Team GB’s Olympics and Paralympics success will make it much harder to argue for Scottish independence in the 2014 referendum
Opponents of independence – they call themselves ‘Better Together’ rather than the ‘No’ campaign – have been going Olympic. They see the Games as living proof that Scotland does better as part of a larger union than it could ever do on its own. Look at Sir Chris Hoy, the most decorated British Olympian ever.
Could Scotland on its own have provided the financial and moral support that propelled the flying Scot to success? Pretty unlikely. Then there is the nearly man, Andy Murray. Why did he beat Roger Federer so convincingly on Wimbledon Centre Court when he failed so dismally a month before? Because he was part of Team GB, of course.
Unionists have had a difficult time since the Scottish National Party’s landslide victory in 2011. But they are beginning to believe that they now have the measure of First Minister Alex Salmond. They say he revealed himself to be a petty and deluded separatist when he suggested the 2012 Games would be the last time Scotland played as part of the British team.
Gordon Brown has also joined the fray. The former Labour prime minister returned from internal exile to pronounce on the state of the nation. At the Edinburgh Book Festival, he said the Games showed how much better a small country could perform when it pooled and shared its resources for the common good. The same applied to the NHS, the BBC and the armed forces, he said – all institutions that are popular in Scotland and, significantly, have had a good Games.
Indeed, Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony, with its suffragettes, dancing nurses and proletarian heroes is being hailed as heralding the birth of a ‘new patriotism’, which is inclusive, multicultural and anti-imperialist. These are all things the Scots are supposed to favour. There’s no doubt the Games went down well in Scotland, as throughout Great Britain. Whether they will decide the outcome of the 2014 referendum is another matter.
‘Better Together’ insist that Scotland can do a lot better economically as part of the UK than it could on its own. But this is debatable, especially if Scotland secured the revenues from North Sea Oil, which is still worth several hundreds of billions of pounds. Of course, you can’t base the moral case for independence on crass materialism. The emotional sinews that bind the nations of the United Kingdom are made of more heroic stuff: Shakespeare, the NHS, the war against fascism etc.
But was Boyle’s Britain an accurate one? Does it correspond to the reality of the UK under the Tory led-coalition? In austerity Britain, the SNP says, things are not so rosy, as cuts in public spending begin to bite. In England, moreover, the NHS is being subjected to market forces and comprehensive education is being questioned as never before.
Yes, Mo Farah shows that Britain is no longer a country defined by stupid white men. But multiculturalism has never really been an issue in Scotland, where people have tended to fight over religion rather than race. And now that the warm glow spread by the Games has dissipated, the idea that the future of Scotland can be decided on the playing fields of Stratford is beginning to look a bit feeble.
However, there is no doubt that, two years before the referendum, the SNP has an uphill struggle. The opinion polls are not encouraging and there remain many unanswered questions – currency, relations with Europe, the future of the BBC. The new leader of the ‘Yes’ campaign, former BBC news chief Blair Jenkins, has his work cut out if he wants to go for gold in 2014. Which just happens to be when the Commonwealth Games come to Glasgow.
This article first appeared in the September issue of Public Finance