Commonwealth Games a double edged sword for Independence?

Gold winning Judo players - The Rennick sisters

Gold winning Judo players – The Rennick sisters

During the summer of 2012 the world’s focus seemed to land on London with a series of events culminating in the Olympics of that year. With the success of an exceptional Commonwealth Games, the start of the Edinburgh Festival and the Ryder Cup (to name but three) a similar spotlight is now being turned on Scotland.

Firstly, I would be the first to say these Commonwealth Games are the best I can remember – well organised, a high sporting standard and really enjoyable to watch. I’ve also been one of those irritated by the comparison (either favourable or less so) with the 2012 Olympics. They are a different beast with massively different budgets and ethos. For what it’s worth, the commonwealth Games has felt more representative of the underlying ideals of the Olympics. It’s interesting that the games can progress at such a high standard without the major corporate sponsorship deals, hoards of ‘hangers-on’ from the IOC and death by corporate hospitality which has often marked past Olympics.  Well done Glasgow and Scotland.

Inevitably, political and sporting commentators alike have commented on the feel good factor the games has brought to Scotland. Many have speculated on the impact this Caledonian summer may have on the Scottish independence referendum scheduled for 18th September.

To declare an interest, as someone who feels more British than English, I would feel a tangible loss if Scotland chose to leave the United Kingdom. With family links to Scotland and a great love of the country, I believe both Scotland and England would be diminished following separation.

Given that position, I took the opportunity to test Scots views on the subject when I visited the games last week. As the games have progressed, it has been interesting to follow the emerging debate on the impact of the games on any decision.

The Scotsman debate (http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/video-commonwealth-games-and-scottish-independence-1-3490864) made some interesting points. The suggestion that the Games were times to suit the referendum made by some seems to put the cart before the horse given that the games were scheduled over seven years ago. Of course, the referendum may well have been positioned by the political class to give the best chance of success. But is that a sensible stance to take? Is there real evidence of the undoubted feel good factor spilling over into the political arena.

The evidence may not be as strong as suggested. The Scotsman make the point that if the referendum was subject to such influences the ‘No’ campaign could have expected a boost when Scotland failed to make the final stages of the football World Cup. This wasn’t evident and many believe the expected tartan surge may not materialise. Others say decisions of this magnitude simply aren’t influenced by sporting success. Certainly, the undoubted ‘Brit-pop’ resurgence of 2012 didn’t stop the anti-government result in local by-elections or the UKIP surge in the European elections of 2013. The indications from England and elsewhere suggest the euphoria of the games diminishes fairly quickly – potentially before the referendum.

1930 British Empire GamesOne theme (reflected in some of the blog comments to the Scotsman debate) reflect on the origins of the Commonwealth Games which  began as the 1930 British Empire Games in Hamilton, Canada. Many of the strongest supporters of the independence debate point out their belief that Scotland was never part of the British Empire. It is unclear (at least to me) where the evidence to support this can be found. However, they believe it would be unthinkable for an independent Scotland to continue in an organisation which perpetuated the concept of the British Empire. It would be ironic if the Commonwealth Games which are reported to boost the ‘Yes’ campaign were to be the last in which Scotland participated.

One of the most striking memories I have of the Games is how all members of the ‘Home Countries’ were cheered with equal enthusiasm. I for one saw no evidence of ‘Anyone but England’.  Indeed, there was a realisation from all the competitors that there was more in common with each other than had perhaps been understood.

A private comment from one of the Glasgow council party indicated that the Games may not have been able to be supported had the UK not backed the bid. There was no suggestion that an independent Scotland wouldn’t have been a credible venue. However, there was doubt that the inward investment (much of which came from the UK as a whole) would have been available were other demands on the exchequer being met from Edinburgh alone.

Finally, the return to Scotland of those Scots who for whatever reason live and work in England, Wales or elsewhere has raised a strong belief that only some Scottish voices are being canvassed. I couldn’t help but contrast the ability of Australians resident in the UK to vote in their home elections yet Scots who have moved across the border have lost their franchise.

