Olympic Games

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:15 am on 21st June 2007.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 9:15 am, 21st June 2007

The first item of business is a debate on motion S3M-204, in the name of Murdo Fraser, on the Olympic games.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I start on a note of consensus: I hope that all members can unite round a message of support for Glasgow's bid to host the Commonwealth games in 2014. I congratulate everyone who is involved in the bid on the work that has been done to date. It is a testimony to their work that, only last week, John Tierney, who is the chairman of the Commonwealth Games Federation evaluation commission, highly praised Glasgow's bid for the 2014 games. When the evaluation commission visited Glasgow, John Tierney stated that all aspects of the city's bid, from infrastructure to political support, had been "truly impressive". That is a credit to the organisers. I am sure that all members wish them every success in their bid to bring the Commonwealth games to Glasgow in 2014.

That is enough consensus from me this morning. The second part of our motion states that Scottish athletes, in the interests of sport in Scotland and in their own interests, must compete as part of a British team in the 2008 Olympic games and at subsequent Olympic games. I accept that that argument applies equally to the Paralympics, as set out in Johann Lamont's amendment, which we are happy to accept.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party

Does the member also think that Scottish footballers should be part of a United Kingdom football team, as they might well do better as part of such a team?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Nobody is suggesting that we should be part of a British football team. We have separate football and rugby teams and nobody is suggesting that that should change; we are suggesting that there is nothing wrong with the current set-up. We compete as Scotland in the Commonwealth games and as Britain in the Olympic games. As I will point out in a second, that is exactly the way that our athletes want it. It is time that the Scottish National Party started listening to them.

Let me put the debate in context. At the SNP annual conference in Perth in October 2006, Alex Salmond pledged to pull Scottish athletes out of their British Olympic teams, which he wants to happen in time for the London Olympics in 2012. On top of that, various SNP members have voiced their desire for a Scottish Olympic team. Linda Fabiani, who is on the front bench today for the Executive, held a members' business debate on that very subject in 2005. Let us be absolutely clear what is behind that call: it is nothing whatever to do with promoting Scottish sport or Scottish athletes; it is all about the SNP's pursuit of a narrow separatist agenda and about playing politics with the future of Scotland's athletes.

Members do not have to take my word for it—we should listen to the athletes. After hearing of the SNP's proposal for a Scottish Olympic team, Chris Hoy, the cycling gold medallist, said:

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

I echo Chris Hoy's view when he went on to say:

"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. You can be part of a Scottish team and part of a British team."

Legendary Scottish sprinter and Olympic gold medal winner Allan Wells was even more scathing. He said of the First Minister's proposal:

"I am disgusted. What ... Salmond is proposing is stupid and irresponsible ... The SNP has to grow up and realise it is a great honour for a Scots athlete to wear a British vest."

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

Does Murdo Fraser agree that it is possible not only for a Scot to be a member of a Scottish team and a British team but, in golf, for a Scot to be a member of a European team?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Lord Foulkes was doing so well, but he nearly lost me on that point. However, I am happy to concede it to him.

I thought that, in its amendment, the SNP would leap to the defence of the First Minister's call. However, to my astonishment, the SNP amendment contains not one mention of its policy of having a separate Scottish Olympic team. Why ever not? Is that yet another U-turn from the new Administration? Has the policy been abandoned so early in the new session of Parliament, or is it simply that the SNP lacks the courage to put its idea to a vote in the Parliament—and lose?

The Conservatives realise that the SNP's call for a Scottish Olympic team is politically motivated and would do nothing to bring about a renaissance in Scottish sport. We need to encourage participation in sport at all levels and to provide support for elite athletes to fulfil their potential. Experience has shown that pooling resources and being able to tap into a broad network of facilities and expertise is the best way in which to do that.

Like all political parties, we support the London 2012 Olympics—we are a bit uncertain about the logo, but we will live with that. The Olympics promise much for Scotland, including a morale boost for Scottish athletes in the British team and a network of training facilities for them to access afterwards. We can expect a flow of tourists coming to Scotland as part of their trip to London for the games. Scotland can share in the excitement of the Olympics, which are games not just for London, but for Britain. I accept that Labour should perhaps have managed the finances better and I believe that we should not risk such a large bill for the public purse or allow other lottery-funded projects to be threatened. However, in my eyes, if thousands of Scottish children take up sport after the games, we can say that the money was worth it. I am sure that our athletes will inspire our youngsters.

The Parliament has the opportunity to send a clear message to the First Minister that, on this issue, he does not speak for Scotland; the Parliament speaks for Scotland, and the Parliament supports Scottish participation in a UK Olympic team, as that is good for our athletes, for Scottish sport and for our nation. If the First Minister goes to the International Olympic Committee seeking support for a separate Scottish Olympic team, he will do so in the teeth of the Parliament's clear and stated view.

