Andy Murray crash-out raises the British/Scottish question

Opinion: If Scotland leaves the union the surviving UK rump state would have to restart its search for the first British male Wimbledon winner since the jazz age

‘Within minutes of Murray’s loss last week, the social media was alive with people wryly commenting that: “Oh I suppose he’s Scottish again now. Ha!” Yes, he is. But no more so than usual.’  Andy Murray during the  men’s singles quarter-final tennis match against Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria at Wimbledon. Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

‘Within minutes of Murray’s loss last week, the social media was alive with people wryly commenting that: “Oh I suppose he’s Scottish again now. Ha!” Yes, he is. But no more so than usual.’ Andy Murray during the men’s singles quarter-final tennis match against Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria at Wimbledon. Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

Sun, Jul 6, 2014, 12:21

Here we go again. Have you noticed that, so far as the UK press is concerned, Andy Murray’s Britishness varies in direct proportion to his brilliance on the court? When he wins he’s British. When he loses he’s Scottish. One year it’s: “Brilliant Brit wins title.” The next it’s: “Hapless Scot crashes out in straight sets.” Thanks, I’ll have another pint and another bucket of scratchings. Have you noticed that? Have you?

No. I haven’t. Because it doesn’t happen. If ever there were a myth that needed (ahem) scotching it is the legend of Murray’s flexible nationality. This is one of those stories the Scottish (and the self-lacerating English) public yearns to believe.

It doesn’t matter that nobody has ever found any evidence in support. It just sounds like the kind of thing that should be true. Within minutes of Murray’s loss last week, the social media was alive with people wryly commenting that: “Oh I suppose he’s Scottish again now. Ha!” Yes, he is. But no more so than usual.

The famously jingoistic Daily Mail, in its report, noted that he had played “as hard as a slab of Scottish granite in the opening four rounds” and then went on to regret that the first “British man to win Wimbledon” in 77 years couldn’t keep it up. So, if anything, the paper was associating his Scottishness with tenaciousness, determination and resistance. He succeeded as a Scot. He failed as a Brit. The BBC’s online piece began by mentioning his Britishness then – following its practice in relation to a certain city on the Foyle – allowed him to become a “Scot” for a while. And so on.

We have the Man in the Pub to thank for this. Over many generations this all-seeing Oracle has dispensed wisdom about the Surrey Panther, fluoride in water, the Princess Diana assassination and equally unreliable myths concerning Marianne Faithfull and popular proprietary chocolate bars. No rubbish is easier to believe than rubbish that makes life more exciting or that chimes with our political beliefs.

The Murray Conspiracy

Indeed, the Great Murray Conspiracy (see also the Great McIlroy Conspiracy) serves as a political signifier for the Man in the Pub’s courtiers. To believe in the myth is to assert your commitment to Scottish identity and your disapproval of malign Sassenach influence.

To reject it is to align yourself with little Englanders, golf-club bores and supporters of Rangers Football Club. (I speak only partly in jest. When I mentioned this recently on Twitter, I immediately received a surge of unwanted “likes” from the vicinity of Ibrox Park.) This is madness. You don’t have to approve of Adolf Hitler to contend that he worked with the traditional number of testicles.

It is all a bit unfair on an athlete who’s done his best to manoeuvre himself away from political controversy. Murray did recently confirm that he didn’t much approve of Alex Salmond waving the Saltire in the Royal Box last year, but more than a few hardened nationalists found that a bit vulgar and inappropriate. The tennis player has made it clear that he will not be commenting on the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence. In the current climate, however, every gesture made by every prominent Scot is parsed for political meaning.

Nobody has any idea what his views are on the matter. But it might be better for all concerned if, come September, the Scottish people finally pulled themselves together and removed themselves from this uneasy Union. No more would we have to listen to tortured conspiracies concerning sportsmen of ambiguous nationality. The BBC would no longer have to issue policy statements on correct usage in this area.

Mind you, this would mean that the surviving UK rump state would have to restart its search for the first British male Wimbledon winner since the jazz age. Can we bear that? Maybe just leave things as they are.

Soccer and Maoism

In other sports news, as the US progressed to a brave defeat in the World Cup, the chatter about the “un-American” nature of soccer continued among right-wing nuts.

There’s something suspect about this tolerance of “ties”. The fact that teams can advance to the knockout stage despite losing speaks of Maoism (although this is exactly what happens in major league baseball).

It was only a matter of time before Ann Coulter, popular far-right blowhard, got her dig in at the sport. Indeed, she has taken two meaty swipes. Responding to outrage at her first column (“Any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation’s moral decay,” it had argued), Ms Coulter decided that the responses only confirmed the rightness of her position.

“Nothing explains the uniform, Borg-like caterwauling, but that soccer is a game for beret-wearers,” she wrote. This is a bad thing, apparently.

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