Nationalists can expect little by way of fairness or objectivity from the Unionist camp, when it comes to discussion of the referendum on independence. The arguments in favour of remaining a part of the Union of the UK, have amounted to no more than a series of scare stories. Anyone who has doubts about independence for Scotland, will search in vain for any positive reason to remain part of the UK, as the scare stories about independence become increasingly ludicrous. The Daily Mail as the main cheer-leader for the Union, carries more than its fair share of this type of story but Hamish Macdonell's piece on the London Olympic Games on Monday 9th April, must be one of the worst.
We were told from the day and hour that London made its bid for the Games, that they would be for the benefit of the whole of the UK, both in terms of the share of contracts in the lead up to the Games and the legacy of participation in sport in which all corners of the UK would share. The original estimates for the cost of the venture were thought to be way over-optimisitic, but anyone who questioned them, was attacked by the London media, the Games organisors and Government supporters, all of whom were adamant that their estimates were correct. That the first assurance, that all corners of the UK would benefit, has been shown to be nonsense, is well established and accepted by everyone outside the usual London clique. The second assurance, that participation in sport would increase, has also been shown to be false but perhaps the most fanciful assurance of all - that the original estimates of costs were correct - are now no more than a sick joke.
According to Macdonell however, the only people guilty of questioning the estimates, expressing concern that not all parts of the UK were receiving equal benefit, are Nationalists in Scotland in general, and the SNP in particular. Macdonell offers no evidence to back up his accusations but his article is littered with assumptions such as, "For Scottish Nationalists, this clear cut issue (cheering UK athletes) is not quite so straightforward. They don't like the idea of a British team in the first place. Add to that the difficulty of cheering an English athlete..." Macdonell goes on, "So confused will they become indeed, that many nationalists will probably just opt out of the whole shebang..." "It is easy to see them retreating to their Saltire-covered basements to watch endless re-runs of Braveheart..." This man passes as a serious journalist but produces this kind of mean-spirited tripe on a regular basis.
According to Macdonell the Unionists have produced the "Jessica Ennis Test" which states that any Scot who cheers on Miss Ennis is British at heart and will take their Britishness into the polling booth with them and vote "No". This chimes with the Norman Tebbit infamous "cricket test", which caused him endless grief. It is also redolent of the pressure to which we were all subjected, when it became mandatory to support ENGERLAND in the world cup, on pain of being "anti-English" if we chose to support any other team. Andy Murray became persona non grata for suggesting he would support "Anyone but England". Murray would seem to have been rehabilitated to such an extent, according to Macdonell, that "The Nats may find it difficult to watch Andy Murray, wearing a Union flag across his chest..." It would appear, according to Macdonell, that only Scottish Nationalists have ever queried the costs of the games or any of the other assurances that were given, "because they have such a narrow, warped view of Britain". The headline of the article says it all, "Gold rush could save the Union", as the Olympics are being turned into a campaign for the preservation of the Union.
What is the reality of the Games? First of all, the original estimates of costs of £2.3 billion were farcical, as the actual costs are now over £12 billion and, according to a survey carried out by Sky Sports, could reach £24 billion. This last figure is disputed by Locog, the Games Organisor, which claims they are still within the agreed budget of £9billion. They are supported by Seb Coe but there have been so many underestimates, as well as omissions from the costs, that taking anything said by anyone associated with the organisation of the games is taking a chance of being bitterly disappointed. The cost of security was originally to be no more than £282 million, to employ 10,000 guards, but has now soared to employing 23,700 guards at a cost of £553 million. The original estimates did not include £1.13 billion for police for anti-terrorism work nor did it include the £6.5 billion to upgrade the transport systems, nor the £500 paid to tube drivers at a total cost of £6.5 million, nor the "London Ambassadors" to greet tourists at £3.5 million, nor the £11.5 million for the Torch Relay, right down to the £335,000 spent on a single sculpture.
The complaints about the cost of the games have been endless and certainly not confined to Scottish Nationalists. In January 2012, the Weymouth local paper, the Echo, carried a headline, "Portland Library to Close", followed by an article bemoaning the fact that Weymouth and Portland will host the sailing events but have just closed the only public library. The Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons, have raised concerns that the Games Stadium will become another White Elephant like the Dome. On the 4th of this month, Jules Boycoff wrote in the Guardian, "..private funders have disappeared, leaving the Government holding the fiscal bag.." "The National Audit Office has announced that public-sector funding has almost tripled while private-sector contributions dwindled to less than 2%." The Olympic village, originally envisaged as the centrepiece of London 2012 regeneration plan, was to be financed by the Australian developer, Lend Lease but the credit crunch caused them to abandon the project in Spring 2009, leaving the Government to pick up the tab. In August 2011, the development was sold to the Quatari ruling family's property company, at a loss to the taxpayer of £275 million. The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, hailed the transaction as a "fantastic deal".
And what about Scotland, have we had our share of the contracts; is Macdonell's charge that the SNP are just whingeing justified? On January 8th this year, The Herald on Sunday published an article by Judith Duffy, which looked at the "benefits" Scotland has received, compared to what was promised. Of the public-sector spend of £2.6 billion which has already taken place, Scotland's share has been £1 million. That's right, £1 million out of a total of £2.6billion or 0.04%. There has already been £114 million of Lottery funding re-directed from Scotland to the Games, although the Government allowed a "one-off" "Olympic funding" of £16 million to the Scottish Government in December 2011. The Games organisers claimed to provide an economic stimulus for the whole of the UK, generating £7 billion in contracts. Scottish Enterprise claimed 4200 Scottish firms registered to compete for Games-related supply chain opportunities. To date, 117 Scots firms have secured 158 contracts. Aberdeen-based First Group have a contract to run buses to the Games, worth £20 million while Glasgow-based Aggreko won a £37 million contract but overall the distribution of contracts to Scotland has been more than just disappointing.
The claim that tourists will also be attracted to Scotland as a consequence of the Games, has yet to be proved. Visitors to the UK for the purpose of viewing the games are thought to be unlikely to venture north to Scotland in great numbers, although there may be some visitors from the South of England, who will come north to move away from London to avoid the Games. In other words, Macdonell's article was no more than the usual rant by a Unionist intent on making unsubstantiated claims, to undermine the case for independence. Obviously, his professional reputation matters little to him.