A wider issue is at stake. In democracies such as ours, the Parliament is sovereign, not the Executive, which merely borrows power from the Parliament. In the end, we represent the people and we, as their Parliament, have the final say. Mr Salmond would do well to remember that when he tries to play politics with our national interest. I have pleasure in moving the motion in my name.

I move,

That the Parliament fully supports Glasgow's bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games; wishes our competitors every success in the 2010 Commonwealth Games and looks forward to them building on the 29 medals brought back from the 2006 games, which is the largest number of medals ever won by a Scottish team at overseas games; also wishes the British team every success in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and believes that the interests of sport in Scotland and our athletes are best served if they compete as part of the British team in the 2008 Olympic Games and at subsequent Olympic Games.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party 9:22 am, 21st June 2007

Like Murdo Fraser, I begin on a consensual note. Like many other members, I look forward with confidence to November when, I hope, the Commonwealth Games Federation will announce that Glasgow is to host the 2014 games. The 2006 Commonwealth games in Melbourne were an outstanding success for Scottish sport. The performance of our athletes exceeded all expectations and they were the most successful Scottish team ever in terms of gold medals.

We want to ensure that our athletes receive the best support possible to enable them to excel in the Olympics and Paralympics in Beijing next year and in London in 2012. We want Scotland's sportsmen and sportswomen to succeed on the international stage, but that success must not come at any cost. Many concerns have been raised in the past months about the amount of lottery money that is going toward the costs of staging the 2012 games. The impact of reduced lottery funding for grass-roots sport will be considerable. Millions of pounds will be lost to such sport because of the raids on lottery funding to pay for the spiralling costs of the 2012 games.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

Would the member care to address the point of the motion and the debate, which is about a separate Scottish team for the Olympics, instead of giving us this nonsense?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

That is not actually what the motion says—perhaps the member should read it.

The UK Government simply must find other funding streams to meet the rising costs of hosting the London Olympics. Since lottery funding began, about £275 million has been invested in sports projects in Scotland alone, which is a significant investment that we cannot allow to be hijacked. We want as many of our athletes as possible to take part in the 2012 games. It is interesting that other small independent countries send many more competitors to the Olympic games than Scotland sends. [Interruption.] The groans from the Labour members show the height of their ambition for our Scottish athletes. At the 2004 summer Olympics only one in every 211,000 Scots got the opportunity to represent their country. In comparison, the figure in Finland was one in 98,000, and in New Zealand it was one in 27,000.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

No, not at the moment.

Scotland sent 24 athletes as part of the UK team to the previous summer games, but Ireland sent 48 athletes. The clear lesson is that being an independent member of the IOC allows countries to give their athletes the chance to compete.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

I turn to the second half of my amendment. The Scottish Football Association has made perfectly clear its position on a GB football team. It does not support the idea because it regards it as a possible threat to its independent status within FIFA. This Government and many people throughout Scotland, including the tartan army, support the SFA's position.

Not long ago, we all celebrated the fantastic victory of the Scotland team over France. Do members of Opposition parties really want to put all that at risk, which would mean no more incidents like the one in 1967 at Wembley and no more memorable nights at Hampden?

Although for many years the Tory party has been viewed by many as the anti-Scottish party, I will be consensual and say that recently there have been positive signs that it is beginning to distance itself from that stance. Unfortunately, its support for a British football team at the Olympics betrays the fact that it will always choose Britain over Scotland. [Interruption.]

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

Despite the warnings from the SFA and the opposition of football fans in all the countries that make up the UK, the Tory party is still willing to risk the future of the Scotland team.

The Proclaimers put the Tory position so well when they sang:

"Bathgate no more

Linwood no more

Methil no more

Irvine no more."

Today, we can add to that list, as the Tory party chants happily, "World cup no more; European championships no more; Hampden roar no more; Scotland football team no more."

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Finally, the member gives way.

I have no particular view on whether Scotland should be part of a Great Britain football team at the Olympics. Does Mr Maxwell accept the advice of FIFA president Sepp Blatter who, when asked about that scenario, said:

"The four British associations will not lose the rights and privileges acquired back in 1947."

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

The so-called guarantee from Sepp Blatter is not worth the paper that it is not written on. The fact is that he cannot bind FIFA or its future presidents.

Why do our opponents in the chamber want continually to give succour to those who want to see an end to the Scottish team? If they assist in making that happen, they will not be forgiven.

