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Scottish Olympic Team

– in the Scottish Parliament at 10:23 am on 6th October 2005.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 10:23 am, 6th October 2005

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-3381, in the name of Michael Matheson, on the Scottish Olympic team.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party 10:36 am, 6th October 2005

Anyone who is ambitious for sport in Scotland wants to see our competitors competing at the highest possible level on the international stage. That is why I believe that Scotland should have its own Olympic team, competing in the Olympic games alongside the other Olympic nations.

A range of members across this chamber will be riddled with self-doubt over whether Scotland can have its own Olympic team and whether we have the talent to have our own Olympic team. Others will think, "Well, Scotland really shouldn't get above its station." In fact, there is nothing to stop Scotland forming its own national Olympic committee. Of the 202 national Olympic committees in the world, 13 do not have national status at the United Nations. They include two teams from the Virgin Islands, and teams from the Cayman Islands, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Andorra, to name just a few. Despite not being represented at the UN, they are ambitious for their sportsmen and women and want them to participate every four years in the biggest sporting event in the world.

In the unionist alliance, there are those who would doubt those facts. Let me refer them to a quotation from the International Olympic Committee:

"Although most National Olympic Committees are from nations, the IOC also recognises independent territories, commonwealths, protectorates and geographical areas."

I concede that Scotland is not an independent nation—yet—but the last time that I looked at a map we were certainly a geographical area. The Olympic charter makes it clear that Scotland can have its own national Olympic committee. The criteria that are set down make that possible. There is no technical or legal reason why we should not have our own team.

There are those in the chamber who would say that Scottish athletes are better off training and competing alongside the Great Britain squad for the Olympics. That is what Jamie McGrigor is trying to say in his rambling amendment, in which—despite being a die-hard unionist—he shows that he does not know the difference between a union jack and a union flag.

Some say that we would be better off competing under the GB system, but that strikes me as an argument for abolishing any form of independent representation for Scotland on the international field. Let us get rid of the Scottish football team, the Scottish rugby team, and the Scottish Commonwealth games team. If we believe the argument, those teams would all do better under the GB flag.

However, I know that even the Executive is not persuaded by that argument. The Executive wants to encourage Scottish athletes to train and compete here in Scotland. Target 7 of sport 21, the Executive's sports policy, wants to make

"sport experience so attractive and successful that all Scottish athletes will want to live, train, compete, work and study in Scotland".

I support that view and I am sure that many others in the chamber support it too. To argue that our athletes would be better off under the GB system is contrary to the Executive's own policy.

The Olympics are coming to London in 2012. I believe that that will provide Scotland with an excellent opportunity to join the Olympic family by having its own team. We have talented athletes who can compete on the international stage. At the previous two Olympic games, Scottish sportsmen and women succeeded in securing 13 medals. What we need to do, with our own Olympic team, is to build on that success and ensure that we achieve even greater success in the future.

The Olympic games are not just about winning; they are about participating. A benefit of having our own Olympic team is that it would increase the opportunity for Scottish sportsmen and women to participate in the biggest sporting event in the world. At the most recent Olympic games, only 24 Scots made it into the GB team, whereas New Zealand, with only 4 million people, was able to send a team of 150. If more of our athletes can compete at the pinnacle of sporting events, that will encourage them to strive further and act as a catalyst for young people to get much more involved in sport.

The key objectives in sport 21 are to ensure that we widen participation, increase physical activity and ensure that Scotland has greater representation on the international stage. Those are all Executive objectives in its existing policy, but surely they would be much more achievable if we had our own Olympic team. That would increase and widen participation, give us greater representation on the international stage, and enthuse our young people to participate in sport.

Last week, an ambitious campaign was launched to establish a Scottish Olympic team. The campaign has the support of some 78 per cent of the Scottish public. They are ambitious for Scotland's athletes. There is no technical reason why Scotland cannot have its own Olympic team. What we need is the political will to ensure that it happens. What we need is for Scotland's politicians to demonstrate that they are as ambitious as the Scottish people for our athletes to compete at the highest level. I hope that members across the chamber—even unionists—will join us in supporting the campaign to ensure that Scotland establishes its own Olympic team. By doing that, we will ensure that Scottish athletes will participate in the biggest sporting event in the world.

I move,

That the Parliament congratulates London on securing the 2012 Olympic Games, which will encourage many young Scots to become involved in sport; welcomes the recent launch of a campaign to establish a Scottish Olympic team; notes that 78 per cent of Scots support the establishment of such a team; recognises that the creation of a Scottish Olympic team will inspire many young Scots to achieve sporting excellence in order to represent their nation in the Olympic arena, and calls on politicians from across the political spectrum to rise up to the challenge set by the people of Scotland and work to establish a Scottish Olympic team.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour 10:43 am, 6th October 2005

I warmly congratulate London on winning the right to stage the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. I was pleased to note the unequivocal support in the Scottish National Party motion for the London games. It might be said, however, that Michael Matheson doth protest too much. He must surely forgive the rest of us a little confusion, given some of the support that his party has given London over the past 12 months.

Here is Pete Wishart showing support on 13 October 2004:

"It is now clear to the Scottish people that this is another example of Scotland pays and London gains."

