The 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, was billed to be a spectacular event, celebrating the cultures from the four corners of the British Commonwealth coming to Glasgow, competing in a spirit of togetherness in “the friendly games”. Political leaders on both sides of the independence debate had even agreed a truce for the duration of the games and not to use them as a political tool.
Ah weel, the best laid plans o’ mice and men gang aft agley…
Even before the start of the games there was controversy. Firstly there were the plans to demolish the remaining six blocks of Glasgow’s Red Road Flats as part of the opening ceremony. This plan, which would have seen the demolition aired to over one billion TV viewers worldwide, was deemed crass and insensitive by residents still occupying the sixth block, many of whom are asylum seekers. Some threatened to refuse to move from their homes should the demolition go ahead, a petition against the demolition raised more than 170,000 signatures, and the plans eventually were dropped.
But then, the organisers clearly indicated just how “friendly” and inclusive of the local community the Commonwealth Games to be – by fencing off the Athlete’s Village. In what was deemed a security measure, and without prior consultation with local residents, an 8 foot high wire fence was erected around the Athlete’s Village, effectively cutting residents off from others, and making some feel as if they had been “caged in”. Worse still, there are many elderly people live in the area and residents were told they could not park in their own driveways. This led to one elderly gentleman living in Springfield Road complaining that was having to park his mobility car, essential to get him out and about, a mile away. The said residents have voiced that the least the City of Glasgow Council can do as way of recompense is to give them a Council Tax reduction. Given what the games are costing the city, I would advise them not to hold their breath on that one.
Then came the uniforms for Team Scotland. Ohhhh – dear. Shirts for the men and dresses for the women which were supposed to be the correct shade of blue for the Saltire, Pantone 300, but which looked more turquoise than anything else. This along with kilts and shawls in a made-up tartan even The Scotland Shop would have trouble shifting; a sort of cat vomit yellow-brown, with plum red and the same turquoise-blue is the only way I can describe it. I actually like the shirts, and could see me wearing one either with jeans or a suit. But the tartan is truly hideous and does not go with the blue at all.
And if anyone had any doubts about any similarities between the Team Scotland uniform and a bottle of Barr’s Irn-Bru, these were all dispelled at the opening ceremony.
The opening ceremony was a pure embarrassment to Scotland. Out were trawled people dressed up as giant Tunnock’s Tea Cakes, and a mock-up of the Loch Ness Monster, What the hell is this? The Commonwealth Games or It’s a Knockout? Rod Stewart apart, other atrocities, included a model of the Forth Bridge, with people dressed in orange jump suits with light blue hard hats. These guys were supposed to represent bottles of Irn-Bru. Strangely enough all I could think was “Guantanamo Bay”.
But at least that gave the crowd the chance to wave their flags, which have a Scottish Saltire on one side – and a union flag on the other. Especially when the Red Arrows did their fly-past over the stadium, trailing their distinctive red, white and blue smoke trails. There had been a suggestion that they only trail blue and white, the colours of the Saltire, but apparently this was vetoed by Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, who ordered red, white and blue smoke to be deployed. In doing so the Westminster government has immediately politicised the games, and the message is all too clear about who is in charge.
Then it was time to be upstanding for the National Anthem. Not, however, Flower of Scotland, as many may imagine, but rather God Save the Queen. Criticisms of this since have brought the rebuff that Scotland has no official national anthem of it’s own but the anthem for the UK is God Save the Queen. One finds that quite strange considering that in many other Scottish sporting events, Flower of Scotland is the accepted anthem, including in football and rugby internationals. Indeed, in rugby events it is sang before each match by all present, and none have a problem with that. Not even the Patron of the Scottish Rugby Union – the Queen’s daughter, Princess Anne. No wonder there were a number of people refusing to stand for nor sing God Save the Queen.
And no mention of course of the unofficial extra verse added to the UK national anthem during the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion;
God grant that Marshall Wade,
May by thy mighty aid,
May he sedition hush,
And like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush;
God save the King.
So out came the nations and territories, headed up with West Highland Terriers. The other teams were trawled out, equally with Scotty dogs, in their national colours. Including Team England – whose cyclists carry the union flag on their helmets. Interesting that, because the union flag is supposed to represent the whole of the UK, not just England. Which only makes one wonder just whom the fly-past and the dual flags are representing?
And all the while commentators were making comparisons to the 2012 Olympic Games in London (and how Glasgow’s games could never be as spectacular), about this great “British” spectacle, and the “Queen of England” (they’re welcome to her).
The entire spectacle was that of Scotland as a Bonnie Prince Shortbreid Tin, hoochter-teuchtar Brigadoon backwater, full of tired old unattractive and inaccurate cultural stereotypes, with the only things missing being CU Jimmy wigs and Team Scotland shouting “Och aye the noo.” and “Braw bricht moonlicht nicht the nicht”. Frankly, I could have put on a better show out of a Royal Mile tartan kitsch shop for a quarter of the price.
If anyone has come out of the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony clean, it is the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond MSP. He not only did not hijack the opening ceremony for purposes of the independence referendum, he asked for a minute’s silence for the victims of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 shooting, and gave a statement in support of the LGBTI community in Scotland. A statement which sends a clear message to those Commonwealth countries who abuse LGBTI rights for which he has received praise from veteran gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. Despite this, Salmond has been attacked by some within the No camp with accusations of deliberately choosing the timing of the games to boost the Yes vote, that he asked for the minute’s silence for political capital, and even some more disreputable No supporters have met his statement with homophobic responses.
I do hope that the Commonwealth Games are a boost to Scotland in general and Glasgow in particular, just as I hope those following them enjoy them thoroughly. If one thinks for one moment however that their message is not political in nature, I would ask them to think again. The opening ceremony has sent a clear message to Scotland, and that message is precisely the same message as Sir Richard Onslow, Speaker of the House of Commons, stated after the Scots failed in an attempt to repeal the Act of Union in 1708;
We have catched Scotland, and shall bind her fast.