respect a.la Good Friday Agreement – for those who are Irish and those who are British and those who value both in their make-up. I think 98% of nationalists can go with this, but -and I hate to say this- from radio call ins etc, I think there is mabe 20% of unionists that can’t accept this, and really are British imperialist supremicists. I’ want to be proved wrong. I am a bit of a a pessimist so maybe I’m wrong.

    All of us moderates have to face down the nuts in our communities.