Then we had Alex Neil saying on 17 January 2005:

"This is Dome Mark 2."

Even better, on 27 June we had Mr Neil writing to the IOC to suggest that Scotland would lose out if London won the games. He stated:

"I hope that the IOC will bear Scotland in mind when making their decision."

Within days of the IOC making its positive decision to host the games in London, the SNP was still desperately trying to undermine the UK's case.

I do not dispute that the SNP is expressing support for the London games, but it has an odd way of showing its support. That takes us to the heart of the matter: in the world of the SNP, the term "London" is a metonym for England. The SNP speaks of London politicians, the London Treasury and the London Government; it avoids the word "England", but no one is fooled. The real reason for the SNP's equivocation on the London games is the fear that strikes in nationalist hearts that a great British event will cement the unity in diversity and the collective national spirit of the nations that make up the United Kingdom.

For the SNP, the issue is not a separate Olympic team per se. That is merely the vehicle to reduce the debate to a vain attempt to undermine the constitutional settlement, as the SNP does with every debate, from that on our evening news to the famed Sewel motion on the carriage of guide dogs for the blind in private hire taxis. The party that wants a separate state finds itself praying in aid the constitutional status of the British Virgin Islands and Guam in its quest to have fewer Scottish medallists in 2012. The London games are an opportunity for Britain and Scotland to enjoy on our doorstep the biggest and greatest sporting event. The games will allow athletes from throughout Britain to fulfil a lifetime ambition, not only of winning an Olympic medal as part of team GB but of doing so on home turf.

The fact that Scotland is part of a British team does not mean that we do not have ambitions of our own. The Scottish Government wants Scotland to be a successful sporting nation that competes on the world stage with pride, honour and distinction. We recognise the role that sport plays, internationally as well as at home, in promoting understanding and co-operation, breaking down barriers and celebrating diversity. We have ambitions for our athletes—we want them to realise their potential and to attain success at the highest level, be that European, world, Commonwealth or Olympic competitions. However, we must be realistic about how and where those ambitions can be realised.

There are many reasons why the Executive does not support the call to create a Scottish Olympic team, but none of them is to do with lack of ambition. Our ambition is demonstrated by our determination to bring the 2014 Commonwealth games to Glasgow. A combination of the strengths of all parts of Great Britain offers a greater chance of international success and the opportunity for athletes to train with a larger pool of world-class competitors. Scottish athletes with the talent to attain GB squad membership gain from competing with and against athletes of a similar calibre—it is good for their development. We certainly have exceptionally talented Scots who have given truly great performances on the Olympic stage.

We come to the downside of the SNP's proposal. When Scots cheered for Kelly Holmes, they were sharing in the delight at the success of a compatriot. Are they to be denied that? The majority of Scots' medal successes on the Olympic stage have come when they have been part of a team of athletes from the home countries. For example, Shirley Robertson's gold medal in Athens was won in a team event with two non-Scots and Chris Hoy's silver in Sydney was won in a team with another Scot, Craig MacLean, and Jason Queally of England.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Does the minister accept that SNP members and the 78 per cent of people in Scotland who would like a Scottish team in the Olympics will continue to cheer on outstanding individuals such as Kelly Holmes? However, that is nothing whatever to do with the desire to have a Scottish team. Why should we have a Scottish football team, but not a Scottish Olympic team?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I had a funny feeling that we might get to that issue at the end of the day. Scotland's sporting participation is rather like the devolution settlement: just as we determine health and education matters in Scotland and social security and defence matters in Britain, so we can participate in football and the Commonwealth games as Scotland, but in the Davis cup and the Olympic games as Britain. Just as with the devolution settlement, the only people who find that to be a problem are nationalist ideologues—the issue is not what is theoretically possible, but what is best for Scotland.

Mr Ewing has said implicitly that he wants to deny Scottish members of teams the opportunity to contribute to the GB medal tally. Scottish athletes will contribute to strong GB teams in 2012 and in the future. Is the SNP really saying that we should deny Shirley Robertson the chance to win gold as part of one of those teams? I sincerely hope that it is not. Scots have done well through being part of strong GB teams at the Olympics and the Paralympics. Selection for a GB team means that athletes are of a certain standard—they are the best in Britain, not just in Scotland. Arguably, Scotland enjoys the best of both worlds, by competing as Scotland in the Commonwealth games and as part of the GB or UK set-up for the Olympics, certain world championships and other events.

For all those reasons, the Executive does not support the move to create a separate Scottish Olympic team. However, the Scottish Parliament can rest assured that we and sportscotland will continue to work with our partners to ensure that as many Scots as possible are selected as part of a successful GB Olympic team. Mr Matheson was keen to quote from the IOC charter. However, we must not ignore the founding principles of the Olympic games. The point is that people of all races come together to observe the ancient concept of the Olympic truce. The Olympic games are about pulling together, not about pulling apart.

I move amendment S2M-3381.2, to leave out from "recent launch" to end and insert:

"Scottish bid to secure the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014; recognises that these two events would provide an unparalleled opportunity within the United Kingdom for Scots to perform at the highest level, and notes that both events would provide a major impetus to participation and performance in sport at all levels, with all the health and other benefits that brings."

