The 20th edition of the Empire Sports Day is in the bag and didn’t we do well?? As someone who generally detests all forms of sport, large crowds, heartfelt moments, the overcoming of adversity and most specifically, outpourings of collective happiness, I can’t say I was particularly thrilled by the prospect of the Commonwealth Games taking place in my immediate vicinity. But as I was walking home on the day of the Opening Ceremony, the sun blasting down on the suddenly shiny looking streets of the East End , now bustling with smiling people from all over the place, even I got the feeling that maybe this time might by different. Like most Glaswegians, I’m far prouder of my city than is probably healthy for an otherwise rational human being; it may be “a bit shit” but it’s the best shit many of us have ever had and with the arrival of the Games, it was on display for all to see.
The old adage is that you shouldn’t mix sport and politics and as someone who’s only ever grudgingly engaged in either, I might be inclined to agree in this instance, to some extent. Politics wise, the Games has brought us the ripping up of communities the council decided they didn’t like, the closure of essential facilities like the Accord Centre, dodgy land deals, countless vital projects having their funding cut with some vague mumble about how it was probably to do with the Games and the constant mindless attempts at council vandalism (including but not limited to, the attacks on our parks, George Square, their ill-fated plans for the Buchanan Street steps, that fucking cone they now pretend they’ve always loved so much and the idea that blowing up social housing when you haven’t built anything to replace it is something worth celebrating.) Sports wise, we’ve mainly just had lots of sports.
There is and was no need for those who run our city to have used the cover of the Games to attempt to wipe away the people (who make Glasgow by the way) and bludgeon the city into a cashcow for their corporate pals and basically, themselves. We should be furious that a company like ATOS, complicit in the deaths of so many of our most vulnerable citizens were allowed to fly their banner in our city. We should be raging that a company selling drones to those carrying out genocide in Gaza is providing “perimeter security” to make sure all the folk shut off by the Games stay shut off and we should be utterly fucking livid that when all the paint has flaked and the dust has settled, we’re the ones stuck with Captain Shouty Matheson and his inane clown posse at the Council Chambers.
But I’ve not heard a word about any of these things during the Games (other than Captain Shouty, we all heard him). There has been plenty of moaning but if I have one moan, it’s that it’s all been of piss poor quality.
It commenced seconds into the Opening Ceremony, as half the UK took to social media to declare how cringy and shit the whole thing was and how Scotland was a total riddy. This largely stemmed from the view that we were insufficiently militaristic, too self deprecating and most crucially “weren’t like London.” To all those claims we say a giant “thank fuck for that.”
Everyone now seems to be falling over themselves at a series of startling revelations: English athletes didn’t get booed at Hampden or chased round the velodrome by an angry swarm of separatist cyclists, if you spend millions of pounds building things, things will get built and Pacific Quay (which was specifically designed to look good on the telly) looks pretty good on the telly. The surprise that Glasgow wasn’t a two-bit shithole and everyone in Scotland wasn’t seething with anti-English rage was clear from the demeanour of pretty much everyone on Aunty Beeb. These forced concessions from the media could represent a temporary turning of the tide and if we’re smart, we can deliver something much bigger than some medals in 2014.
I heard loads of bleating about how the Games were all part of some evil masterplan, to pommel horse us towards separatism and judo throw us out on the UK. Those saying this were largely pundits from pro-Union papers (i.e. all of them except the Herald…on a Sunday). What this idea actually betrays is that they know full well that what’s on offer for ordinary Scots are part of the UK is so pitiful that all it would take is a few gold medals, a fluttering flag and one rendition of Flower of Scotland too many to make us all vote Yes. They’re terrified – and they should be.