Sporting events make a significant contribution to the life of this nation. We are all excited and enthused when a Scottish team competes on the international stage. Our athletes are ambassadors for our nation on that stage and a source of pride for us all. They are also a source of inspiration for those who dream of following in their footsteps.

We must support our elite athletes and our sporting grassroots and defend our international football team. This Government will always put Scotland's interests first.

We all have dreams, and all dreams are possible for those who believe in what they do and who are not afraid to give it all that they have.

Our duty is to ensure that the children of today have the opportunity to develop their talent to become our champions of tomorrow, whatever the arena—Olympic, Commonwealth, European, national, regional, local, school or club. We must not allow a runaway London Olympics to prejudice the chances of our champions of tomorrow.

I move amendment S3M-204.3, to leave out from "and believes that" to end and insert:

"notes with considerable concern the negative impact that the spiralling costs of the subsequent Olympic Games is projected to have on lottery support for grassroots sport throughout the United Kingdom; supports the Scottish Football Association and the Tartan Army in their opposition to the proposal for a British football team to take part in the 2008 and 2012 games, and agrees that such a proposal could damage the continuation of a separate Scottish international football team."

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 9:28 am, 21st June 2007

I am tempted to say to Stewart Maxwell, in the memorable words spoken by Gerry McNee after he listened to someone on the phone rambling about a sports issue, "What's your point, caller?" I am confused and bemused by the minister's speech. Perhaps he needs some performance training before he comes back to the chamber.

I am grateful for the support for my amendment, which highlights the critical importance of the Paralympics and the issue of access. We acknowledge the record of the previous Executive in being ambitious for Scotland and supporting Glasgow in its bid for the Commonwealth games.

It is a matter of regret that the first debate on sport this session has to be on the issue of a Scottish Olympic team. Although the debate is on a Tory motion, it is of the SNP's making, given that Mr Salmond claims to want a Scottish Olympic team, although he is remarkably invisible today—he was not present during the minister's confused speech.

We need to be clear about why what we decide today is important. We must challenge the SNP's wish to continue to pursue the notion of a Scottish OIympic team. It is not supported by sportspeople and commentators throughout the country and it would waste time and money. As our amendment highlights, we should focus on promoting sport at all levels and producing top-rate athletes.

We know that there is real joy in sport. My 12-year-old daughter is a swimmer who loves her Glasgow swim team. She and her pals at the pool were hugely affected when they heard about Caitlin McClatchey's success in the Commonwealth games. My daughter was also inspired by Kelly Holmes winning gold for the GB team, and at the weekend she was blown away by the unbelievable quality of the Chinese badminton players who were performing in Glasgow. Sport can be about our being proud of athletes who represent us, but it transcends that and speaks to our awe at the immense capacity of sportspeople to stretch beyond the limits of their ability, physical strength and endurance and achieve great things. We should consider sport in that context, rather than in the context set by the SNP Administration.

It is disappointing that the Administration cannot meet the reasonable expectation that sportspeople and their needs should be considered in their own right, rather than being used as a proxy for a debate about independence.

We know the figures for the funding of the Olympics and Paralympics. We know that Scottish athletes would achieve fewer medals on their own and that the costs of a separate Scottish team would be significant. At the heart of the debate is the evidence that shows that no Scottish athlete, having met the qualifying standard, has not competed at the Olympics because their place has been taken by an athlete from another home country.

Logical debate tells us that we should support the motion. The charge laid at the door of the SNP Administration is that the debate about the Olympics and Paralympics is not about sport at all. Stewart Maxwell rambled on about the Scottish football team. He said something different last week when I challenged him to resist the temptation to use sport as a proxy for a debate on independence. His response confirmed the fears of many that the issue of a Scottish Olympic team is about, as he said, showing that the First Minister

"has great ambitions not only for our country but for our sporting bodies and sporting stars."

Therefore, the debate is really about the SNP knowing best and being ambitious for our country, whereas

"The lack of ambition from the Labour Party is really quite astonishing." —[Official Report, 14 June 2007; c757.]

To suggest that I lack ambition is one thing, but is our freshly painted young minister for sport really saying that Doug Gillon, the respected sports commentator, Chris Hoy, Lee McConnell and every Scottish sportsperson who is committed to the GB team and is striving to go beyond their own limits of endurance and capacity are all unambitious for Scotland, but that the SNP can speak for them? That is a monumental insult.

The same thread runs right through the SNP's position. The SNP says that we cannot be patriotic and remain part of the United Kingdom. The SNP is making a transitional demand—it knows that there cannot be a Scottish Olympic team unless we have independence, so it is asking a question while being sure of the answer. The SNP position is a disgrace and an irrelevance and is illogical and irrational. At decision time, all members should take seriously their responsibilities to support sport and sportspeople and should refuse to allow the SNP to use them to serve an entirely different agenda. I urge members to support our amendment and the motion in the name of Murdo Fraser.