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 10:51 am, 6th October 2005

The Conservatives appreciate very much the enormous effort of Sebastian Coe and his team to secure the Olympic games for the United Kingdom, unlike the SNP, which said that the bid was a waste of money. The success was achieved against all the odds. Sebastian Coe came to the Scottish Parliament to lobby for our support and I am sure that the support that he gained here played no small part in that great victory. Had the bid been seen just as an English bid, I doubt whether it would have won. Once again, the strength of the United Kingdom proved its worth.

The Olympic charter, which was established by Pierre de Coubertin, states:

"The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport".

That is particularly important during the turbulent and violent times in which we live. The Olympic goal of achieving excellence in a sporting and friendly atmosphere in which competitors strive to give their best and to be the best is thrilling. I do not like the SNP's politically motivated call for a separate Scottish Olympic team, as it questions the loyalty of past Scottish Olympic heroes who fought valiantly to win medals for the Great Britain team, as did their Welsh, English and Irish counterparts.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

No, I want to make progress.

Different loyalties to national identity do not have to be divided loyalties. Many sports have traditionally been played at GB level, a structure that has served the United Kingdom, athletes and Scottish sport well since the modern Olympic games started in 1896. Why change something that works well? I am afraid that the SNP motion is sour grapes from the party that would sacrifice Scotland's position as a big fish in a successful British union to become a far less significant player on the European or world stage.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

Not at the moment.

The United Kingdom has greater influence in Europe and the rest of the world than an independent Scotland would have. In the same way, team GB is far more powerful in the Olympic games than a Scottish team on its own would be. Chris Hoy, a gold medallist in cycling, in commenting on Linda Fabiani's suggestion for a Scottish Olympic team, said:

"I think if we do that it would dilute the resources and the expertise we've got in the British team."

He went on to say that he is a very proud Scot. The SNP does not have a monopoly on patriotism and it should not try to make the Olympics a political issue.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Mr McGrigor, you have one minute left.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

The SNP has been consistent only in its blatant opportunism. First, Alex Neil called the UK's bid for the 2012 Olympics a waste of public money. Then, the SNP supported Glasgow's 2014 bid for the Commonwealth games, which we also support. However, the SNP called on the Scottish Executive to ask Westminster for lottery funding for the Commonwealth games, even though it had said that the Olympic games are a waste of money. By doing that, the SNP has shown a talent for muddling that has more to do with promoting its nationalist agenda than with promoting Scottish sport effectively in the UK, Europe and the world beyond.

Successful Scottish athletes have enjoyed the best training facilities and coaching that the UK has to offer. Ask Shirley Robertson, the sailing gold medallist, or Katherine Grainger, the rowing silver medallist, where they trained. If Scotland were to go it alone, as the SNP would like it to do, our athletes would have reduced resources in terms of facilities and coaching expertise.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

Does Mr McGrigor accept that talented athletes from all over the world train in different places all over the world? Does he also accept that the facilities in the UK are owned as much by Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as they are by England?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

If you take an intervention after your time is up, Mr McGrigor, you must answer very quickly.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

A Scottish team on its own would probably not get the English facilities, because in an independent Scotland those facilities would have to be paid for.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Mr McGrigor, you must stop now.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

I ask the Scottish Executive to use the power and influence that it holds for the time being to promote areas of Scotland—

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Mr McGrigor, you seem to be utterly oblivious to the warnings I gave you that you had one minute left, that you were over your time and that you must stop now. For the avoidance of doubt, you have stopped now.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

I move amendment S2M-3381.1, to leave out from "London" to end and insert:

"the Great British effort, led by Sebastian Coe, which secured the 2012 Olympic Games for London; recognises that this will greatly encourage young people from Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England to participate in sport and in the quest for Olympic glory for individuals and Team GB; acknowledges the pride of the many Scots who have competed successfully for Team GB; notes that different loyalties do not have to be divided loyalties and that many sports have traditionally been played at GB level, a structure which has served the United Kingdom, athletes and Scottish sport well since the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896; welcomes the news that Hampden Park will host the Olympic football and urges the Scottish Executive to promote other venues in Scotland, such as mountain biking at Fort William, rowing at Strathclyde Park and equestrianism at Gleneagles; further notes that Scottish athletes who compete for Great Britain under the Union Jack do not cease to be Scottish, and believes that, by pooling resources and expertise, Great Britain can compete successfully against much larger nations, providing invaluable experience for the athletes and a source of great national pride for sports fans."

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 10:56 am, 6th October 2005

Michael Matheson made an exceptionally good speech; he put forward the best possible case for his point of view, which holds some attractions, but I do not share it. On balance, and for the following reasons, I am content to support Patricia Ferguson's amendment.

First, there is a variety of bases for international teams. One of the most successful recent ones has been the change from a UK to a European golf team, which functions extremely successfully. The basis for teams is historical. Scotland was a prime mover in starting international football and rugby, so it has a team in those sports. Other areas, such as the Olympic games and the Davis cup, work in a different way. That is how history is.

