By a Newsnet reporter
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.
The anti-independence parties and some Scottish media commentators have been vocal in their politicisation of the Games. In a mistimed article published in today’s Scotsman newspaper, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander sought to garner political capital from the Games for the anti-independence camapign. Mr Alexander insisted that the Games had been a “nightmare” for the SNP and claimed that the SNP had been “left spluttering defensively” by the success of the Games, which he considered to have “pulverised the nationalists’ narrative”.
Other anti-independence politicians were quicker to politicise the success of the Games. When Scottish tennis player Andy Murray won his gold medal, Conservative Member of the European Parliament Struan Stevenson tweeted: “Andy Murray, great Scot and Olympic Champion, holding a gold medal and proudly draped in the Union Jack – eat your heart out Alex Salmond!”
His Holyrood colleague Murdo Fraser tweeted: “As we watch Andy Murray singing our National Anthem, never forget that there are small-minded Nationalists who want to destroy TeamGB.”
On Tuesday of last week, the Guardian newspaper published an editorial claiming that Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond had been the big loser from the Games, adding that the event proved “just how comfortable the majority of the public feels with this hugely rewarding, shared aspect of our British identity”.
The following day, the Independent newspaper also published a leader article, in which the newspaper welcomed “the return of the Union Jack” and claimed that the Scottish First Minister would be “disconsolate” by the sight of Union flag waving crowds, saying: “British athletes winning gold medals in the Olympics will – irrational though it may seem – be a boost for unity when and if Mr Salmond offers Scots a vote on independence.”
For his part, First Minister Alex Salmond said Murray’s win “should make everyone in Scotland extremely proud”.
Media commentators opposed to independence also leapt on the bandwagon and used it as a vehicle to launch personal attacks on Alex Salmond. Arch-Unionist Alan Cochrane published a diatribe in the Conservative supporting Daily Telegraph in which he claimed that British success at the Olympics was “sticking in Salmond’s throat” and that the event revealed the First Minister’s “true anti-British feelings”.
Similar sentiments were expressed in the Telegraph by Iain Martin, deputy editor of the Sunday Telegraph and former editor of the Scotsman. Mr Martin asserted that Team GB’s medal success was a “nightmare for Alex Salmond and the SNP”.
Just yesterday the Guardian published an article by Kevin McKenna in which he argued: “It would be absurd not to acknowledge that the vibrant and muscular Britishness evident at the Olympic Games has reinforced feelings of unionism.”
However there was no evidential basis to any the claims that the Olympics would make Scots less inclinted to vote for independence, and with the publication of the Panelbase poll the exhultation of the anti-independence camp appears to have been premature.
Commenting on the poll, SNP MP Pete Wishart said:
“This is clear evidence that the puerile efforts of the anti-independence parties to politicise the Games have backfired.
“I’ve been delighted to support Scotland’s Olympians and Team GB during the London Games, and will be delighted to support Team Scotland at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and at the Olympics following a Yes vote in 2014.”
“With the gap between support for an independent Scotland and the Union now down to a swing of just 4.5 per cent, we are very confident indeed of achieving a Yes vote for independence in autumn 2014.”