I believe the games have been an overwhelming success and I would be one of the strongest voices congratulating Glasgow in its achievement. But surprisingly, the resurgence in Scots identity brought on by the games has raised the question of what it means to be Scottish – particularly if you are a non-resident Scot.  These questions have not been lost of Scots living in the country. Ironically, the broader politics and questions of identity raised by the games could be just as beneficial to the ‘No’ campaign.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum I hope it isn’t the last time Scotland is seen at these games.

It’s how you choose to see things

perspective

I was just thinking how average and ordinary my social life is at present when a couple of work colleagues gave me reason to reconsider.

One explained how they enjoyed ‘following my life’ via Facebook congratulating me on living life to the full. “We never know where you’ll pop up next, Berlin, Amsterdam and soon Australia – how exciting!”

Then during the course of the morning I read an email from a friend in which they commented that work today was  just administration – not adding anything meaningful to anyone.

Interestingly knowing the role they perform I couldn’t disagree more. Everyone has the odd admin focused day but their work makes a significant contribution to many people across the country. Strange they should lose sight of that.

It’s peculiar that other people’s view on your own life can sometimes be so different to your own. To quote an old Chinese proverb – We all stare at the same mountain, just from different places.

Walk a mile in their shoes

depression

Over the past few weeks, I have undergone a gradual and painful realisation about the continuing stigma and complexities surrounding mental health issues.

I have been surprised at how many of my friends suffer from some form of anxiety and/or depression. What is perhaps more worrying, is that although I know them well, it took me so long to recognise the fact or for them to feel comfortable to discuss it with me.

None has severe issues, but some have chronic conditions in the strictly medical sense (that being a long-standing and continuing condition). As someone who prides myself with being empathetic and supportive, I still found this an area where I was sadly lacking in knowing how best to deal with the situation.

I realise I have been fortunate in being unaffected by anxiety or depression. However, I recently had a ‘week from hell’ in which I lost a friend in a car accident, had some complex work and personal issues and was transitioning from one type of prescription medication to another. As a result, I found I had a few days of reactive depression. This is not something I have experienced before, but ironically, I feel the better for experiencing it. I didn’t need medication and the natural reaction to these stresses resolved over 4-5 days.

cause-of-depressionHowever, during that period, no well-meaning words or trite clichés about dark clouds passing could help. I began to understand that I was trapped in feelings I didn’t like ,but was incapable of escaping despite genuinely wanting to.

So although I didn’t enjoy a week where for a few days everything just overwhelmed me, I’m grateful for the insight and increased understanding that it brought with it. I don’t want to experience it again any time soon – but I can genuinely begin to understand the void that could so easily engulf you. There is no reason to feel ashamed for struggling with the situation.

Since those few black days, I see my friends struggles in a different light. I can’t better Stephen Fry’s description of moods as being like the weather. ‘If it’s raining, there is no point in telling me it’s not or it will pass or clear up soon. For me the rain is real. That is water falling out of the sky.’

So no deep experience myself, but enough to know that as simple as it sounds the best you can do for someone in that space is listen and be there for someone if they want you.  I am left with some unanswered questions. Why is this so prevalent? Is there something about modern living that accounts or somehow contributes to the rise in reported anxiety/depression?

More importantly, my friends who exist in those dark rooms from time to time remain my friends. I wish that as a society we were less judgemental and more willing to discuss these issues – with each other and with those for whom it is an integral part of their lives.

Time to move your tent to another village

startThe last four months on the previously hosted site have been something of a false start. Too many technical issues (poor connectivity, lost posts and slow speeds) prevented it from being useful. It also became a real disincentive to post anything as it just became too much hassle.

So hopefully a better choice with more flexibility will get around those issues. Those of you who had access to the previous site will be able to see the older posts. Everyone else will be starting from scratch.

I’ll still continue to use Facebook but this is intended for a different (more restricted, trusted and personal) audience. I’m sure that not everything that get’s posted on here will make it to Facebook and vice versa.

Hopefully the bright and sparky friends who get invited to follow will feel empowered to comment, encourage, critique or just keep up with what’s happening or making me think at a given point. I wouldn’t describe any of you as shrinking violets! There is no pressure to read or contribute but there is also an open invitation to throw in your opinion. I am also happy to share any content where sharing buttons are enabled and the post is not marked as private.