The argument that all sorts of countries that are not nation states are members of the Olympic movement sounds good, but I am interested in any examples that Michael Matheson or anyone else can give me of existing nation states that have been disassembled only for Olympic purposes and not for any other purposes. There is a difference. With all due respect, Scotland is a bit different from the British Virgin Islands.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

No. We do not have long enough for our speeches.

In 1956, I was arguably the runner-up and failed to get into the British Olympic team for the 800m. If there had been a Scottish team, I would probably have got into it, so there is an attraction in having a Scottish team. However, it is better to stay as we are and accept that we do our best within a United Kingdom team; many benefits arise from that set-up, as Patricia Ferguson said.

I fully support the London bid, which will benefit the United Kingdom as a whole, but it will reduce the amount of lottery money that is available to support sporting and other causes in Scotland. The Executive must ensure that that reduction is made up, either by Government funds or in some other way. The key is to have the strongest possible grass-roots sport. All parties accept that, although we might disagree on how to achieve it. If we provide more financial and personal support, more influence and better facilities for grass-roots sport, we will have more good sportspeople—it will not matter if they perform in some sports for the United Kingdom and in some sports for Scotland. We need to have as many good, young sportspeople as possible. I am sure that the minister will attend to that. We must all ensure that she does.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 11:00 am, 6th October 2005

I commend Michael Matheson for the way in which he moved the motion. He put the case, clearly and comprehensively, for Scotland to send its own Olympic team to London in 2012. None of his major arguments have been tackled by the speakers thus far. The minister refused to say why Scotland can have her own football team but not her own Olympic team. Interestingly, she did not respond to Mr Matheson's argument that there is no technical or legal barrier to Scotland having her own team, although at one time those who espouse the British-team-only cause argued that because Scotland is not an independent nation state, she would be barred. Of course, that is absolutely not the case.

We learned from this debate that Donald Gorrie could not get into the British Olympic team, although he could have participated in a Scottish Olympic team, but that is not enough to put us off pursuing the motion. I would have loved to see Donald Gorrie take part in the Olympics, had I been of the right age.

No one has addressed the fact that, from testing the opinions of more than 1,000 people, we know that nearly four out of five people in Scotland want Scotland to have her own team. I accept Jamie McGrigor's point that no one has a monopoly on patriotism, but that is not our argument: we argue that everybody should have the chance to compete for our own country of Scotland. The snide and disparaging remarks that were made by the minister and, uncharacteristically, by Jamie McGrigor do us a disservice. Those who have led the grass-roots campaign are disappointed that the comments appear to be based on a partisan agenda. They argue that the debate should be about not politics, but what is best for Scotland, which is why we believe that Scotland should have her own team.

I will dwell on my experience of promoting aspiring athletes at grass-roots level. I agree with Donald Gorrie that that is where we should direct our attention. A great many talented athletes in places such as Badenoch and Strathspey in my constituency aspire to compete in the winter Olympics in Turin next year in, for example, skiing and snowboarding. They tell me that there are opportunities at grass-roots level and at the very top level, where the cream get support, but that in the middle we have no rungs on the ladder. That is a serious problem. The minister, who is shaking her head, does not seem to accept that that problem exists.

I am proud and delighted that we are moving the motion. Outwith this chamber, there will be none of the petty personal attacks or the professional fouls that we have seen this morning, with the minister as usual playing the man, not the ball. There will simply be a recognition that the idea's time has come. Scotland should take her place on the international stage, not as part of Donald Gorrie's euroland team, but as part of the Scottish team in the Olympic games, with our athletes doing their best, taking part and winning medals for our own country.

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour 11:04 am, 6th October 2005

If I were in a political party that aspired to Government, but which had just lost two by-elections, I would have hoped that my party had learned some lessons and that it would focus on the issues that matter to the people of Scotland. The fact that we are debating more of the nonsense for which the SNP is renowned shows that it has learned nothing and that it has no policies beyond the hyperbolic ravings of Alex Salmond.

Make no mistake: this debate is not about a vision of a better Scotland. Even worse, it has nothing to do with the interests of Scotland's athletes. Just ask Olympic cycling champion Chris Hoy, who warned us that dividing the United Kingdom into its constituent nations would weaken the chances of British cyclists competing at the highest level.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

Does the member agree that, although Chris Hoy is such a talented athlete, we have no training facility in Scotland to encourage others to follow in his footsteps?

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour

Yes, which is why we should concentrate on providing those facilities, not on breaking up the GB team.

The fact is that, rather than supporting London's games, which the Scottish National Party claims in its motion to do, the SNP has consistently tried to find fault with them. In doing so, it has done nothing more than expose its enmity towards Britain and England. That attitude is, simply, at odds with that of the majority of Scots. Not only is 2012 a genuine opportunity for our home-grown talent to shine, but it presents Scotland with the opportunity for massive economic benefits and gives us a chance to showcase Scottish sports facilities ahead of Glasgow's bid to host the Commonwealth games in 2014.

I fear that all that is a bigger vision than the SNP can contend with so, while our focus for 2012 should be on ensuring that as many Scots as possible are selected for team GB and have the best possible support available, the SNP looks inwards and throws a tartan tantrum.

