Ian Swanson: Would Andy’s backing ace referendum vote?

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ANDY Murray has everyone in suspense again – but this time it’s not the tennis which has raised the 
 tension, it’s which side he will take in the battle for Scotland’s future.

The hero of Wimbledon has said he will make a statement on his stance on next year’s independence referendum – observing shrewdly “I’m going to get asked about it all the time” – but he wants to do some research and talk to people first.

The Yes and No camps are now waiting with bated breath for his verdict. But would a Murray endorsement help make it game, set and match for either side?

One anti-independence campaign source says: “Both sides would just love to have Andy rooting for them. Celebrity endorsement is often 
overrated, but it contributes to a sense of momentum.

“The Olympics did that in many ways – Team GB brought out a sense of Britishness. The Commonwealth Games might do the same thing.”

Some have pointed out that Murray’s historic tennis triumph does not necessarily give him any extra insight into the pros and cons of independence or staying in the UK.

And the new champion won’t have a vote himself in the referendum because, despite his Dunblane origins, he is no longer resident in Scotland. He lives in Surrey, has an English girlfriend and, it might be argued, is therefore more likely to back the Union.

Alex Salmond did his best to claim Murray for Scotland when he unfurled a Saltire in the royal box at the moment of victory. Seen variously as a legitimate celebration or an embarrassing publicity stunt, it succeeded at least in getting the First Minister noticed as part of the story of Murray’s win.

Murray himself has said he is proud to be Scottish, but also proud to be British. He said: “I don’t think there is any contradiction in that.”

But now that even Mr Salmond says he has “a British aspect to my identity”, such a comment does not necessarily amount to a declaration against independence.

In the end, it may not be what Andy Murray says which matters most. The pro-independence campaign’s top priority is creating a sense of confidence among Scots, an optimism about the future and a belief that they can chart a better way.

It was seen as soon as the SNP first won power back in 2007. Mr Salmond hailed the election result, along with a string of Scottish football victories and the successful Commonwealth Games bid, as all reflecting what he liked to call “the mood of optimism sweeping the country”.

And regardless of his own views or even his own sense of identity, Murray’s achievement in winning Wimbledon – the first British male champion for 77 years and the first Scot since 1896 – could in itself be a huge boost for Scottish confidence and self-esteem.

The polls suggest the Yes campaign still has some way to go, but Mr Salmond is a great believer in optimism and he must be hoping the feelgood factor from Wimbledon means Murray has given independence a sporting chance.

The 2014 Commonwealth Games will take place less than two months before the referendum, with the potential for more positive vibes.

Next year’s Wimbledon will also come just ahead of the big vote. If Murray can retain the title, a renewed sense of pride could influence the 
referendum outcome.

The pressure is on again.