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The controversy surrounding the Scottish National Party (SNP) leader, Alex Salmond’s, adornment of the Saltire at today’s Wimbledon Men’s Single Final is completely unprovoked.
Whether the flag was used as a demonstration of national pride or as a ploy to further the politician’s nationalist agenda should not cause such concentrated outrage.
In celebration of a truly great British (and, indeed, Scottish) sportsman winning the British tennis grand slam, an air of patriotism and national unity is unsurprisingly the expected outcome. Yet, the Scotsman’s win has caused tensions on the polemical discussion of Scottish independence, with the referendum set to take place late next year. It is, hence, understandable that Salmond waving the Scottish Saltire can be deemed a deliberate and politically motivated action. Instead of finding ourselves drowning in celebration and positive feelings, we dispute among ourselves over the very thing which inevitably became the focus of today.
The first side of the argument suggests that Salmond used the Saltire as a political instrument, sparking a reminder that Murray is a Scotsman. Using the Wimbledon Central Court as a stage to display his political beliefs, Salmond stirred great feelings of patriotism among Scots watching from the arena and home. Knowing it would gain further media attention, it would rouse the debate once more and promote Salmond as a good party leader. But this argument uses the belief that people will make their decision over independence on the back of a great sporting achievement. It also suggests that people would not feel this patriotism without the presence of the flag (yet there were many others within the crowd that were also waving the same flag).
The other side of the argument is that it was an innocent display of national pride from the Scottish leader. Remember that this is a person who has a great deal of passion for their nation; they may achieved high status and profile, but this does not necessarily mean they will exploit this for their personal and political gain. You cannot blame the First Minister for feeling a great deal of passion in a moment where an extraordinary man went to achieve their greatest sporting victory. We were all guilty of it during the Olympics last year, where many across the country did raise St George’s Flags in honour of their English sportspersons, despite them actually representing the United Kingdom (under the strange guise of Great Britain) as a whole. This is not exploitation of this particular moment or media, but a show of individual beliefs and pride in a representative of their nation.
Furthermore, arguably, regardless of Salmond’s presence, we were likely to see this debate raise its ugly head. I think it is this final point that partly excuses the Scottish parliamentary leader of their actions, whether deliberate or not.
We must remember that the issue of Scottish independence is a matter to be decided by the Scots without external influence. The biggest problem in this picture is not the presence of the Saltire, but the lady in the background who is distracted by her, likely, mobile phone from the victory that has just taken place in front of her.
The collective identity of a nation is fragile and, perhaps, malleable. Yet, in times of war, crisis and sport, it is one that unites a massive population and allows us to set aside our political differences. The fact that we think and feel differently is forgotten in these circumstances and instead, to an extent, we are able to come together as if one person and stand shoulder-to-shoulder in agreement, before proceeding into some form of patriotic endeavour. Take, for example, our coalition government during the Second World War. But what is it about national identity that makes us feel so united?