I move amendment S3M-204.1, to leave out from ", and believes" to end and insert:

"and Paralympics; believes that the interests of sport in Scotland and our athletes are best served if they compete as part of the British team in the 2008 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games and at subsequent Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, and further urges the Scottish Executive to work with all the relevant sporting agencies and organisations to maximise the opportunities for young Scots to benefit from UK Sport World Class Performance programmes."

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat 9:33 am, 21st June 2007

I am pleased to speak to the amendment in my name. I offer the support of my party for Glasgow's bid for the 2014 Commonwealth games.

I believe firmly that sport is vital to Scotland's future, particularly for our young people. There is an opportunity today to send a powerful message to the UK Government about its role in preparing for the 2012 Olympics.

We support strongly the Olympics coming to London in 2012 and acknowledge the benefits of being part of the host country. We believe that, as our leading sportsmen and sportswomen have made clear, Scotland's athletes should be part of the British team. However, we are also prepared to raise concerns when Government action threatens sport in Scotland.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport made a statement to the House of Commons on 15 March in which she outlined big problems in the funding of the Olympics and announced that costs has risen by more than £5 billion. Part of her remedy was to announce that the national lottery would be expected to contribute a further £675 million to the Olympic cause in addition to the £400 million that has already been taken from the lottery for the Olympics.

Subsequent parliamentary questions have uncovered the seriously bad news for Scotland as a result of that announcement. First, there has been a £1 million cut per constituency in funding from the Big Lottery Fund—funding that has been used in Scotland to encourage sport and community activities, such as rowing, skiing, cycling and dance. On top of that, there have been specific cuts in Scottish sporting activity. Sportscotland will lose more than £13 million in lottery support.

If members agree to my amendment, we will not be the first to complain. Earlier this year, the secretary of state was warned by the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which said that diverting lottery funds to the Olympics could cause programmes outside London to suffer, particularly sports that are not part of the Olympics, and that the ability to promote grass-roots sport throughout the UK would be reduced.

There have been developments since then. Figures that were released last week showed that lottery receipts, including receipts from new lottery initiatives that are specifically targeted on Olympic fund raising, rocketed up in March. That was good news. Ticket sales were booming even while the secretary of state was on her feet—in fact, sales were £70 million higher in March than they were in February. That raises a question about whether the full hit on the Big Lottery Fund will now be needed. The secretary of state now has more resources available than she initially thought. At the end of last week, I wrote to her to ask that she reconsider the resources that she proposes to take from grass-roots sports and community activities in Scotland and to reduce the imposed contribution from the remaining lottery projects. Indeed, it seems possible that that contribution will no longer be necessary. In short, I asked her to make certain that the Olympics are not funded at the cost of Scottish sport and other community projects.

In the autumn, members of Parliament at Westminster will have an opportunity to vote against the unnecessary Olympic raid on the lottery. If we agree to my amendment, we will send a message that we want grass-roots sport to develop in Scotland as a result of the Olympics; that we want investment in community activities and participation to grow; and that we want more investment throughout the UK, including in Scotland, in sport and our young people. That should be the legacy of the Olympics in the UK—not cuts in sport in Scotland.

I move amendment S3M-204.2, to insert at end:

"including the 2012 London Olympics, but regrets that the UK Government's insistence on using lottery funds to finance the Games will deprive grassroots sport development in Scotland of essential funding and urges the UK Government to make a commitment that no further raids will be made on lottery funds to make up any additional Olympic budget shortfall."

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

We now move to the open debate. Speeches should be kept to a tight four minutes, please.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party 9:38 am, 21st June 2007

I am delighted to speak in a debate on a subject in which I have long had an interest. On 28 September 2000, I asked an oral question on whether the then Scottish Executive would support a Scottish Olympic team; I followed that up by lodging motions on 6 October 2000, 16 October 2000 and 25 February 2002. At the time, the unionist forelock tuggers were in government; now they whine from the Opposition benches. Today, we have heard from them just another version of the north British cringe.

