Thursday, 9 January 2014

Why Jack McConnell is an idiot

Yesterday dawned well for, ahem, "The Right Honourable Jack Wilson McConnell, Baron McConnell of Glenscorrodale of the Isle of Arran in Ayrshire and Arran" (for the purposes of brevity, it's probably best to call him "Jack").

"Union Jack" is one of the beneficiaries of the Establishment's method of survival and regeneration whereby every so often it opens up its ranks to outsiders in order to freshen up its gene puddle. Risen from a humble sheep farmer and mathematics teacher, Mr McConnell is a prime example of a man who, through a combination of hard work and good fortune, has "made it". 

His predecessor as First Minister, Henry McLeish, is not "the right sort" for the Lords. He cannot be "relied upon" to fight to preserve the fossilised Establishment. Every so often he goes off-message. He might criticise the Tory-led BetterTogether campaign. 

Mr McConnell is not such a man. He is now a creature of the Establishment. An undeniably successful and skillful politician, he was the last leader of the Labour Party remotely viewable as First Minister. Now created a Senator for Life on a stipend of a cool £300 per day, he is keenly aware that the price of this opening up of the Establishment is his defence of it. 

And there is no more Establishment position than to defend the existence of the Tory State.

Lo, so it came to be that yesterday, a figure who has left active politics and been largely forgotten about by the public exploded back onto the scene with a call for a "political truce" during the referendum. Greeted with mockery and incredulity, it rapidly became a call "not to politicise the Games".

There are two possible reasons for this:

i) Mr McConnell is genuinely concerned at the hijacking of the Commonwealth Games by the independence referendum (perhaps he is scared that the Government will send its Finance Minister to hand out some medals as BetterTogether did?).

ii) The Establishment has noted the "Olympic Bounce" gained by BetterTogether in 2012 and are deeply concerned that a similar "Commonwealth Bounce" will happen this summer - with substantially less time for such an effect to die down before polling day. 

At this point - and with apologies to Mr McConnell for "politicising" the Games - it should be pointed out that at the Commonwealth Games, Scotland competes as an entirely independent entity. And a particularly successful one too - the country is 7th in the all-time medals table despite being only the 21st most populous member state. 

The Unionists are keenly aware that their prospectus to remain under the gentle caress of David Cameron depends largely on Scots believing that Scotland would be a crippled, vestigial place, unable to survive, isolated by the world, with a populace entirely unable to govern themselves. 

They seem to believe that we should be rather like a large turtle which had rolled over onto its back on the beach, simply awaiting the coming of dawn where a flock of birds of prey (the European Union, terrorists, Nato, the Russians etc etc etc) will come and peck away at our belly.

It absolutely does not fit the Unionist world view to have a successful international sporting event held in Scotland. It does not suit them one iota to see an independent Scotland, successful on the global stage. Our flag waving and one of our myriad national anthems playing as our competitors become the best in the world at their events. Smiling faces, and happy children, in full stadia, proud to be Scottish. 

This is, in short, A Bad Thing for those who conspire to prevent Scotland joining the international community. 

A successful Commonwealth Games would be a nightmare for Unionists. Imagine a long summer of contentment followed by visible success for Scotland as an independent entity, concluding mere weeks before Scots go to the polls with Unionists hoping voters will believe we are incapable of being an independent entity.

It is likely, to my mind, that this is the main motivation for Mr McConnell's desperate intervention yesterday. 

It is as stupid as it is hypocritical. I searched in vain yesterday for a similar call from the former First Minister ahead of - or during - the Olympic Games in 2012, the memory of which is rapidly fading, and the end of which will have elapsed more than two years previously by the time the referendum polls open. 

However, I did find a succession of articles and interventions from the Tory-led BetterTogether campaign, which spoke breathlessly of how the relative success of "Team GB" (and how the athletes from the north of Ireland must feel at that appellation) showed that we are Better Together within the UK. They even produced a graphic, showing in which parts of England Scottish gold medalists trained. It appeared to have slipped their notice that the total lack of international-class sports training facilities in Scotland, necessitating young athletes leaving the country, is not the most compelling argument for the largesse of the Union. 

It seems that the achievements of Scottish athletes are ripe for exploitation when it suits the dependentist argument. 

Regardless of the hypocrisy of Unionists in this matter, it is an utter fallacy to suggest that sports and politics should somehow be segregated. 

