For at least a year now long-suffering newspaper readers have had to endure dire warnings from Unionist politicians about the dastardly Nats turning the Commonwealth Games into some sort of evil referendum propaganda campaign. (It was, of course, absolutely fine to continually invoke the “Olympic spirit” in 2012 and beyond as a reason Scots should vote to stay in the UK. That’s totally different.)
Today’s UK edition of the Daily Mail (on the left above, and somewhat different to the Scottish edition on the right) carries a story that appears in several papers about the opening ceremony, in which it transpires that the Red Arrows were forbidden by the Ministry of Defence from creating only blue-and-white vapour trails over Celtic Park.
But even after just one day, it’s far from the only example of the No campaign’s politicisation of the Friendly Games.
The Red Arrows story is an ugly piece of work in its own right. Initially portrayed as an attempt by the Scottish Government to interfere with the flypast, it turned out to have nothing to do with them, and was a request by a private contractor employed by the Glasgow 2014 organising committee.
(That didn’t stop the Mail illustrating its story with a big picture of the First Minister captioned “Alex Salmond has been accused of abandoning his pledge not to use the 2014 Games to score political points”.)
The UK government then made a direct political intervention to stop the colours of the Scottish flag being used, and instead impose those of the Union Jack. The Telegraph’s report on the Red Arrows row noted that:
But this turned out to be a complete lie.
Above, for example, are the Arrows trailing the colours of the Maltese flag at an airshow in Malta last year. And in 2006 they managed to create a tricky St George’s Cross to mark England’s participation in the World Cup.
And in 2009 at another air show they even went so far as to fly the Saltire colours.
In 2012 they were sent to do Vladimir Putin’s flag at a birthday shindig near Moscow:
And most strikingly of all, the BBC website’s report of the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 contains the lines:
“Within minutes of the end of the official ceremony, the Red Arrows flew over the Queen and other assembled dignitaries at the Mound, trailing blue and white smoke – the colours of Scotland’s Saltire flag.”
So that seems like pretty comprehensive proof that the Red Arrows DO trail colours other than those of the Union Jack, and that they’re even prepared to do it over Scotland, and even in a political context. The “spokesman” quoted by the Telegraph is either lying or imaginary.
The “Britifying” of an event expressly and distinctly hosted by Scotland, not the UK, has continued in other ways, both official and other. Persons as yet unidentified, for example, have been handing out thousands of flags to spectators in streets near the venues, with Saltires on one side and Union Jacks on the other.
Yet the UK flag has no legitimate presence at the games (except for on the flags of New Zealand, Australia etc). The UK is not a participating nation – Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland all compete under their own flags and with their own anthems. (England not even using “God Save The Queen” as they do at football and rugby, in order to emphasise the fact.)
An article on the BBC website contradicts itself in the space of two paragraphs over whether the Union Jack is in fact allowed within Games arenas at all:
Both of those can’t be true. The Union Jack is the flag of the United Kingdom, which is not a competing nation. But in either case an earlier passage makes clear that:
Glasgow 2014 Venue Regulation 6.18 states that no flags are allowed to enter a venue – or the vicinity of any Games venue – if they are normally associated with causes, affiliations or organisations.”
Just weeks from the independence referendum, a flag combining the Saltire and Union Jack is every bit as political, if not more so, that one which combined the Saltire and the flag of either Palestine or Israel.
And the UK’s non-participant flag has even been brought onto the field of competition. The England cycling team kit inexplicably includes helmets with the Union Jack, rather than the Cross of St George, on them:
Cynical readers may not be astonished to learn that this “Britishness” only works one way. The Spotlight, a newsletter supporting “British Swimming athletes and events” this week ran a feature wishing good luck to the swimmers of… Team England only.
(And lastly, the less that’s said about the Brigadoon antics of the opening ceremony, spewing out grim, clichéd stereotype images of a shortbread-and-Nessie-and-haggis Scotland like WW1 machine-gun fire from an array of conspicuously No-supporting celebrities, the better it’ll probably be for all concerned. The first 20 minutes in particular were like an interpretive-dance depiction of the cringing, twee inferiority that’s at the heart of the “Better Together” message.)
Of course, what colour of vapour an air display team flies over a sporting ceremony for a few seconds or what the tip of Sir Bradley Wiggins’ big red helmet looks like are in themselves totally trivial matters not worth getting too upset over when there’s fantastic sporting endeavour on display.
But in that case, why was the UK government sticking its nose in at all? Why weren’t the organisers of the event allowed to get on with doing as they saw fit?
The only possible answer is that it was a direct political intervention. After all, sport and showbiz don’t normally form part of the Ministry of Defence’s remit, so readers might be forgiven for wondering what they’re doing having an opinion about either one.
The No campaign is absolutely determined to impose a deeply political frame of reference around a high-profile sporting occasion. It did so with a UK event in 2012 and it’s doing so again with an ostensibly Scottish one in 2014. The only “national” anthem played on Wednesday night was that of the UK. The Queen of 17 countries was saluted with the colours of just one of them.
(In the context of the opening ceremony’s highly-commendable equality message, it might have been nice if the Red Arrows had trailed a rainbow flag instead.)
The Yes side has stuck to its pledge not to politicise the Games. The First Minister didn’t whip a Saltire out of Mrs Salmond’s handbag, and resisted the obvious temptation to slip any sly references into his speech about the number of competing nations which were once part of the UK (essentially all of them) but have since chosen to go their own way and never looked back, and which remain friends and partners just like an independent Scotland would.
There was never any chance of the Unionists doing the same.