When Colin Montgomery sank the winning putt in the Ryder cup, he was subsequently and rightly hailed as a Scottish sporting hero. How proud was Scotland last week when Andrew Murray led Britain in the Davis cup? However, why was there no outcry from the SNP to try to stop our Scottish golfers taking part in a European team and sharing glory with the Irish, the French and the other nationalities? Why were there no pleas for a Scottish tennis team in the Davis cup? The one difference is that those events were not associated with the Olympic games in London.

I look forward to seeing the Scottish successors to Wells, Wilkie and Hoy in 2012. I will be cheering them, along with the successors to Linford Christie, Daley Thompson, Kelly Holmes and Steve Redgrave. Those are the type of athletes who have made me proud when they competed as British athletes in the past.

Scots can win in London in 2012, but they will have a genuine chance to do so only if they are part of a well-resourced and properly supported British team. This morning, the SNP has said quite clearly that it would rather have the mediocrity of 100 than the excellence of 25. We should be focusing on that excellence, not on petty nationalism. It might be good enough for the SNP merely to have Scots participate in a Scottish team in 2012, but I want those who are good enough to compete with the best and to bring home medals to do so as Scots, for Scotland and Britain.

Photo of Colin Fox Colin Fox SSP 11:07 am, 6th October 2005

Presiding Officer, I have been away too long, as any fair-minded person would agree. I thank members and members of staff for the warm welcome back that we have been given after our month away.

I will always remember how I heard the news that London had secured the 2012 Olympic bid. I was walking up the main street in Auchterarder when a woman opened her door and shouted, "Have you heard the news?" I asked whether the police had gone on the radio to say that the G8 demonstration would be going ahead rather than being cancelled, which they had said in their previous announcement. "No," she said, "London's won the Olympics." As someone who lived in London for eight years, I was overjoyed. I share London's joy not least because a big part of the Olympic stadium will be built in Hackney in east London, which definitely needs such investment. Having been there again recently, for a stop the war demonstration, I know that people in the east end of London are looking forward to the Olympics coming to their part of the world.

I suspect that this debate about establishing a Scottish Olympic team is linked to the case for independence for Scotland and I also suspect that we will not get the Olympic team until we have independence.

Michael Matheson made a fair point when he said that we already have a Scottish football team in a truly worldwide organisation. That point is fairer than the one about our rugby and Commonwealth games teams because few countries are involved in those events compared with the number that are involved in the Olympics. However, the logic of the Executive's argument seems flawed. If the minister's logic were followed, we would not have a Scottish football team but a single team comprising Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England—a Great Britain football team. To be fair to the minister and the Labour members, I accept that they are not arguing for that. Nonetheless, that is the logic of their case.

I agree that the spirit of the motion is about encouraging young Scots to become involved in sport and to fulfil their potential. That means ensuring that those youngsters get access to the best coaches and facilities that we can provide. When I was in the Strathclyde University athletics team, I had the benefit of having the coaching expertise of Frank Dick at my disposal. The coaching was great. It did not do my athletics career much good, but you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

Will Colin Fox give us his views on the talented athletes scholarship scheme and the fact that, of the 107 athletes on the scholars programme for 2012, only one is based in Scotland?

Photo of Colin Fox Colin Fox SSP

It often seems to be the case that when Scottish athletes reach a certain level of ability, they have to go to America or elsewhere to further their career and ensure that they reach higher standards. That is to be regretted and I hope that, in the not too distant future, they will be able to reach their full potential in Scotland.

However, regardless of whether our athletes are in a GB team or a Scottish team, the Scottish Parliament has to make a commitment to them that we will ensure that those coaching facilities are available.

Baron de Coubertin's idea of the Olympic spirit is completely at odds with a spirit that is all too prevalent in the world today and which can be seen in the spirit of the G8. The Olympic spirit is a democratic spirit. Yes, it is a competitive spirit, but it holds uppermost the idea that we can all take part at the highest level and that medals are meaningless unless everyone competes. That is exactly at odds with the spirit of the G8, which is undemocratic and elitist.

Photo of Mr Bruce McFee Mr Bruce McFee Scottish National Party 11:12 am, 6th October 2005

The London Olympics in 2012 provide the ideal circumstances for the first Scottish Olympic team. We have already heard that there is no legal impediment to a Scottish Olympic team. However, there is a political—or rather a unionist—obstacle. Unionist politicians have today objected to a Scottish Olympic team in a way that displays an absolute poverty of ambition and is an attempt to dampen the aspirations of the Scottish people and their athletes.

Of course, the minister says that she has aspirations for Scottish athletes and for Scotland—as long as those aspirations are not too high, because we do not want to get above our station.

I agree with her on one point, however, which might surprise her. We should not let nationalist ideology determine our sporting future. On that point we are agreed. That is why we in the SNP reject the narrow British nationalism that is advanced in the Labour and Tory amendments today.

The SNP supports Glasgow's bid for the 2014 Commonwealth games. However, by deleting all references to a Scottish Olympic team, the Labour amendment has the effect of suggesting that having a Scottish Olympic team and bidding for the 2014 Commonwealth games would be mutually exclusive and that, somehow, it is possible for Scottish athletes to perform at the highest level in a Scottish Commonwealth games team but not in a Scottish Olympic games team.

