YOU don’t have to choose between being Scottish and British, we were told in 2014. If you vote No, why, you can have both!
Well, that has most certainly proved to be not true when it comes to the Olympic Games, of both the summer and winter varieties.
Over the years, the British Olympic Association has either banned or discouraged Scottish athletes from wearing or holding the Saltire, even in combination with the Union Jack.
Scottish members of the GB women’s Olympic football team were once told in no uncertain terms that it was inappropriate for them to skip the singing of God Save the Queen on the grounds of nationality. Scots are absolutely forced to make a choice – but it’s not a choice between being British and being Scottish.
It’s between committing body and soul to an unremitting Brit-fest or opting out of the event altogether. Scottishness at the Olympics isn’t even an option.
But if the Scottish public did have the choice that the BOA and UK Government don’t want to give them, what would they choose? I decided to find out with the help of the new Scot Goes Pop/Survation poll.
After “don’t knows” are excluded, 53% of respondents think Scottish athletes should represent Scotland at the Olympics, and only 47% think they should represent Great Britain.
This was the only question in the poll that Survation asked to make substantial changes to. My original proposed question would have sought a straight Yes/No answer on whether there should be a Scottish Olympic team, but Survation felt that respondents should instead be given an explicit choice between Scotland and Great Britain.
I suspect the original version of the question would have produced a bigger majority for Team Scotland, but nevertheless the changed wording is a good thing, because it means the credibility of the result is beyond all dispute.
The question is scrupulously even-handed, and yet the people still said no to Team GB.
So the next time the BBC eagerly uses the Olympics to weave a narrative of British uniformity, just remember that, like Brexit, participation in Team GB is something that’s been imposed upon us, rather than something we chose for ourselves.
More than half of Scots want a Team Scotland at the Olympics in 2024
As we’ve also seen in several other questions from the poll, there’s a striking lack of unanimity among Leave voters – 55% of them back the continuation of Team GB, but 40% would prefer Team Scotland.
That’s a useful reminder that far from all Brexiteers are diehard Tories – a substantial minority identify strongly as Scottish, and many vote SNP or want Scotland to be an independent country.
Intriguingly, 17% of Yes voters from 2014 are in favour of Team GB, while 21% of No voters want there to be a Team Scotland.
The latter finding is easier to understand, because some people (albeit a declining number) are simultaneously both “political Unionists” and “cultural nationalists”. But are there really Yes voters who are more British than Scottish in a cultural sense?
Perhaps some independence supporters simply feel it’s most logical to be represented at the Olympics by whichever sovereign state we’re currently part of – and if that’s the case, underlying sympathy for the idea of a Scottish team may be even greater than the poll suggests.
Indeed, an IOC rule that has been in place since the 1990s would make it difficult for Scotland to apply to have its own team in the absence of political independence.
So perhaps the true significance of the poll result is in identifying yet another aspiration of the Scottish people that can only realistically be met by leaving the United Kingdom.