July 8, 2013 7 Comments
Andy Murray’s victory at Wimbledon yesterday was a fantastic moment for Scotland and Britain. Murray himself acknowledged this, moments after raising the trophy in front of a rapturous Centre Court crowd, when he said “I understand how much everyone wanted to see a British winner at Wimbledon so I hope you enjoyed it!” We did Andy, but some more than others. For some, Murray’s victory was a chance to attempt to score political points ahead of a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014.
Alex Salmond’s response was to dance around behind David Cameron with a massive Saltire. It is hardly an issue for a Scotsman to wave a Scottish flag to celebrate a Scottish sporting victory, but Salmond showed a lack of judgement in breaking All England Club rules on the size of the flag. It is also difficult to escape the notion of it being something of a stunt given the way Salmond was happy to obscure his own wife’s view to get the flag into shot right behind David Cameron’s head. Regardless of Salmond’s intentions, within an hour of Murray raising the trophy, #scottishnotbritish was trending on Twitter for the Glasgow area. In the hours afterwards, a war raged on social media as ‘Cybernats’ attempted to claim the victory for Scotland but very definitely not Britain.
I’m not a particularly political person. I am not aligned to any particular party and like, I suspect, the majority of the population of these British Isles, I find politics generally dull and often self-serving. However, it is difficult not to comment on something that could affect your own future and that of your family as fundamentally as separation from the rest of Britain. I would prefer to keep politics out of sport as a general rule but it has been fascinating watching the political battle rage through last year’s Olympics, during this year’s Wimbledon and no doubt through next year’s Commonwealth games in Scotland.
I think today’s victory for Andy Murray throws up a fundamental issue which I believe spells massive problems for the Scottish nationalists. At a basic level it is much more natural for people to celebrate a sporting triumph collectively rather than immediately feeling the need to exclude people from that celebration. It was evident during the Olympics. A Scottish victory was celebrated by the SNP but a British victory was not. To celebrate a medal, the athlete had to be Scottish, as the other athletes had nothing to do with us. Except they did. The rest of Britain, and hundreds of thousands across Scotland, celebrated British victory no matter what home nation the athlete was from.
Was it more special when Chris Hoy won than when Victoria Pendleton did? Yes, slightly. Hoy being a home grown lad gave it a touch more significance. But I still took immense pleasure when any British athlete was successful. I roared on Welshmen and women, Englishmen and women and Northern Irishmen and women in sports I have never even watched with more than a slight interest before. If you support the Union then, put simply, you get the best of both worlds. You can celebrate Scottish and British victory with equal gusto.
The British Lions’ recent rugby union tour victory over Australia was another example of the benefits of inclusion. There were only four Scots selected in the touring party. Of them, only Richie Gray made a sub appearance for the Test team in the final Test. Would I have preferred to see more Scots in the squad? Of course. Did I celebrate any less when the Lions secured a fantastic victory in the final test to win the series? Nope, why would I?
Of course there are moments of great national rivalry within British sport – most notably when the football and rugby teams meet. That is perfectly natural and there is nothing wrong with celebrating victories over close rivals. However, playing for the British Lions is readily accepted by rugby players in the British Isles as being the greatest of achievements. These players are immensely proud to represent their home nations, compete against each other but then come together to celebrate the pinnacle of their careers with the Lions. One only has to look at the behind-the-scenes footage of these tours to see the camaraderie that these players have. Inclusion, not exclusion.
The SNP have struggled to court any of our truly elite athletes. Chris Hoy was berated online by so-called ‘CyberNats’, not for opposing an independent Scotland but simply for refusing to be drawn either way. Andy Murray has been happy to be pictured with Union Flags during both his victory in the Olympics and also at Wimbledon. The problem for the Nationalists is summed up by Hoy. “I’ve said numerous times how proud I am to be Scottish and how proud I have been to compete for Britain too, and I don’t think these two things necessarily have to be mutually exclusive.” This is the crux of the Nationalist problem. For them to be successful, ‘Britishness’ and ‘Scottishness’ do have to be mutually exclusive. This is about separation. It is about leaving behind a British identity that many proud Scots feel very, very strongly.
There are possibly practical reasons why athletes like Hoy and Murray do not feel inclined to remove themselves from the rest of Britain. Having reached the pinnacle of their respective sports it will not affect them, but Hoy in particular will be aware of the incredible support he received during his career from British Cycling. The training, support staff and high tech equipment available to our British cyclists for the recent Olympics was shown by an incredible medal haul. Would a Hoy funded solely from Scotland have been so successful? Murray’s parents opted out of the British tennis system, which has had its problems, but not to enrol him in any Scottish programme. He honed his skills in Barcelona. So would Scotland be able to provide the facilities or expertise to develop the next Andy Murray without the need to look to foreign shores?
When Scottish athletes compete at next summer’s Commonwealth games I will support them as wholeheartedly as I did the British athletes at the Olympics, but I will do so knowing that the Commonwealth games will generate neither the excitement nor level of competition seen during the Olympics. I have no doubt that the SNP will trumpet any Scottish success as a blow struck for independence but I doubt it will make people forget the breadth of joy of the British Olympic victories.
It could be argued that this upcoming referendum has spoiled recent sporting successes for some, but only if they favour separation. If you are not able to go wild for an English sportsmen or woman winning an Olympic medal under the flag of Britain, simply because your political belief is that you do not wish to be part of Britain, then I think that is a shame. I feel sorry for those in Scotland whose first, or even second, thought at an Andy Murray victory yesterday was to try to exclude the rest of Britain from the celebration.
The BBC reports referred to Murray as both Scottish and British. The Saltire flew over Downing Street today alongside the Union Flag and why not? Scotland is a crucial and contributory part of what makes Britain great. The Union Flag was waved alongside the Saltire on ‘Henman Hill’ as all of Britain, no matter their home nation, celebrated a momentous victory which has been 77 years in the making. Britain is happy to acknowledge that Murray is Scottish. Why are some Scots so intent on denying that he is British too? Inclusion is much easier to sell than exclusion.