The independence campaign is becoming characterised by its irregular verbs. Last month, it was I disagree with you. You shout me down. Alex Salmond behaves like Kim Jong-il. Today, the Secretary of State for Scotland serves up another stoater in the Herald: I remind people of what it means to be British. You try to make political capital from the endeavour of sportsmen and women. David Cameron. Um. Has an admirable enthusiasm for the colour palette of the Union flag.
For Alistair Carmichael is fearful that the imminent Commonwealth Games celebrations, funded to the tune of 80 odd per cent by the Scottish Government, will be malevolently manipulated by the First Minister to promote his divisive separatist code. "People in Scotland will," he argues, "react badly to anybody who tries to make political capital from the endeavour of sportsmen and women." Which is splendidly good advice. It is just a pity that Carmichael's own government and his No campaigning colleagues can't stick to it. There is more than a whiff of psychological projection here, which would be more amusing if it wasn't such double-dealing, sanctimonious cant.
For manipulating major sports events for political ends: that is one thing which UK government would never countenance. Who could fail to notice or be impressed by the jealous integrity with which the Prime Minister has maintained a rigorous firewall between politics & the Olympics? Trawling the internet, one struggles to find Carmichael, heroically swatting at David Cameron's egregious politicisation of sporting endeavour, when he toddled along to London's Olympics Stadium in February to make the positive case for the Union, proclaiming:
"But for me, the best thing about the Olympics wasn’t the winning. It was the red, the white, the blue. It was the summer that patriotism came out of the shadows and into the sun. Everyone cheering as one for Team GB."
You'd have to be awfully cynical and ungenerous to detect a germ of politicisation there. I'm sure British nationalist fellow travellers like Fraser Nelson were cheering Cameron on, thoughtless of any referendum impact, innocent of the political implications which the Prime Minister was none-too-subtly inviting his listeners to draw from his moistening e'en. Nor, despite my best endeavours, could I find Carmichael ticking off his colleagues back in 2012 for taking gleefully to the airwaves to proclaim that Danny Boyle's Olympics opening ceremony had shot Salmond's fox, along with sundry other commentators contending that "Team GB's Olympic triumph has been to suck the air out of Salmond's Scottish balloon."
For myself, I'm not terrifically interested in the games, Olympic or Commonwealth. I'm a sporting grinch. I wish them well. I hope the mighty endeavour which has gone into planning them is reflected in a grand couple of weeks. I hope others have joy of them. But parking the vexed and vexing questions of patriotism, these Games are unavoidably important for the referendum debate. Wil it or nil it, we can ill-afford organisational cock-ups and Darien-pangs on the Yes side of the argument. Confidence matters. Confidence in the competence of civic and national institutions matters. And like most of life's challenges, the Commonwealth games represents both a splendid opportunity and a potential risk.
We want the First Minister and the leader of Glasgow city council to be able to take to their pins, and echo Cameron's speech at the opening of the 2012 Games, concluding that "we want this to be the Games that lifts up a city, that lifts up our country and that lifts up our world, bringing people together." The skeptical pub bore already has his script drafted: "If we can't even run an event like this without buggering it up, how can these hopeless chancers run a country?" On the other hand, a well-executed, popular, triumphant games will bring with them a momentary glow - a national buoyancy - which is unavoidably important when thinking about whether Scotland should govern her own affairs.
I'm sure negligibly few folk minded to vote No are cynical enough to hope that the Commonwealth Games tank - but such calamities and losses of nerve have wider resonances. There's no avoiding that. The success of the Glasgow games are - in a narrow tactical sense - much more important to the Yes campaign than to Better Together. But as to Carmichael and his irregular verbs? I think an urgent trip to the optician is very much in order.