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Will Games help Scotland's flower bloom?

Nationalists hope Glasgow's Commonwealth Games will lead to a surge of patriotism before a referendum on independence.
Last modified: 19 Jun 2014 23:10

Scotland may not have qualified for the World Cup in Brazil, but Glasgow is gearing-up for what could be one of the most significant sporting events in Scottish history.

The Commonwealth Games will be officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on July 23 and there are much more than medals at stake.

This event has taken on added significance because it will be followed a few weeks later by the referendum on Scottish independence. The two are so close together that it is impossible to separate sport from politics.

Scottish Nationalists are pinning their hopes on a successful Games to generate a burst of national pride that will give them momentum in the polls and a ‘Yes’ majority.

You can already feel the excitement beginning to build around the city.

Paula Speirs, a mother of two, is among more than 50,000 people to have volunteered their services.

"I love sport and having such a huge sporting event in my home city is something I wanted to be part of. Glasgow is starting to really come alive with all things Games," she said,

"I was so delighted when I got my email to offer me a Clyde-sider role and thrilled to be selected. I'm even looking forward to six days of 7.30am starts!"

Auld enemies

In contrast to the unifying experience of the London Olympics, the Commonwealth Games also sets Scotland and England against each other.

In a sporting manifestation of a possible political future, the two countries compete independently under their own colours with their own teams.

This also provides the Scottish government with an opportunity.

Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, was famously pictured 'photo-bombing' Wimbledon, waving Scotland's flag in the stand when Andy Murray, a Scot, won the championship. We can expect a lot more of that kind of thing in Glasgow.

The most high-profile events will take place at Hampden Park. The stadium, which has been temporarily converted from football to athletics, is a place of tribal intensity.

Former council leader Steven Purcell helped to bring the Commonwealth Games to Glasgow. He is hoping that this event will be much more celebratory and welcoming than the deadly seriousness that accompanies football in Scotland.

"Glasgow is a famously friendly city and it will be a privilege to welcome world-class performers like Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah," he said.

"I believe that Scotland is more confident about itself now and I want to see everyone who competes here, including athletes from England, get a huge cheer from the Hampden crowd."

Nobody can predict with confidence how the Glasgow crowd will respond when the UK’s national anthem 'God Save the Queen' is played during medal ceremonies.

The Commonwealth Games might also show how politics can be shaped by unintended consequences.

Purcell is a member of the pro-UK Labour Party. By bringing the event to Glasgow, he could end up being one of the people most responsible for helping 'yes' to victory.

Follow Andrew McFadyen on Twitter