The Tory amendment displays the same old unionist cringe as the Labour amendment, with the addition of the strains of "Rule Britannia" reverberating through it—"It's team GB versus the world, we'll take them all on." The Tory amendment says that

"by pooling resources and expertise, Great Britain can compete successfully against much larger nations".

The implication of that statement is that smaller nations cannot so compete.

That is nonsense, particularly when we consider the most recent winter Olympics. Team GB, competing against the world, came 19th with two medals. Norway, which has a similar population to Scotland, came second with 24 medals; Finland came seventh with seven medals; and Estonia, with 1.5 million people, came 17th with three medals. The fact is that those smaller nations have the opportunity to bring forward a higher number of athletes to participate in the Olympics than is currently the case for Scotland.

I turn my attention to football. Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president, appears to have decreed that there will be a GB football team for the 2012 London Olympics. As we all know, there has always been a group within football that questions the right of the home nations to compete independently on the international stage. Given the comments that we have heard today, I have no doubt that that view will find some favour among the British nationalists in the Parliament. However, members should be in no doubt that a GB Olympic football team will put us on a slippery slope to a permanent GB international squad. That is why Scottish football supporters should—for once, at least—back the SFA, resist the attempts to strengthen our Britishness, which Jack Straw would advocate, and reject the idea of a GB football team.

If members believe that Scotland should retain its own football team and that Scottish athletes should be able to compete fully at all levels, they should back the only sensible option, which is a Scottish Olympic team.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour 11:16 am, 6th October 2005

In how many directions can the SNP face at one time? On international sport, the answer is clear. Before I get to the guts of my speech I will comment on Bruce McFee's point about the previous winter Olympics. It is no surprise that countries such as Estonia and Norway do better than much larger countries. That is obvious, given that the winter Olympics was designed for the Nordic countries and the sports in which they compete. It is no surprise that Estonia and Norway will probably do better than even the United States of America, given the sports that comprise the winter Olympics.

We are debating the summer Olympics in 2012. Let us be honest. The SNP did not want the UK to host the games because—shock, horror—the bid was from London. After two failed bids by Manchester, it was quite clear that the United Kingdom would attract the Olympic games for the third time only if the bid was anchored by London. Those of us who supported that bid should be congratulated and those who did not support it should be condemned; they gave it no support at the time and they are giving it only grudging support now.

It would be useful if, instead of just going on about the 2012 summer Olympics, we got behind Glasgow's bid for the 2014 Commonwealth games. However, the SNP cannot get fully behind even that bid. In The Press and Journal last month, Fergus Ewing complained that, yet again, it was the central belt that would get investment and not his particular region. Presumably, some people in the SNP would have preferred the Commonwealth games bid to have come from Inverness. Their approach is, "If it ain't coming from Inverness, we will not get behind Glasgow." That sums up not just the petty nationalism but the petty regionalism that the SNP displays in some aspects of this debate.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

This is all very amusing, but will the member answer a serious point that Janette Anderson made recently in the chamber? She said that the decision may be extremely damaging to the Scottish economy because, to meet the huge transport projects for the London Olympics, capacity will be sucked out of Scotland. Does Scott Barrie think, as the First Minister does, that Janette Anderson—the chief executive of First Engineering, which is one of Scotland's leading companies—was, and I quote, "an idiot"?

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour

I thank Fergus Ewing for illustrating my point. He is paying only lip service to London's successful bid for the 2012 Olympics and he does not want Glasgow to get the 2014 Commonwealth games.

International sport is a complex issue and there is an interesting question about whether people should compete—as we want them to—for the joy of competing in sport at all levels or whether they want to compete at the highest level. That question is sewn up in the Olympic games, given that in some sports some people are clearly head and shoulders above the rest.

Tennis is a sport that is only tenuously linked to the Olympics. It is clear that our number 1 tennis player in Scotland will soon be the number 1 tennis player in the United Kingdom. He competed in his first Davis cup last month, although unfortunately he did not play to his best. However, the only way in which he will ever be able to compete at international level is through a GB team. That goes not just for tennis but for a load of other sports, because we require a critical mass—

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I apologise for being late, Presiding Officer.

As a point of information, in the Davis cup the GB team is now relegated to second or third ranking. I ask the member not to be a narrow nationalist when he talks about sport. He should talk about whether a Scottish team would engender a greater sporting performance in Scotland.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Mr Barrie, you should be finishing now.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour

I do not wish to correct Margo MacDonald, but she will realise that Britain failed to get promoted in the Davis cup. It is not that we were relegated. There is a slight difference. [ Laughter. ]

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour

People are laughing, but if they knew anything about the Davis cup they would know that we were competing to get promoted into the world league, not to get relegated from it.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Mr Barrie, you should be finishing now.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour

The point is that the SNP is not fully behind the London bid and is not even fully behind the Glasgow bid.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 11:21 am, 6th October 2005

Not only do we support the Executive's amendment, but we seek to avoid generalisations. I say that because, over the years, everything is changing. For example, tug-of-war, in which parliamentarians would excel, has been given up as an Olympic sport, as have cricket and that great Scottish game, golf; not to mention rugby, rink hockey and rackets. In the ancient Olympic games, married women were not allowed to participate or to watch but unmarried women could attend the competition and Demeter, goddess of fertility, was given a privileged position next to the stadium altar. I am reassured that we live in more modern times and that those ancient practices have disappeared into oblivion.

