The debasing of the Olympics by Scottish Unionists and why they do it


By G.A.Ponsonby
The latest Unionist commentator to infest Scotland’s constitutional debate with his own brand of political bigotry is the Telegraph’s Alan Cochrane.
Mr Cochrane’s latest rant against all things SNP stems from the performance of Scots athletes at the London Olympics and the apparent reluctance of senior SNP figures, including Alex Salmond, to jump aboard the Union Jack waving jamboree band wagon.

By G.A.Ponsonby
The latest Unionist commentator to infest Scotland’s constitutional debate with his own brand of political bigotry is the Telegraph’s Alan Cochrane.
Mr Cochrane’s latest rant against all things SNP stems from the performance of Scots athletes at the London Olympics and the apparent reluctance of senior SNP figures, including Alex Salmond, to jump aboard the Union Jack waving jamboree band wagon.

In doing so he joins an ever growing list of Scottish Unionists who have attempted to use various aspects of the London Olympics to attack the idea of Scottish independence, the SNP or both.

In an article entitled ‘Cheering for Britain? The word sticks in Salmond’s throat’, Alan Cochrane claims that Mr Salmond cannot bring himself to utter the words, British, team GB or even “Union flag” and that most Nats refer to the Union flag as the “butchers apron”.

The flag claim is supposedly based on a statement issued by the First Minister when he congratulated Sir Chris Hoy after the Scots cyclist was chosen to carry the flag whilst leading team GB into the stadium at the opening ceremony.

Mr Salmond’s statement read: “Many congratulations to Sir Chris.  He is Scotland’s most successful Olympian and it is fitting he carry the flag.

“This is a great honour for Chris and I know the whole country will wish him well.”

Diplomatic, respective and hitting all the right notes one would have thought – in fact entirely fitting for the First Minister of Scotland, especially given the current constitutional debate.

Not for Mr Cochrane though, who wrote: “In congratulating Sir Chris Hoy, last week, on being the British flag bearer at the opening ceremony, Eck couldn’t even acknowledge that it was the Union flag that the gold medal-winning cyclist was brandishing aloft.”

However, had Cochrane taken the time to read the many responses to the news that Chris Hoy would lead out the team, few, if any at all mentioned “Union flag”.

Boxing great Dick McTaggart was another who failed to adhere to Cochrane’s Unionist diktat when referring to Hoy’s honour.

McTaggart was the last Scot to lead out the British team at the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960.

He said: “I’ve never met Chris but I’ve always admired and respected what he’s done.

“I want to say to him that he’ll feel as if he’s won a gold medal when he carries that flag.  I felt as if I was in heaven when it happened to me in Rome.”

In fact, pretty much everyone who reported on Sir Chris’s honour used the term ‘the flag’ – even Sir Chris himself referred to it as “the flag”.

On being given the honour of leading out the team, Chris Hoy made no mention of the ‘Union’ flag, simply saying: “I’m absolutely delighted and honoured to have been voted as the flag bearer for Team GB.  To lead out your team at a home Olympics is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity and one that that I can’t wait to experience in just a few days time.”

Speaking afterwards Hoy said: “As we get closer now everyone is getting more and more excited.

“I’ve got goosebumps already and I haven’t even got in the stadium. Everyone is excited and can’t wait to get in there.

“The competition is another thing entirely, this is just for celebration and to say we’ve made it, we’re Olympians, we’re here with the team and we are leading out the greatest team at the Olympic Games.”

But what about Cochrane’s claim that there was a reluctance on the part of the SNP to even acknowledge the existence of team GB?

This week Scottish Sport Minister Shona Robison issued a statement that described the British Olympic success as a “remarkable day for Team GB”.  Ms Robison also praised English cyclist Bradley Wiggins on becoming “Britain’s most decorated Olympian”.

Here is the official statement in full:

“What a remarkable day for Team GB and some of our outstanding Scottish athletes.  We have seen a massive new Scottish and British record set.  Scotland is proud of Michael Jamieson’s fantastic swim tonight, and Heather Stanning’s golden moment this morning has really set the country alight.

“Our swimmers are again proving a real inspiration, and I was honoured to be at the pool to see Michael put in an outstanding swim.

“I would also like to pay tribute to cyclist Bradley Wiggins for his fantastic feat in becoming Britain’s most decorated Olympian with his triumph in the cycling time trial – and now we look forward with confidence to the track cycling starting tomorrow and a chance for Sir Chris Hoy to add to his own impressive medal haul.

“It’s not just medal winners who deserve our praise today.  All our athletes continue to give their all, like gymnast Daniel Purvis, who followed his bronze in the team event with a solid performance in the all round individual final.

“With more good medal chances tomorrow, I wish all our athletes the best of luck.”

Cochrane disgracefully claims that the press officer responsible for drafting the statement “may well find that future promotion prospects are not what they once were”.

It isn’t just disrespectful to a Scottish Minister, it is a comment that is borderline defamatory.  It also blows apart Cochrane’s swivel eyed allegations.

