Glasgow Games Fail To Give Scottish Nationalists a Lift Ahead of Televised Debate

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond talks during a pre-Commonwealth Games news conference in Glasgow Russell Cheyne/Reuters

Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games have ended with Scotland united in triumph, doubling its tally of medals since Delhi hosted the tournament four years ago.

Now a murkier, more complex contest prepares to take place. Whether Scots can cheer together once more, remains to be seen. The 2014 Commonwealth Games charmed millions of global viewers - and Usain Bolt - with tartans, lawn bowls and The Proclaimers. However, Glasgow’s stellar showcase of Scottish national identity has failed to give the Scottish National Party a lift ahead of September’s independence referendum, a poll by Survation shows.

Support for Scottish independence has fallen by one point to 40% since the closing of the Commonwealth Games, Reuters reports, while the number of those voting to remain in the United Kingdom has not changed since July at 46% throughout the games. 14% said they were still undecided.

The results of the poll come before tonight’s first televised debate on the referendum between First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond and ‘Better Together’ campaign leader Alistair Darling at 20:00 BST.

Although both campaigns had publicly agreed to keep the Commonwealth Games apolitical, with six weeks between the closing ceremony and Scots heading to the poll on 18 September, the referendum has remained a hot topic.

“The games and ceremonies very skilfully avoided overt political overtones, but that does not mean they were apolitical,” Alex Linklater, Newsweek correspondent in Scotland says.

“They filled an important emotional gap in the debate,” Linklater adds. “There is much more to Scottish independence that economic reductionism!”

Despite the lack of drastic impact on the polls, the referendum's most popular Twitter hashtag #IndyRef saw a huge spike in traffic during the games’ closing ceremony with close to 3000 posts at 9pm - almost five times as many uses of the hashtag as two hours prior, according to tracker site

Indeed, First Minister Alex Salmond had previously stated that Scotland’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games and golf's Ryder Cup made 2014 a good time to hold a vote on ending 307 years of union with England.

“The games were, rather brilliantly, a mirror for one’s own predilections,” says Alex Linklater.

“Either Glasgow 2014 was an example of a self confident Scottishness capable of being independent within the Commonwealth, or it was a celebration of the unity and Britishness of the commonwealth,” he adds.

Tonight’s televised debate between Salmond and Darling will be the first time leaders on both sides of the campaign will square off on the key issues surrounding Scottish independence on live television.

“The games must surely be a talking point in the debate tonight: because neither side has had anything culturally interesting to say to date,” says Alex. “The easy populism of the games will be a gasp of air for both Salmond and Darling.”

It was not a day after Kylie Minogue had sung the final notes of Glasgow 2014’s closing ceremony on Sunday that Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon candidly told the Observer the ‘Yes’ campaign would capitalise on the games’ “feelgood factor”.

“As we come out of the Commonwealth Games at the weekend, that is us in the final straight of the campaign and you will see that momentum quite visibly,” she added.

Nick Clegg, her counterpart in Westminster, was sceptical and critical of his colleague's tactics.

"I think it was very misplaced and gauche of Nicola Sturgeon this morning to try and extract political advantage from the Commonwealth Games," he said.

Despite the furore among politicians, ahead of tonight’s debate, there seems to be little indication in the polls that Glasgow 2014 has made a contribution to Scotland’s impending nationwide vote.

Martin Boon, director of ICM Research, questions the effect the games can make on the polls. He told the Guardian: “People are unlikely to change their voting intentions based on passing things like the Bannockburn anniversary, or how many gold medals a team of athletes win.”

But Linklater thinks a cultural reference like the Commonwealth Games is exactly what the debate has lacked up until now.

“Both campaigns have been culturally illiterate,” he says. “My intuition is that the campaigns will both step up now and the Glaswegian games will have an impact.”

“I don’t really trust the polls,” he added.

“What happens in September will happen because of a much more pre-cognitive reason than a few thousand pounds of GDP more or less.”