This morning, we should place our wholehearted support behind Scottish sportsmen and women, recognising the supreme value of sport in promoting good health, improving self-esteem and fostering a strong sense of community and teamwork. My conviction is that Hampden park could play host to Olympic football; Fort William, which hosted the world mountain biking championships, seems ideal for an Olympic mountain biking competition; Gleneagles could be suited to equestrian pursuits; and many Scottish rivers could host the canoeing and kayaking events.

Many sports have traditionally been played at British level and I see nothing wrong with Scottish athletes succeeding at that level. Just because Scottish athletes compete for the United Kingdom under the union jack does not mean that they cease to be Scots or that Scotland can no longer claim them for our own. We can be proud of the successes of Kelly Holmes on the athletics track and of Matthew Pinsent, who powered his way to victory on the water.

We need to encourage participation in sport at all levels and to provide support for elite athletes to fulfil their potential. We should welcome the outstanding successes of Scots Shirley Robertson and Chris Hoy with their gold medals in sailing and cycling, and Katherine Grainger and Campbell Walsh with their silver medals in rowing and kayaking.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

I will give way, but only briefly, because I have a lot to say.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Does Lord James agree that, if there is logic guiding us towards an all-Britain Olympic team, that same logic should lead to an all-Britain Commonwealth games team?

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

At the outset of my remarks I said that we should avoid generalisations. The scene is changing all the time and many sports have been given up. I would look at each case on its specific merits. Traditionally, there has been United Kingdom participation in the Olympics and I see nothing wrong with Scots succeeding at British level.

As Jamie McGrigor suggested, the fear is that if we were to go it alone, we could in some sports face reduced resources for facilities and coaching expertise. Michael Matheson does not intend it, but that could mean that we sent fewer athletes to the games and that fewer athletes qualified. Participation on a more modest scale might weaken enthusiasm for and interest in Scotland's participation, whereas we want to provide the best possible support through resources, facilities and coaching.

Jamie McGrigor made an unanswerable argument by quoting Chris Hoy, the cycling gold medallist, who said:

"I think if we do that it would dilute the resources and the expertise we've got in the British team."

Jamie McGrigor did not mention another quotation from Chris Hoy:

"I'm a very proud Scot, but I'm also proud to be British and I think they don't have to be mutually exclusive."

We want an outward-looking patriotism, to which we strongly subscribe. The Executive should give sports top priority and encourage all efforts to ensure that competitive sport is available to all children in Scotland. For those reasons, we support the Executive's amendment. We wish our athletes every good fortune.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour 11:26 am, 6th October 2005

My colleague George Lyon said that the previous debate was rather like groundhog day. I assure him that this debate was not like groundhog day; instead, the SNP has made a political volte-face and has suddenly decided that, for its own ends only, it will support the London 2012 Olympics.

The debate has been interesting. Executive members and some Opposition members have taken the motion and the amendments seriously and have spoken to them, but the SNP—other than Michael Matheson—has given us more of the same. In that respect, perhaps George Lyon had a point.

Jamie McGrigor is right: the debate was politically motivated. The SNP has made a cynical attempt to fill a policy gap with an idea that it thought would attract quick and easy headlines. I say to Jamie McGrigor and Lord James Douglas-Hamilton that the Executive's ambition does not stop at the Olympics or the Commonwealth games. We constantly work hard to bring major sporting events to the country. We want to and have spread the benefit of those events around the country—into the constituencies of Mr Ewing and others. Our ambition is for the whole of Scotland. It is that everyone in Scotland should enjoy watching and participating in games and that our young people should be motivated.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I will not as I am short of time.

It is all very well for Mr Ewing to say that I should play the ball and not the man. I am sorry, but that will not do as a smokescreen for his trying to cover up the fact that the portion of my speech to which he referred simply quoted his comments and those of his colleagues back at him. He cannot say one thing in The Press and Journal at one time of year and try in the chamber to portray his ideas, policies and principles differently.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I will not; the member has had his opportunity.

Our challenge is to increase the number of Scots who participate and win in the Olympic games. Just having our own team to represent Scotland would not necessarily mean that the number of participants increased. The IOC sets a challenging qualifying mark in every event and it is up to athletes to qualify. In all cases, no matter for whom participants compete, they must still achieve that mark. We are conscious of that. We try to ensure that as many as possible of our athletes reach that mark. I am explaining to the SNP why its theory is redundant.

I take issue with Colin Fox's point that perhaps rugby and the Commonwealth games did not have the mass participation of football or the Olympic games. However, if he considers that more than 70 nations compete in the Commonwealth games, he will realise that what he said does not apply to that.

Bruce McFee and others have failed to understand the point about football and other sports. My colleague Scott Barrie made the point clearly and well in his speech. Of course we will compete whenever competitions take place. As I said in my opening speech, the fact that the devolution settlement means that we are responsible for some aspects of policy and that the Westminster Government is responsible for others is an analogy for how we can work in the same way throughout sport in competition. The two arrangements are not mutually exclusive. It is entirely possible for Scotland to compete on its own in the Commonwealth games and in football.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

All sport is of course devolved, which is why our commitment is to all sport and why we want our athletes and those who play our sports to compete at the highest level whenever they can.

