Why Glasgow 2014 matters

I’ve been a big fan of the Scottish Review for a long while.  I like its spikiness.  Most of all, I like Kenneth Roy’s carmudgeonly spikiness, his refusal to blithely accept what is laid before him as news offerings. Insightful, thoughtful, necessary and often, uncomfortable.  It’s a great read.

But I disagree wholeheartedly with his dismantling of the importance of sport and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in his most recent post.

I like sport.  I like watching it, in all its forms, much more than I like doing it.  And this summer, I’ve managed to spectate at not just one, but two big events: the Tour de France and the Commonwealth Games.

Getting tickets to go and see some of Glasgow 2014 mattered.  The Games probably won’t return to our patch until I’m past it or even no longer here.  And I wanted to make sure that I got to see something big on my doorstep and to do so with my family.  I wanted, too, for my sports daft son to see what commitment and hard graft could achieve.

It all surpassed my expectations.  I managed to schlep around five Games venues and one massive cultural one (Glasgow Green) with my Women for Independence badge and Yes Scotland wristband un-noticed, unremarked and unmolested.  I didn’t make a big thing of them, they are just part of me at the moment, and neither did any of the stewards or security.  So much for heavy handedness.

And schlepping around was no bother either.  We made it out of Tollcross swim centre and back to the West end of Glasgow after just 45 minutes of waiting and travelling.  The same thing happened the following night getting from Hampden to Byres Road.  And we either walked, bussed or cycled in between times.  Those bikes for hire are a revelation.  For a few quid, Boy Wonder and I travelled from the SECC to Glasgow Green and on to Hampden with only one complaint of us daring to cycle in a cycle lane that happened also to contain pedestrians.

Then there was the sporting fare itself.  We managed – as we would – to go to four different events and see only one measly Scottish bronze medal won.  I think I’m still traumatised by the Big Yin’s college pal, Mark Tully, missing out on a bronze medal in the 50m breaststroke by one-hundredth of a second.  And worrying that someone somewhere is helping him to move on from it. But medals would just have been the icing on the cake, for being there was enough. It was amazing.  And truly amazing was to see a wonderful tapestry of largely young people, of all colours, backgrounds and abilities from all across the world, taking part and doing their best.  In our backyard. I watched in awe of them all, all that dedication, hard work and for scant reward.  It sure matters to them.

But most of all, it mattered to their families.  I erroneously assumed that they’d be well looked after, with special tickets and seating areas but sport at all levels doesn’t work like that.  The best seats, even at these Friendly Games, were reserved for the sponsors, the officials and the hingers-on.  They were often empty way into sessions.  All around us at the swimming and the wrestling especially, were competitors’ families.  Watching them through the agonies and occasionally the ecstasies of their offsprings’ efforts was a privilege indeed.

Why were they in the cheap seats with the rest of us? Because they spend a fortune – sometimes money they don’t really have – traipsing their bairns around the country (whichever country that might be) and other countries simply to enable them to compete.  And occasionally, it pays off.  At the swimming, there were the parents of an English girl who won a surprise silver medal – they were as surprised but as delighted as she was.  There were the Canadians and the Australians across from us, rushing frequently down to the barriers to squeeze the life out of their conquering heroes and heroines.  They just couldn’t stop beaming and some couldn’t stop crying.  And the South African parents who came back to their seats sporting their son’s medal, earning a cheer from everyone all around, happy to share in their joy.

Having said thanks to the workers, the Clydesiders, the competitors, the coaches, the stars and the merely happy to be theres, for me, the one huge omission is to say thank you to the families.  For doing what they do, to enable their children to compete, involving huge commitment, to put joy in their lives and ours and bringing them to Glasgow to compete.  You made it for me.

But these Games also matter to us.  They matter in terms of showing our young people that there are other things to do than wanna make it big on the football pitch.  Towards the end of the swimming, Boy Wonder turned and said, “Go on then, I’ll go back to swimming lessons.”  That there, that’s the legacy.  Because he has potential, because it is good for him and because one day, it might just be him out there, doing incredible things in a pool with thousands cheering him on.  These Games gave permission to children all over Scotland to dream and to dream big, but not without acknowledging that hard work is required.  A life lesson in two hours by a pool.

They also matter because for once, Scotland got to shine.  We got to show our ain folk and everyone else what it is like to have athletes of our own compete for their home (or chosen to be home) country.  Neil Fachie might be a gold winning Olympian and have enough medals to warrant a strong room instead of a garden shed, but winning Gold for Scotland capped them all.  Just something about getting to compete and winning for your nation and country, he said.  Standing on our own and winning: nothing wee, poor or stupid about it.

So good is our set up in fact, that some come here especially to get involved – that’s what’s happened in Judo, where we won an astonishing number of gold medals (not that we were allowed to watch them being won live on TV, of course).  People leaving their coaching and training set-ups elsewhere in the UK to come to Euan Burton and Judo Scotland because the facilities and the coaching are among the best ever.  Aye, who’d a thunk it?  Kinda dispels the suggestion that if Scotland was independent, all our world class athletes would have to leave to train elsewhere.  Listening to the bronze medal winner, Andrew Burns, say all this fairly puffed oot my chest.

And they matter, simply because we didnae make an erse of it.  In fact, we appear to have managed to put on the “best Games ever”.  Well done Glasgow and everyone involved in making it so.

