Brian Monteith: Slating Hoy won’t win argument

Sir Chris Hoy. Picture: Getty
Sir Chris Hoy. Picture: Getty
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HE’S Scotland’s most successful Olympic athlete – ever. Indeed, in terms of gold medals he’s the most successful British Olympian of all time. He’s an 11-time world champion and in the sport of cycling the most successful athlete ever.

And yet this son of Edinburgh has a modesty and humility that many of today’s sportsmen and women could learn from.

Chris Hoy is a man to be admired, a role model that inspires others to better themselves, someone we should be proud of and thankful to for all that he has done for Edinburgh, Scotland and, yes, Great Britain.

But there’s the problem, Chris Hoy’s greatest moments have come as a member of a British Olympic team. And for commenting on how leaving the UK might affect Scottish sportsmen and women in the short term he has now become a target for verbal bullying, bile and bitterness. Sadly it is a symptom of the type of personal abuse that is becoming all too common as we approach the independence referendum – and we still have sixteen months before the vote finally comes.

Conscious that he is a Scotsman that has represented Britain at the highest level and that politicians might seek to associate themselves with him for the benefit of their own arguments that he might not agree with or endorse, Sir Chris Hoy has been careful not to involve himself actively in taking sides with the Yes Scotland or Better Together campaigns. He has attended functions and made speeches with the First Minister Alex Salmond and been to Downing Street as the guest of the Prime Minister David Cameron.

When asked about independence he refuses to say how he will vote. This week on BBC Radio 5 Live he commented: “I’ve said numerous times how proud I am to be Scottish and how proud I have been to compete for Britain, too, and I don’t think these two things necessarily have to be mutually exclusive.”

Well he’s right there, they are not mutually exclusive, that is the whole part of being British. Indeed you can be a proud Scottish, British and European golfer for the Ryder Cup team – the point is the same, you don’t lose your Scottishness but you are able to build and become part of a stronger team. It might be called being better together and weaker apart – my words, not Hoy’s – but the obvious analogy is what clearly upsets some thin-skinned nationalists who have rushed to attack him.

For his simple statement of fact Hoy was attacked on the internet as a “traitor”, an “Uncle Tom”, a “public schoolboy” (clearly not a sin when he won those medals), a “bigoted anti-Scot” and more.

Hoy’s further comments show how nasty his critics are for although he said that independence would pose a challenge for Scottish athletes he qualified this by saying, “It’s not to say it’s impossible but it would just be a different challenge.” Talk about stating the blindingly obvious.

Hoy has had to move south to train at the highest level, just as Andy Murray had to go to Barcelona for his tennis coaching. Not every facility or top coach can or will be accessible in an independent Scotland, new obstacles could therefore be put in the way of our athletes and it is a mixture of ignorance and sheer stupidity to think otherwise.

In time much of this might be resolved but there are no guarantees. The Yes Campaign tries to assure us that all that is good or at least popular with the public about Britain will remain while other things will improve beyond recognition.

I find this a very difficult argument to take seriously.

Since devolution arrived in 1999, Scotland has had complete control over its health system (as well as education, housing, policing and much else) and yet when it comes to league tables in heart disease, alcoholism, obesity, various cancers and many other ailments we are regularly amongst the worst in the Western World. Time and again we are embarrassed by our own failings but it is our own political policies applied here in Scotland by Scottish politicians – not those of England or Britain – that have failed us.

Why, even in education, where we once led the world, we have now been overtaken by England in the international comparisons – and this week it was shown that our policy of no tuition fees has made no difference to the numbers of students from the poorest backgrounds entering university whilst in England more money has been available and access for the poorest has improved.

The point is that the outcomes of wealth, health or sporting success are determined by what we choose to do with the powers we have. Simply having more rather than making the best use of them – which may mean sharing them if that gives Scotland better chances – is in fact the patriotic choice.

Sir Chris Hoy has done his best to be fair to all sides. Being part of the UK offers many positive opportunities and some negative limitations. He should be congratulated for his honesty – while his critics should be condemned by the court of public opinion.