Late last year, the world mourned the death of Nelson Mandela, probably the closest the world has come to a saint since Gandhi. Mandela is, of course, noteworthy for negotiating the end of Apartheid with F.W. de Klerk. But whilst he negotiated the end of Apartheid, it is certainly not true to suggest that he caused it. The minority white government was quite content to shoot, hang, "suicide" and imprison its internal dissidents. What brought about the negotiations to end Apartheid was the international isolation of the Republic of South Africa: and that international isolation was felt no more painfully - particularly by the Afrikaaner community - than in international sporting isolation. For an outdoorsy country which particularly loves cricket and rugby, the loss of sporting contacts, the deprivation of their old rivalries was a devastating blow to the confidence of the Afrikaaners. 

Perhaps Mr McConnell is suggesting that we shouldn't have politicised the nascent Rugby World Cup by banning South Africa for what was, after all, an internal political problem. It seems to me to be a truism to argue that Apartheid would have been, in fact, strengthened by South Africa being permitted to participate in the 1987 World Cup. 

A South African rugby team playing international rugby in New Zealand and Australia is the most natural thing - and one of the greatest spectacles - in the sporting world. Imagine the boost it would have given to P.W. Botha to have been photographed with the all-White Springbok team before it flew east to - almost inevitably, for they had the best team in the world - win the World Cup. 

But the international community said No. The sporting community said No. The rugby world deprived itself, in its first World Cup, of its best team and biggest name, deliberately, to politicise the World Cup. 

Even when Nelson Mandela was released, and Europe hosted the World Cup the next year, the international community still politicised the World Cup. "It is not enough to release Mandela", we insisted, "you must dismantle Apartheid". 

And so they did. 

And is it reasonable to suggest that there would still be Apartheid in South Africa today if the Boers had been able to sit in Ellis Park and watch the Springboks play the best teams in the world as if their country was normal? That F.W. de Klerk would still be prime minister if white people had been able to watch international cricket being played at Newlands? Again - South Africa had one of the best teams in the world at cricket during isolation. 

I don't believe so. Apartheid was creaking, and the economy struggling. But certainly, if the white population had believed that their country was normal, might they have resisted the fall of Apartheid a bit more stringently? Might there have been an ultimately violent confrontation instead of the quasi-miraculous peaceful resolution? I think so. 

The politicisation of sport was a huge part of the dismantling of normality. 

Indeed, the end of British support for Apartheid was partly a consequence of a boycott of the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games. 

Sport is politics: that's why in the Cold War we had successive Olympic boycotts. Giving the soccer World Cup to Qatar has legitimised the disgusting regime there in the eyes of the world. (It is not difficult to imagine circumstances under which the modern FIFA would award the World Cup to an Apartheid South Africa, had the periods overlapped rather than being separated by a few years). 

Nowhere more is sport political than in Catalunya. The symbol of Catalonia to the world is the might FC Barcelona. It has been a symbol of resistance to Spain for generations. Once the only place where is was possible to speak the Catalan language without fear of arrest by Franco's fascist troops (the Catalan NĂ³ was similar in intent - to oppress a language and a culture - than the Welsh Not, if more brutal), the Spanish champion club now hosts displays and demonstrations of Catalan independence. Its red and gold change strip is not, in fact, a homage to Glasgow's Partick Thistle club, nor the result of a sponsorship deal with wine gums, but a manifestation on the pitch of the Senyera, the Catalan national flag. It is no exaggeration to say that without FC Barcelona as an expression and totemic symbol of Catalanism, the distinct Catalan culture may have been wiped out during the Franco era. Certainly, they wouldn't be having a referendum this year without the public support helped along by politicising sport.

Sport is politics and politics is sport. It is nonsensical to demand that they are separated.

Scottish success in the Commonwealth Games will inspire more Scots than a dozen televised debates between the First Minister and the British prime minister. A successful Scottish sporting team - in any competition - will reach more people than every episode of Scotland Tonight and Newsnight Scotland, even those which include the deputy first minister dismembering yet another Scottish Secretary and feasting greedily on his remains. 

The Unionists know this. And they fear it. 

The writing is on the wall for a campaign which has tried to present Scotland as a pathetic nation, unable to be the equal of the independent nations of the world. 

The grafitti on the wall says Yes. 

And when you listen to Union Jack's calls for the pro-Scotland campaign not to mention one of our greatest assets - the success of Scotland in an international context - remember just one thing: Jack McConnell does not want this referendum to take place at all. He, and his ilk in the Labour Party, wants Scotland's future to be chosen by the political class instead of the working class. 

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