Ian Swanson: Games won’t ensure Salmond gold

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THEY are officially Scotland’s most successful Games ever – and that’s just the medal tally. The wider impact of Glasgow 2014 will take longer to assess.

No doubt the influx of visitors will have given a boost to Scotland’s economy. But will the success of the Commonwealth Games make any difference when it comes to the referendum?

Could the athletes’ haul of bronze, silver and gold help Alex Salmond win his prize of independence?

The First Minister seemed to get off to a bad start, saying he had taken a “self-denying ordinance” not to talk politics during the Games – but then christening Glasgow “Freedom City”.

However, since then he has stuck to his word and avoided the temptation to try to make political capital out of Scottish wins. It is a wise decision.

Mr Salmond was widely ridiculed during the London 2012 Olympics when he urged people to cheer on the “Scolympians” in Team GB.

And his self-imposed silence is in marked contrast to his controversial “photobombing” of Prime Minister David Cameron in the Royal Box at Wimbledon last year by unfurling a Saltire behind him after Andy Murray won the final. Critics accused the First Minister of trying to hijack the occasion for political advantage and Murray himself has since said he “didn’t like it”.

Politicians know they are not the most popular people on the planet but they don’t seem to have realised that trying to win popularity by associating themselves with genuine stars from other spheres just doesn’t work.

And overt attempts to cash in on successes which have nothing to do with them are also likely to backfire.

Far better to stand back and let the triumphs speak for themselves. If the effect is to inspire confidence and enthusiasm and strengthen a sense of national identity, so much the better. But any effort to force these things risks appearing crass and counter-productive.

The feelgood factor generated by sporting victories has in the past been credited with boosting political fortunes. A mythology grew up that England’s famous World Cup triumph helped to get Harold Wilson’s Labour government re-elected in the 1966 general election. But a quick check of the dates is enough to debunk that particular belief – the election was on March 31 and the World Cup final not until July 30.

But some argue England’s surprise defeat by Germany in the World Cup quarter-finals four years later – four days before the 1970 election – helped tip the public mood against Wilson, who lost unexpectedly to the Tories.

And that may be the lesson for politicians when it comes to sport. Victory guarantees nothing, but defeat can be deadly.

If the Glasgow Games had been a shambles, if Scotland’s stars had not shone, if the norovirus outbreak had taken hold, that could have created a negative vibe, undermined confidence, led to recriminations, made Scots question the country’s ability to stage such big events – and dealt a blow to the independence cause.

But the reverse is not necessarily the case. Politicians cannot count on basking in the glory of victorious sportsmen and women, or using their triumphs as a platform for political progress.

When it comes to the referendum race, Mr Salmond and Scotland’s other politicians have to rely on their own performance.