Mr Cochrane ends his bad tempered and politically sectarian rant with yet another baseless and bigoted claim, describing the SNP as, “ferociously anti-Britain, anti-British and, most of all, anti anyone who thinks of himself or herself as a Brit.”

How do you deal with this outpouring of bile?  What possesses intelligent and educated people like Alan Cochrane to debase political discourse and debate in such a tribalistic manner?

Could it be that Cochrane’s attack on the SNP isn’t so much a demand for Salmond and his team to wrap the Union flag around their shoulders and sing rule Brittania as a realisation that the Union Jack fest is probably doing the No campaign no favours.

In Scotland there isn’t so much a disrespect for the Union flag, but more an ambivalence towards it.  Scots don’t really care about the symbols of Unionism to any great extent.   However, force feed them a diet of ‘Britishness’ and they will start to reject the notion.

This is worrying to Scots Unionists who realise what is happening and are now trying to stir up Olympic resentment against the SNP in order to redress the balance.  To do this they have to create a myth that somehow the Scottish government is anti-team GB, anti-British and by extension, against ‘our’ athletes.

Of course, what Cochrane, and other BritScot nationalists, such as Brian Wilson and Alf Young who also tried to Unionise the London Olympics, are trying to protect is not this benign Britishness but a particular brand of Unionism unique to some Scots.

Most, if not all, independence supporters are quite comfortable with the idea of Scots competing in once solidly ‘British’ institutions.  The British and Irish Lions is a good example of how sporting institutions can evolve in order to encompass changing political and social landscapes.

The Ryder Cup is another.  Originally the preserve of players from the UK, it widened its scope in 1979 to bring in the emerging European players.  The Lions and the Ryder cup are perfect examples of nations playing together as one unit despite them being independent. 

There is also recognition in each of the participating nations of the achievement of their own national sportsmen on being chosen to play in the respective collectives.

Therefore when the First Minister of Scotland sent well wishes to Scots Olympians, it wasn’t just perfectly acceptable, it was in keeping with convention.

Indeed, prior to the London Olympics, Wales’ Sports Minister Huw Lewis, said: “The 30 Welsh competitors who will be taking part in the Olympic Games have already made Wales very proud.  I wish every one of them the best of luck for the weeks ahead as they look to etch their names in history and I hope that their achievements will inspire a whole generation of people to get involved in sport themselves.”

Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones didn’t even wish the Welsh Olympians good luck in English, preferring to say it in Welsh –  ‘pob lwc’, he said: “I want to wish every single Welsh athlete who has made the grade for TeamGB pob lwc.  I have no doubt they will make all of us proud as they represent both Wales and the UK in the greatest sporting event in the world.”

When Welsh rower Chris Bartley won gold as part of team GB rowing team, Mr Jones said: “Congratulations to Chris Bartley on a truly gripping performance that has brought Wales our first medal of these Olympic Games.

“Let’s hope for more success to boost our medal tally,” Mr Jones said.

So either Labour’s Welsh First Minister and Sport’s Minister are both guilty of anti-Britishness and narrow nationalism or they were doing exactly what Welsh people expect their Government Ministers to do, congratulating the nation’s athletes.

But there is another aspect to this debate.  Olympics aren’t the same as Ryder Cup and the Lions.  Scotland can compete at golf and rugby as equal partners with the other nations where we have our own very distinctive national team. 

There is no struggle to assert one’s unique identity in rugby or golf and the failure to be selected for the Ryder Cup or a Lions’ tour does not prevent players from taking part in big international tournaments.

The Olympic Team GB is altogether different.  This is a construct that forces the four home nations to compete under the one umbrella.

The unfortunate side effect is that Scots, and indeed Welsh and Northern Irish competitors, who would otherwise have qualified to participate had each nation been allowed to field their own respective national teams, are denied this opportunity due to the sheer size of the English sporting pool with which they have to compete – as well as competing with one another.

This has a knock on effect that denies young men and women from the smaller nations the opportunity to experience rare world class competition and with it the benefits that such competition brings in the form of improved performance.  Experience, which in turn, can be transmitted through the local networks in order to encourage younger aspiring athletes.

Scotland has no male representation in the track and field at the London Olympics – the ‘real’ Olympics some would argue.  There is a lack of acknowledgement of the irony that saw millions of pounds of Lottery money diverted from Scottish good causes in order to part-subsidise the London Games.

If Scots of an independence persuasion are reacting to anything, it is not to Britain or the British Olympic team.  It is to a fundamental brand of Unionism that is peculiar to Scotland, a brand of Unionism that has slowly infected all institutions it comes into contact with and one that sits back and does nothing even when faced with the most outrageous disregard for fair and equitable distribution of resource. 

Look at the miserable allocation of Olympic contracts to Scotland and Wales and note the silence from the Cochranes, Wilsons and Youngs.  They cannot and they will not argue on behalf of their own people, the constitutional debate has rendered them impotent.

Thus, Scottish Unionists will use the efforts of hard working athletes in a desperate bid at maintaining a political landscape that is changing before their eyes.  They have little or no regard for the Olympics and will use the Games as they have done with every institution they come into contact with, for their own agenda.