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Coffee House

The SNP might not realise it, but in sport, there’s a difference between patriotism and nationalism

23 July 2014

8:30 AM

23 July 2014

8:30 AM

The BBC should probably think about issuing a public warning before it starts broadcasting the Commonwealth Games from Glasgow tonight. Something along the lines of ‘viewers of a nervous disposition should look away now (and for the next two weeks)’. That should cover it.

Why? Because, for some English viewers, the coverage from Glasgow 2014 might be more than a bit unsettling.

Here we are, just eight weeks from the referendum on Scottish independence and our screens are suddenly going to be filled with kilts, Saltires and songs dedicated to sending the English ‘home tae think again’.

Even the official emblem of the Glasgow Games – a jaggy thistle – seems to have been deliberately designed to prickle and get underneath those prissy white strips worn by the dastardly English.

As a result, for the next two weeks it really will seem as if the English (as well as the Welsh and Northern Irish) will be competing in a different country: and that is exactly how Alex Salmond wants it to look.

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But – and it is a big and important one – neither athletes nor spectators should get too het up about such overt, in-your-face Scottishness. There is a world of difference between the national pride on show in Glasgow and those who support independence.

Salmond believed, right from the moment he announced his planned timetable for the referendum, that the Commonwealth Games would provide the Yes campaign with a massive emotional and electoral boost just weeks before polling day.

All those tears and cheers and renditions of Flower of Scotland, they couldn’t help but give the Nationalists a lift – well, that was the theory anyway.

But there is one lesson that SNP leaders don’t ever seem to have learned and that is that Scottish patriotism and support for Scottish independence do not amount to the same thing.

So, however alien and difficult an environment the English athletes may find themselves in (there have already been strong denials from Nationalists that English athletes will be booed in Glasgow) this should not be interpreted as anything other than normal, over-the-top Scottish patriotism.

Any English supporter who has been to Murrayfield for a Calcutta Cup match knows how virulently passionate the Scottish fans can be. They cheer every English mistake and make Flower of Scotland sound more like a war cry than the mournful dirge it is.

Yet almost all of those rugby fans, who are so fiercely anti-English on the ground, become well-educated, well-off, middle-class Edinburgh folk as soon as they leave the stadium. Indeed, most of those Scots patriots would no more think of voting independence than they would selling their New Town houses and moving into a peace camp.

Salmond has wanted for years to have a Scottish Commonwealth Games with a Scottish team competing on home soil. His fellow Nationalists have joined in, believing the sporting spectacle that begins this evening would give them the final push they need to win the referendum. But the rest of us are more discerning than that. We can distinguish between patriotism and nationalism – unlike many in the SNP.

So the message to all those other UK competitors who will parade round the inside of Celtic Park this evening is this – this is not about politics, nor is it about independence or the future of the Union. This is about sport and although that is sometimes more important than politics, they are not the same, however much Salmond would like them to be.

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