Last Sunday, a Scot managed to play a blinder in Centre Court. Yes, Andy Murray did his bit for tennis in particular and sport in general, and, by association, Scottish Nationalism by winning the thing. However, another was participating more directly in this Nationalism game and he didn’t even need to leave his seat in those green stands. Merely by waving a Saltire in the right time and right place – after Murray had won match point and behind David Cameron’s head – Alec Salmond might well feel he had struck a blow for the ‘Yes’ campaign. The reason for referring to his actions as a ‘blow’ is that, quite simply, Salmond is a political operator par excellence, too wily and sensitive to political currents to commit such a mistake. Any of his pleas that he was merely ‘a proud Scot’ are disingenuous. Salmond set out to provoke.
And provoke he did. Mutterings came to the fore in the press and online that he: ‘lacked class’ and that he was desperate to make ‘political capital’ on Murray’s coat tails. It was difficult not to imagine such words as: “Quite the other thing, old boy,” escaping from beneath handlebar moustaches in gentleman’s clubs in Chelsea and Kensington.
And succeed he did.
Nothing will get on the nerves of a group of people who feel they aren’t being listened to in the way they should more than those who aren’t listening to them, telling them what to do, how to do it and when. For example, something like … oh I don’t know… a First Minister being told off by the London establishment for not behaving in the proper manner when another one of their own had just ended a British Sporting Success Drought. Cue thousands of shouldered chips becoming that bit heavier, gruntles becoming dissed, internal political barometers moving ever so slightly towards ‘change’. Okay, it might not be a huge gain, but it’s still a point – call it ‘fifteen – love’ rather than ‘game, set, match’ (Yes, okay, I did it).
But then David Cameron’s return appeared to be a winner: inviting Murray to Number Ten, suggesting the possibility of honours – what First Minister could compete with that? And Murray went and the photos were achieved, no matter how uncomfortable Murray himself looked. Did he himself begin to feel like he’d taken the place of one of those yellow balls he had battered around the day before? It seemed that the Independence debate had become a battle for the tennis player’s soul, played out under the gaze of the media. (Even though it’s obvious that Ivan Lendl has it hidden in a racquet bag and feeds on it on cold nights.) This too might play into Salmond’s plans in the long run, perhaps even blowing up in Cameron’s face, as the possessive Scottish public see his move as a cynical attempt to garner some of Murray’s glory and feel it rankle.
Yet, here’s the rub: none of this matters one tiny iota to Scots, English or British people in real, concrete terms, even if they think it does. If Andy Murray is regarded as Scottish or British does not inform anybody about economic models, industry rates or public services following independence – if this is to happen at all – but we have heard more about this than any of these. That Saltire, produced from his wife’s purse could well just be a misdirection, gleefully grabbed by both sides to divert attention away from a paucity of ideas.