Firstly, I would like to pay great thanks to Richard Walker in today’s Sunday Herald. His Essay of the Week is actually one of the first I have read cover to cover, and enjoyed and reacted to so much.
His article discusses the meaning behind the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony on Wednesday night. Walker writes about each of the notable pieces of the ceremony, from John Barrowman’s kiss; the singing of Freedom Call All Ye’, and how none of it should be politicised for the Scottish referendum in September.
Thank god. Someone who appreciated the ceremony for what it really meant!
What seriously disappointed me was when I went to work on Thursday and asked who had seen the ceremony. Immediately, one of my colleagues, who I knew to be a strong “No” supporter, said: “It was absolutely disgraceful, and why we should all vote ‘No’.”
I was stunned. Someone my age, who felt as passionately about “No” as I do about “Yes” actually bringing the ceremony down to the level of trivial politics. What the opening ceremony was not about was the referendum. It was showcasing Scotland’s culture and history to the rest of the Commonwealth, as well as what we do to our statues. What else could we have done? Celebrated everything to do with the United Kingdom? That would make no sense, as the “United Kingdom” is not actually a Commonwealth nation.
Of course, what he might have meant was it was cringeworthy. Naturally, these sort of ceremonies are. Anything seen as celebrating anything is criticised by people – mainly teenagers – as being awful because it was happy and fun.
I do not know what else we expect, to be honest. I sat watching at the start and was viewing it neutrally. I did not want to think of it as something to do with independence, rather a celebration of Scotland. Five minutes in I already had my head in my hand thinking: ‘oh good Lord.” It was not until Billy Connolly’s piece about Nelson Mandela did I actually start to think: “this actually has some meaning to it.”
It is with some relief just now that the independence debate has gone off the radar for a while. We are being allowed time to enjoy the spectacle of the games, without having the question of the referendum hanging over our heads. Albeit that it is a topic that is looming over the Games, no one wants to think about it. Some think that if Scotland do well, the result may be more in Yes’ favour. This may be true, as it will ignite feelings about identity that some may not have considered before.
That said, it was with anger that I turned the page on Ian Bell’s piece in the Sunday Herald. Bell writes that we are not as “thick” as politicians believe, in that our beliefs may be shaped by a sporting event. He also cites the 700th Anniversary of Bannockburn, and the Ryder Cup, writing that the idea of being swayed by these to vote one way or another “excludes the idea that grown-ups might just be slightly more concerned with the quality of their democracy, the survival of their health service, or what the future could hold for their children and grandchildren, than with a medals table.”
This is folly. Of course we are influenced by these events. It it stupid to say otherwise.
We do not see these events and think: “Yeah, but what about the economy?” It is often said that the independence debate is a battle between hearts and minds. I have spoken to a dozen people who have said: “my heart says ‘yes’, but my head says ‘no’.” This totally defeats Bell’s criticism.
What events like Bannockburn, the Commonwealth Games, the Edinburgh Festival, do is make us consider what it means to be Scottish.
“How do I feel about this?”, is the question posed by these things. “Do I connect with this?”, “does this make me consider my identity?” It is a sort of soft propaganda almost. Soft propaganda is, for instance, seeing a carton of milk saying “Scottish Semi-Skimmed Milk”. It is not actually persuading you to support a political system, but it sits there, and speaks an identity. That is what the debate is all about, for me.
I was asked the other day, “why do you want to vote ‘yes’?” I simply replied with, “because it feels right.”
I cannot say “oh we will be X amount better off”, or “because we will be able to do this, that, or the next thing”. I do not know. I repeat: I do not know. No one knows. Will we be better, or worse off? Who really knows? All I can say is that independence is something I imagined as a small boy, visiting the Culloden battlefield. A fantasy. Now that opportunity has come, and my heart is saying “yes, go for it.”
What the Commonwealth Games is giving Scotland is not possible to justify with numbers of tourists, tickets, medals, or with money. They are giving a nation a chance to present itself onstage as a leader of gay rights, hospitality, culture, adventure, industry, drink, and Tunnock’s Teacakes. This is a time for us to come together, ignore the political differences we may have, and respect our country and heritage.
That is what I would say to my work colleague: “respect your country.” I do not want to hear that what you say on TV means everyone should vote “No”. That was a chance for our country to show what is has got to the world, and we should respect it for that.