Prince Philip and the Queen with other dignitaries at the opening of Glasgow's Commonweatlth Games
Prince Philip and the Queen with other dignitaries at the opening of Glasgow's Commonweatlth Games

A record gold medal haul for Scottish athletes in the first days of the Commonwealth Games is giving Scotland a morale boost, under two months before its referendum on independence.

Just four days into the 11-day sports festival, Team Scotland had already matched the record haul of 11 gold medals achieved by Scottish athletes at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

Anti-independence campaigners worry that the Glasgow games could fuel support for Scotland to go it alone, in the same way as British patriotic sentiment was boosted by the strong performance of Team GB at the 2012 London Olympics.

Pro-union politicians have repeatedly cited the Olympics as evidence of how Scotland is better off within the UK, with David Cameron choosing London’s Olympic velodrome as the venue for a February speech appealing for Scotland to reject separation.

“For me, the best thing about the Olympics was the red, the white and the blue . . . it was the summer that patriotism came out of the shadows and into the sunshine,” Mr Cameron said then.

Some independence supporters were upset when the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows display team trailed smoke in the colours of the Union Jack during a fly-past over the games opening ceremony on Wednesday.

Michael Fallon, UK defence minister, said there was no question of the Red Arrows using Scotland’s white and blue colours instead, saying the team “have always used red, white and blue”. But independence campaigners quickly found photographs online of the team using other national colours.

The Scottish government has waved aside the smoke issue and Alex Salmond, first minister, has carefully avoided linking sport and referendum since the games began. Worries that the referendum might spark anti-English feelings have proved unfounded, with Glasgow crowds giving English competitors warm applause.

Some independence supporters say a successful games could help their cause. In a Guardian article this week, playwright and novelist Alan Bisset said an “ingrained inferiority complex” was the biggest obstacle to a vote for Scottish independence.

“The sheer fact of the visibility of Scotland on our TV screens, to ourselves and to the world, coupled with actual sporting success, might just be what we need to give us belief that we do matter, and that, yes, we can do it,” Mr Bisset wrote. 

But Sunday Herald columnist Ian Bell was scathing about the idea that a sports competition could outweigh years of often fierce debate about the merits and risks of independence.

“The idea that sport can tip the balance in a vote on the future of a nation is straight out of the bread-and-circuses handbook,” Mr Bell wrote.

In a more hard-headed effort to boost national confidence, the Scottish National party on Sunday said a Yes vote in September would allow Scotland to use its “immense wealth” to create a fairer and more prosperous country.

The party cited March data showing that Scotland’s per capita gross domestic product would the 14th highest among rich nations if a geographic share of North Sea oil and gas was included.

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