Over at team Yes, there has been ample whining about the wrong coloured smoke and what helmets English cyclists had on. We even heard that some security guard took it upon themselves to say someone couldn’t wear a Yes badge at Glasgow Green. I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news…but no-one gives a shit about our pin badges and petted lips, especially not undecided voters. If you want to take an ideological pure/miserable position, fire away. Renounce the Empire Games, decry the legacy of the British Commonwealth and demand every Scottish medal winner return their wares or be declared traitors to the free state, if that’s your thing. I get the power of symbolism and propaganda but some in the Yes camp need to realise that this kind of moaning sends a message that we’re about nothing more than some differently coloured smoke. As far as I’m concerned, English cyclists can continue to wear Union Jacks in honour of a dead state in 4 years time, just like they did this year. There was obviously no way the MoD would let a Saltire flyover slip past because all the political class at Westminster have is their smoke. It’s time for the independence movement to show we’re about much, much more.
This has always been an uphill battle, the sun is in our eyes, someone is always trying to tie our shoelaces together but if we start looking for excuses now, we might fall at the last hurdle. We need to stop expecting the broadcaster for a state which we are explicitly saying isn’t ours anymore to represent us fairly or for those who are defending their unearned power to not be mildly dickish about giving that up. I can’t help wondering what our “Commonwealth cousins” will make of our grievance that the imperialist British state forced us to put a jacket on to get into Hampden with our “Fuck the Union” T-shirt on.
I’m not saying don’t moan, quite the opposite. We need to start whinging about child poverty in a country with such immense wealth with the kind of veracity we complained about some guy on the telly saying “we” when they really meant England. We need to get a billion times more angry about the nuclear arsenal on the Clyde than we were about the planes over Parkhead. We need to stop talking about how steep the hill is and keep climbing. We might not get there, we might try really hard and fall short but if we do, there will be ample time to tell the world about BBC bias and how the British state defended their immense power with underhand tactics, like a flag on some cyclists’ helmets.
If trying hard and coming fourth in the medals table is something to celebrate, imagine the feeling if we tried a wee bit harder to not be the 5th most unequal country in the world. If we can build velodromes, we can build more houses. If massive infrastructure and transport projects can get athletes and tourists to the Games, why can’t they be used get Scots back to work? If investing in sport delivers results, let’s invest in education, in childcare, in social welfare – instead of allowing austerity Britain to destroy all that. If the political class can pull this off, with the eyes of the world upon them, we have to endeavour to never take our eyes off them. And we have to have the confidence to do the things we’re always told we can’t do, for ourselves, without necessarily having to engage a marching band, Usain Bolt, HRH Betty and Rod Stewart (although if we could borrow Kylie, that would be great).
Despite the best efforts of those in power to shove Glaswegians out of sight and choke us on their inappropriately coloured smoke, we’re still here. The debate about the potential or capability of our country must surely be laid to rest; we can do whatever we choose to do. We wouldn’t have bulldozed half the city in association with BP and ATOS just because we though we could probably get away with it and we will neither forgive nor forget the “legacy” those in charge tried to exploit these Games to deliver.
The SNP may be holding the baton right now but when it’s time to bolt, we all need to grab the chance. While some of the emerging Holyrood elite clearly do have a dodgy leg (or worse), it’s time to fix our eyes on the finishing line and with it, a much bigger prize – the prize of a better nation.
Imagine a country which cares more about healthcare than it does about helmets, where international relations are about whether we continue to provide weaponry to Israel or Saudi Arabia, not whether Gary Lineker said we had a habit of getting above ourselves, where the kind of bile currently reserved for 3 minute bus delays is instead directed at those slashing essential services, where the people who make our towns and cities are paid a living wage for that work and where equality isn’t just written on a train station billboard but at the heart of our political system. In fact, forget about imagining, we’ve got about 6 more weeks to BRING IT ON. If we’ve done alright playing at being a real country in this slightly bizarre “world” of sport for the last 10 days, what’s stopping us chosing to be a nation again in less than 50 days time? If we get this excited by a sports day, it’s time for Scotland to go to big school.
The Games are over, let the Games begin!
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