As Chris Hoy bids for gold on the cycling track today, Robert Outram taps into the Scottish Olympic sentiment.
At a very serious business event in Glasgow this week – discussing high finance and the energy industry – item three on the agenda required a dash to the next room, where a big TV screen had been set up. We couldn’t miss Michael Jamieson’s bid for gold in the 200m breaststroke. In the end the young Scot took silver, a very decent result, and we returned to the evening’s business.
Previous grumbles that “London 2012” is an Anglocentric affair have been drowned out by Scotland’s response to the Games so far. Scots have been watching the key events, not just at home on TV but as crowds gathered in front of the big screens that have been set up, like the BBC’s in Edinburgh city centre or the one at Celtic Park showing Michael Jamieson’s breaststroke final – he is a lifelong Celtic fan, after all.
The opening ceremony – weird and rather rather wonderful – dominated the watercooler chat in workplaces up and down the country, and since then the Games have produced drama, disappointment and joy. Not surprisingly, much of the attention has focused on local heroes, like Lossiemouth’s Heather Stanning, half of the women’s rowing duo who secured Britain’s first gold of London 2012; Dunblane’s Andy Murray; or Sir Chris Hoy, who carried the flag as the team marched out at the opening ceremony.
It may be London’s Games, but Scotland has been involved all the way. Olympic football is being played at Hampden Park; a number of teams, including Team GB, have been making use of training facilities in Scotland; and Edinburgh and Glasgow have both hosted events in the “Cultural Olympiad”. Even the one-eyed Olympic mascots have been decked out in kilts, and young Scots athletes Callum Airlie and Cameron MacRitchie were among the seven young athletes chosen to light the “cauldron”, at the opening ceremony.
Scots bought the smallest number of Olympic tickets, but more than 4,000 volunteered to be “Games Makers”, and enthusiastic crowds lined the streets of Scotland’s cities, towns and villages to see the Olympic flame carried on its procession. The enthusiasm and the excitement were as evident in Dundee and Dumbarton as they were in Brighton and Basingstoke.
The Bank of Scotland estimates that Scotland will benefit to the tune of £1bn out of an estimated £16.5bn Olympic boost to GDP; but the Olympics has focused attention, for a while, away from the economic debate over Scottish independence and onto questions of identity. Events like this engage the heart, not the head.
For the pro-unionists, the opening ceremony for London 2012 – populist, multicultural and liberally sprinkled with humour – summed up what’s best about being British.
Of course, not everyone would agree. In 2005, the Campaign for a Scottish Olympic Team released results of a poll that showed nearly 80 per cent of Scots would rather see their athletes competing separately. The call was reiterated by the Scottish Government in 2008, although Hoy argued that without the resources available to him as a Team GB member, he would not have won his three gold medals.
As the football element of the 2012 Games got under way, Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy, the two Welshmen in the men’s team and Kym Little and Ifeoma Dieke, Scottish members of the women’s team, chose not to sing “God Save the Queen”, which is used by England in home internationals. Surely, it’s time for England to pick its own sporting anthem.
The divide, then, is not so much between competing “Scottish” or “British” identities as between those who advocate a single Scottish identity and those who support multiple identities, Scottish and British. The athletes themselves don’t generally see a contradiction in being part of Team GB at London 2012, while representing the “home nations” separately at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow 2014.
The “Yes” campaigners hope that a successful 2014 will give a boost to their side just as 2012 has given heart to the “Better Together” faction. For many Scottish sports fans, however, London 2012 has demonstrated how identity and loyalty can be multi-layered phenomena.
Robert Outram is editor of The CA magazine, the journal of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland. The views expressed are his own.
Read more of British Future’s articles on the Olympics and national identity:
Humour is great part of British Olympics
The real Olympic opening ceremony?
Olympic bosses should not let mad branding rules hit Games fever
Fans at Olympics say good chance for “everyone to come together”
Olympic torch journey has touched many hearts
Or watch our Olympic interviews and videos:
British Future director Sunder Katwala at the very first Olympic event of 2012
British Future at the Olympics’ first day
British Future interviews crowd at first match of Olympic Games
British Future interview with football fans at Olympic Games match in Cardiff