The important point about the debate is that we will not be deflected by a narrow nationalist argument from our aim of more people participating in sport and more of our athletes competing internationally at every level. We will support our athletes, who have said that they want to compete in team GB, in their aspiration. We will also support them when they stand on podiums and win medals, whether they are for Scotland, for their region or for GB. We will support them all. I look forward very much to seeing several of our athletes on podiums to receive medals in 2006 at the winter Olympics in Turin and at the Commonwealth games in Melbourne.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 11:31 am, 6th October 2005

When I close a debate, I normally respond to arguments that I have heard. However, it is more important today to lay out some of the facts. Fact number 1 is from the International Olympic Committee. It says:

"Although most" national Olympic committees

"are from nations, the IOC also recognises independent territories, commonwealths, protectorates and geographical areas. There are currently 202 NOCs, ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe."

Of those 202, 13 represent states that the UN does not yet recognise. They include American Samoa, Aruba, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands, Guam, Hong Kong, Netherlands Antilles, which is a devolved Netherlands region, Puerto Rico and Taiwan.

The Olympic charter requires a national Olympic committee to have a jurisdiction that covers the country that it is in. Fact: the Commonwealth Games Council for Scotland already covers Scotland and provides the structure for teams to compete in the Commonwealth games, so there is no reason why it cannot co-ordinate an Olympic team. We need at least five national sports federations that are affiliated to their international counterparts to be members of our national Olympic committee. We can count them off easily; I counted 25 without an awful lot of bother.

When the idea was suggested in the summer, the Executive said that the decision was up to the International Olympic Committee—but we must ask it first. The committee will not run to Scotland and say, "Please form a national Olympic committee because we want to give your country funds to promote sport and to involve young people more." It is sad that the Executive has not even approached the committee with a view to considering the options for Scotland.

The minister who is responsible for sport stressed yet again the need for young people to be involved in sport and for Scotland to aspire to medal winning and excellence. I will look back at the 2004 Olympic games. Slovakia, with a population of 5.4 million, had 35 competitors. Ireland, with a population of 4 million, had 48 competitors. Finland's population is 5.2 million and it had 53 competitors. Denmark's population is 5.4 million and it had 92 competitors. Scotland's population is 5 million and it had 22 competitors. Ireland had more than double the number of competitors that we had, although its population is 1 million lower than ours. How on earth does that encourage our young Scottish athletes to aspire to greatness?

I still fail to understand why even to consider the option is such a problem. People from all parties in Scotland could get behind the idea.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

What is wrong with a Scottish athlete winning a medal for a British team?

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

There is nothing wrong with that, but it would be so much better if Scottish athletes could win medals for Scotland in the Olympics as they can in the Commonwealth games.

Even the First Minister realises the importance of standing for one's own country. Following the 2002 Commonwealth games, Jack McConnell said:

"I know that flying the flag for Scotland is a particularly special moment for our sporting stars.

These winners can become role models for young Scots to participate more in sport".

Prior to that, the First Minister had said:

"By raising the profile of sport and showing just what Scotland can achieve on a world stage, these athletes will also provide inspiration for our sporting stars of tomorrow."

Think of the inspiration that might be provided if our athletes could win Olympic medals on the world stage. Think of the encouragement that young Scots could be given if their schools and local sports clubs could tell them that they have the chance to march into Wembley in 2012 under the Scottish flag as part of the Scotland team. That is the kind of aspiration that we could aim at. I am at a loss to understand why that is seen as such a problem.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Cannot Ms Fabiani understand that children in Scotland can be just as inspired by Kelly Holmes as they might be by Shirley Robertson? We do not need to pick and choose in the nationalistic way that Ms Fabiani has described; we can support our athletes already. Indeed, we can support and be inspired by successful athletes from any country.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

I am absolutely certain that, if there were separate Olympic teams for Wales—there is a move for a Welsh team, too—and Scotland, all the teams on the islands that form the UK would support each other. I see no problem with that. However, the healthy competition that would ensue from Scotland, England and Wales having their own Olympic teams would be good for everyone on these islands.

I also find it sad that sportscotland, which is supposed to nurture sporting talent and promote sport in Scotland, has taken the view that it has taken. Despite stating that

"Scots should have the opportunity to aspire to the highest standard of participation that they desire", sportscotland seems to be unwilling to live up to the ideals of participation that it espouses.

I ask the Executive to give our proposal serious consideration rather than to dismiss it out of hand as some kind of SNP political plot. Some 78 per cent of respondents to a recent survey, which was carried out by the campaign that is now up and running, agreed that Scotland should field its own Olympic team. In every radio programme that I have heard discuss the issue, the overwhelming majority of contributors have agreed on the need for a Scottish team. Therefore, the Executive should at least discuss the option as a possibility rather than reject it out of hand.

Let us consider seriously whether this country could aspire to compete on its own, in partnership with the other countries of the UK, as we move forward to the 2012 Olympics.