THE success of Team GB and its “heroes who lifted a nation,” brought some much-needed sporting joy into our Covid-depressed lives. But some people were more lifted than others.
Nicola Sturgeon was criticised by Labour over her “deafening silence” at Team GB’s success, although she did tweet her congratulations to Scottish swimmer Duncan Scott for his silver medal before congratulating his English colleague Tom Dean on his gold. And she hoped for “lots more @TeamGB medals yet to come,” which, of course, they did.
Later this month, the political row could be resumed with the Paralympics.
However, it should not have come as a surprise to see the SNP Government’s lack of enthusiasm when it came to extoling Team GB given many, if not most, Scottish Nationalists do not regard themselves as British but wholly Scottish.
The last census in 2011 showed 62% of Scotland’s population, 3.3 million people, regarded themselves as “Scottish only”. This was most common in 10 to 14-year-olds, 72%, and least common among the 30 to 34-year-olds, 57%.
Only 18% of the population said their national identity was “Scottish and British identities only”.
Of course, three years after the census, a majority of Scots voted to stick with Team GB, which suggested the issue was more than one of just identity.
It will be interesting to see, when the next census is published in 2022, what the latest numbers are and how they might play into the debate on Scotland’s future.
In 2018, a more nuanced BBC survey of 1,025 adults in Scotland found 84% felt they were strongly Scottish while 59% strongly British.
The appearance over the last few weeks of all those Union flags on the telly being associated with youthful success might not have been easy to stomach for some of those whose burning desire is to jettison Scotland from the UK and see it become an independent state.
If there had been a Team Scotland winning medals in Tokyo, the Twittersphere would doubtless have been awash with SNP politicians singing the athletes’ praises.
At the 2012 Olympics, Alex Salmond, the ex-FM, hailed the participating “Scolympians” and hoped those games in London would be the very last for Team GB ahead of the referendum two years later. His dream lives on.
But what would Scottish independence mean for Team GB politically and economically?
When considering the issue, it has invariably been viewed from this side of Hadrian’s Wall because it is a matter for Scottish voters to decide.
And while any newly independent Scotland would have to seek to heal its own divisions – almost half the nation could still be pro-Union – what would it mean for the Union’s other three partners or ex-partners as they would become from a Scottish perspective?
Those who had voted by a majority for Yes would obviously see independence as a major gain but for many across the rest of the UK it would be seen as a huge loss, ending the 314-year-old constitutional marriage between Scotland and England, which created the Kingdom of Great Britain through the 1707 Acts of Union.
Just as the British Isles survives as a geographical description, so too would Great Britain. But as a political and economic entity, it would, to all intents and purposes, gradually be consigned to the history books alongside the British Empire.
Crucially, not only the concept of Britain would be lost over time but also that of Britishness.
While an affinity with Scotland represents, for most Scots, the whole or bulk of their identity, it is part of the identity of those English people, who regard themselves as fundamentally British.
So, the end of the political construct that is Great Britain would be felt very deeply south of the border, where many people would suddenly have to reshape their identities and begin to describe themselves not as British but English or Welsh. Sadness could be mingled with resentment.
There would undoubtedly be practical and symbolic issues too.
For example, the famous Union flag would almost certainly have to lose the blue of the St Andrew saltire and in some way recognise, for the first time, Wales as part of the UK.
Certain institutions, which have the prefix British, may feel the pressure to relinquish it as the sense of Britishness begins to fade.
And what of Northern Ireland, whose century of existence was created out of a sense of Britishness? How would the Unionists of Ulster take to the end of Great Britain? Not very well would be the mother of understatements. Identity politics exists nowhere more powerfully than in Northern Ireland.
Indeed, it has been suggested Scottish independence would create a domino effect; a rise in demand for a border poll in Northern Ireland with the possible outcome of a united island of Ireland.
While the SNP has stressed how an independent Scotland would maintain the monarchy with Elizabeth II as Queen of the Scots, it would only take one unpopular sovereign in the future for republican sentiment to rise north of the border.
But if Northern Ireland were to vote to join the Irish Republic, then the UK would, as a working title, also become untenable as it would simply refer to England and Wales.
Indeed, this much-diminished Union may not survive for very long if, after seeing the Scots and the Northern Irish leave the Unionist family, the Welsh decide to take their own democratic test on a desire to break away.
So, Scottish independence would not only have a dramatic impact on Scotland’s future but could also lead to a geopolitical upheaval across all of these islands.
Which is another reason why Boris Johnson is unlikely to touch the Indyref2 issue with a barge pole during his time in No 10; however long that will be.
And this bodes another question: will there be a Team GB on the athletics track, in the swimming pool and at the velodrome in Paris in 2024? To Salmond and Sturgeon’s disappointment, almost certainly yes.