Glasgow was totally buzzing for the whole 11 days: everything planned for, worked and then some.  The logistics of putting on these Games must have been terrifying but there were few hitches or glitches, despite BBC Radio Scotland’s efforts to find fault and queues in everything. The cultural festival, most of it free, which accompanied the sport, was outstanding in its own right.  (Kenneth Roy might have been more enamoured of some of that, had he bothered to leave his dookit in Ayrshire).  We brought the world to Glasgow and to Scotland and everyone had a good time.  Wee country that we are, we put on a show to rival the best of them.  Kinda gives us confidence that we can do other things too, huh?

Glasgow 2014 had something for everyone and had everyone watching, talking, visiting and participating.  The sense of achievement in every aspect was – is – palpable.  That matters too.

Every day, my neighbour and I had a Commonwealth Games chat, rounding up our favourite bits, beaming broadly at each other as we did so.

We’ve won another medal, Katie“, he said, catching me before I headed for the bus. “In the gymnastics, a gold for that boy Keatings” (that’ll be the pommel horse specialist, Mr Roy). “Aye, he was great, deserves it too, after they left him oot o’ the Olympics, don’t know what all that was about.  Still, he’s got his reward noo.  It’s been a great competition that, the men’s gymnastics.  Thought I’d only be watching it for the bowling but there you go.  And isn’t it great to see it all going so well?  Aye, look at what we can do when we get the chance tae.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself, and neither could Nicola Sturgeon.




Grown up politics! Whatever next?

It was mooted, particularly by the prescient callow youth, Rory Scothorne, but frankly none of us took it seriously.

Having spent the better part of the last thirteen years loathing each other and telling anyone who would listen just how much they loathed each other, Labour and the SNP have done the unthinkable and formed a coalition to run Scotland’s capital city.

To be fair, this is not a unique set of circumstances.  For the last five years, the two parties worked together to run East Renfrewshire council.  Observers reckon it all went swimmingly and they appear to be hooked up there again already.

But with all due respect to East Renfrewshire, it’s a wee council: a coalition of the big in Edinburgh is taking co-operation to a whole new level.  If Edinburgh sneezes, we all get to catch the cold, courtesy of the national media, so expect plenty of coverage for the administration’s earliest moves.

It would be nice if that coverage came with minimal cynicism.  After all, this outbreak of grown-up politics is a cause for celebration.  For those of us who have longed for some semblance of the new politics promised with devolution for thirteen lang and weary years, this is very good news.

First, Edinburgh gets a coalition with a solid majority which ensures stability as the local authority hits uncharted financial territory.  Good, thoughtful and determined leadership at all levels is needed.  And between them, Labour and the SNP has considerable experience in their respective ranks of councillors to call upon.

Also, the obvious one – despite all attempts to persuade us to the contrary, Labour and the SNP have more in common than they disagree on in policy terms.  In fact, they’ll be struggling when they work their way through their manifestos to find the points of difference.

Most of those differences are positive ones where consensus can be achieved.  Labour’s grand plans for renewing local democracy through co-operative activity fit nicely with the SNP’s broad aims of localism.  Indeed, the idea of developing mutual vehicles to which to transfer some local authority functions likely to be threatened or under pressure from depleted resources is an inspired one, and might just provide some much needed progress in the drive to reform our public services.

Moreover, if these vehicles work, we might just have found a model for other areas to adapt and adopt.  And that would be another very good thing:  we need solutions and fresh thinking in local government.

One area of difference was on the approach to road repairs, though it was more a difference in emphasis.  Presumably, they can split the difference on the money involved and the timescale proposed.

Of course, the big unknown is what happens when we get to the referendum.  It’s clearly not a cooncil issue but local authorities will have a role to play in the debate and especially, in the conduct of the actual referendum.  All those polling booths, signs, places and clerks will be back before we know it.  And perhaps one unintended spin-off from this glasnost is that we can be spared all the usual accusations and allegations of party political perfidy.  In the capital, at least.

This might be wishful thinking and we’re a long ways away from 2014.  In the meantime, there’s the all important posts to be carved up.  Labour’s having the Lord Provost and Leader;  the SNP the deputy positions.

Andrew Burns, of course, will be leader but who’ll fill the other “offices”?  A plea – can we have it 50-50?  In that, Labour puts forward a woman for Lord Provost, the SNP nominates a woman for depute leader of the council and a man for Depute Lord Provost.  Admittedly, the SNP only has two women councillors to choose from, but Deirdre Brock would provide an interesting and effective counterpoint as Depute Leader to Andrew Burns.  And while Lesley Hinds is unlikely to want the LP for a second time, Labour has several to choose from in its ranks for that position.

The possibilities this new partnership offers are exciting: this augurs well for the people of Edinburgh.  Indeed, these kind of radical and thoughtful coalitions are what we need to renew and rejuvenate local politics.  Apparently, the tie-up between the SNP and the Scottish Green councillor in Midlothian is only for the formation of the administration which is a shame.  It’s understandable that Iain Baxter might want time sitting on the outside;  he is, after all, just newly elected and being a councillor does get some getting used to.  But Midlothian is in uncharted territory – for decades, it has been run by Labour and last Thursday, it voted for a shift.  The Scottish Greens should be part of that shift and putting their principles into practice.

Indeed, they had the chance to do likewise in Edinburgh.  Instead they have chosen to stand on the sidelines and are claiming credit for saving the city from the Tories getting “even a whiff of power”. How honourable of them.  They’ll be pleased to find themselves sharing the Opposition benches with them then.

While it’s disappointing that the Greens decided not to make this coalition a traffic-light one, this is a brave and bold move by Labour and the SNP.  It could be a disaster but let’s hope not.  We need more grown-up politics like this and the coalition’s success will be good for us all.