Alex Massie

The SNP, Cricket and Soft Unionism

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There were at least a dozen people on my flight from Edinburgh to Cardiff last week who were clearly heading to Wales to watch the test match. This was not a surprise, given that tests held at Headingley and, perhaps especially, Old Trafford attract plenty of spectators from north of the border. There is much more enthusiasm for cricket, and much more cricket actuallly played, in Scotland than many people in England appreciate.

And there's much more cricket in Scotland than some Scots appreciate too. This is especially true of joyless, chippy, narrow-minded, prejudiced nationalist members of the Scottish parliament, plenty of whom see the game as an unwecome, if irrelevent, interloper at best and, doubtless, an agent of English colonialism at worst. This, naturally, is Class-A piffle.

So, it's not a surprise that Sandra White, an SNP MSP from Glasgow, has put down a ridiculous parliamentary motion decrying the amount of attention paid to the Ashes series as "over-the-top" and demanding that cricket be purged from Scottish television screens. Naturally, some of her colleagues support her.

As Scottish Unionist observes, four years ago, Christine Grahame, another SNP MSP, tabled a motion S2M-3274, lamenting the “overwhelming UK-wide coverage of a sport that is of only marginal interest in Scotland”. Indeed, this interest is so marginal that viewing rates in Scotland are as good, and sometimes better, than they are in England. Going further back, the Forfarshire vs Perthshire derby match used to attract crowds of up to 10,000 people, while Aberdeenshire's fixtures at Mannofield could boast similar attendances.

Ms Grahame has tried, unsuccessfully, to be elected as a constituency MSP here in the Borders and might, perhaps, reflect that the cricket clubs in the Border League predate any rugby or football club in the country. Selkirk, for instance, was founded in 1851 and is not even the oldest in the league. It would be nice to think that the cricketing vote has helped ensure that Ms Grahame's campaigning efforts have been unsuccessful.

Quite how disparaging cricket helps the SNP in their efforts to attract support from the asian communities of Glasgow and Edinburgh is also something of a mystery. (Equally, one might note that since live coverage is on SKY, these people are really objecting to coverage on the news... Barmy.)

Nor is there any contradiction between supporting Scogtland at rugby and England at cricket. Or, if there is, then it's one that plenty of Scots are quite happy to go along with. (For that matter, one can perfectly easily support the Scottish national side in its competitions and also want England to win as well. And in fact there are plenty of SNP supporters who fall into this category.)

In that sense, the SNP's dislike of cricket - based on ignorance and prejudice though it may be - has a point: cricket is part of what one might term a kind of cultural Unionism. It's a Unionism that would largey survive even if Scotland were to become an independent country (after all, the Irish retain an interest in cricket) but Soft Unionism is still Unionism. And for the hardliners in the SNP that makes it an enemy, alien force occupying Scotland. Loopy, but also, alas, predictable. They would, presumably, take the same attitude to, say, Shakespeare and other aspects of Soft Unionism.

UPDATE: Left Back in the Changing Room has more, including the fun (if true!) that more people in Scotland watch cricket (or did in 2005) than vote for the SNP.

UPDATE2: My old friend Tom Peterkin piles on, with some nice tales of JM Barrie and Arthur Conan Doyle playing in Kirriemuir.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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