It would be preposterous for a party such as the SNP, which supports the re-emergence of Scotland as an independent sovereign state, not to support having an independent Olympic team. At least our position is consistent. The unionist parties say that we are too wee, too lacking in talent and too inept to inspire, encourage and nurture our own champions and compete on an equal basis with the best in the world. The Tories and their north British allies show a total lack of faith in the Scottish people. They have lodged a motion and amendments that are designed to dull Scottish sporting ambitions and national self-belief. It is lucky that our forebears had a little more gumption; if they had not, there would be no national football or rugby teams. If Scotland had not been instrumental in spreading world football and had not joined bodies such as FIFA decades ago, the parties that oppose having a Scottish national team competing in the Olympics would no doubt now oppose our national football team. Scotland has not won a world cup yet, but Uruguay—the population of which is half the size of ours—has won two world cups and 14 South American championships, which inspires hope. If things were up to the Opposition parties and they could turn back the clock, we would not even be competing, albeit that we would, of course, have the opportunity to show our excitement at getting a Scot on the bench for some big game at Wembley once in a blue moon.

Non-independent nations, protectorates and semi-autonomous island groups ranging from Palestine to the Netherlands Antilles and Puerto Rico have Olympic teams, so why should Scotland not have one? Perhaps some members believe that Palestine could best be represented as part of the Israeli national team.

What about the Great British Olympic team? Historically, the group of nations that comprises the UK has collectively performed remarkably poorly over 111 years. Great Britain ranks 30th, which is well below Australia, for example, the population of which is a third of the population of the UK—Australia's population was proportionately even smaller in the past. Finland, Norway and the Netherlands have done much better than larger countries, not only on a per capita basis, but on an absolute basis because health, sport and fitness are given a much higher priority in those countries than they are in the UK. Australia has 1,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools; the UK has eight. It is therefore all the more remarkable that Scottish swimmers won six gold medals as part of a Scottish Commonwealth games team. However, that five of them had to train in England is shocking.

Of course, when Scots succeed at the Olympic level, others take the credit. Who can forget that when the all-Scottish female curling team who went on to win gold in the 2002 winter Olympics was struggling, the commentator said:

"It looks like a British success is becoming a Scottish failure"?

An independent Scotland will not neglect sport—nor will the Scottish Government, which is committed to securing the 2014 Commonwealth games and the 2016 European football championships.

The pressure on Scotland and Wales to join a British team for the Beijing and London Olympics can only threaten the ability of Scotland's football team to compete independently on the world stage. The wolves at FIFA are circling. It is to the credit of the Scottish Football Association and the Football Association of Wales that they have rejected overtures to contribute to British teams in 2008 and 2012. They're no so daft.

We need a Scottish Olympic team for Scottish sport truly to flower. I urge members to support the amendment that was lodged by the Minister for Communities and Sport.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour 9:42 am, 21st June 2007

Kenny Gibson has once again fallen at the final hurdle. He mentioned the new Olympic sport of forelock tugging. SNP members obviously look forward to that sport being part of its bid for a new Scottish Olympic team.

I thank the Presiding Officer for giving me the chance to speak and I welcome this debate, which the Conservative group secured. However, I again despair at the desperate negativity of the SNP's amendment. SNP members are in their element today, blustering and showing all their negativity.

The debate is about our ambitions for sport in Scotland. We have heard about what our sportspeople have said—Murdo Fraser said that most our major sportsmen and sportswomen are in favour of being members of a British team where that is appropriate. Scottish footballers think that having a Scottish football team is appropriate. Things depend on how the sport is best organised—I am thinking about world and European organisation and the Ryder cup, for example. We should try to maximise opportunities for our sportsmen and sportswomen. That strikes me as being good sense, as opposed to the nonsense that we have heard from the SNP.

Rather than debating the central point of the discussion, the SNP threw in a straw man—it asked what will happen to the Scottish football team. Labour members and other members have ambitions for the Scottish football team, and it should not be said that we have less ambition than Stewart Maxwell, who, as an SNP member, has a political position to uphold and claims that he has the interests of Scottish football more at heart than other members.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour

No. The member did not take interventions, and I have only four minutes.

The fundamental point is that our sportspeople should take part at the appropriate level. The IOC and other governing bodies—not nation states—set standards for sportspeople. The bar against which sportspeople will be measured is not set in this debate by politicians in the Scottish Parliament or by the First Minister in his response to a question a few weeks ago.

We have other ambitions. For example, how can we use sport to ensure that opportunities are given to communities throughout the UK? We should consider the big events that have taken place or that will take place—in Manchester in 2002, in London in 2012 and, if the bid is successful, in Glasgow in 2014. Those cities have considered how such events could make a real difference to them and their communities.

It is obvious that the east end areas in those cities have been particular beneficiaries. Already development work is taking place in London in preparation for 2012. We have retained the ambition of the previous Labour-led Executive to use the 2014 bid and the development of our national facilities imaginatively to do what we can through sport. As the elected member for the east end of Glasgow, I note the commitment to a national arena. I hope, too, that we will have a national velodrome and new swimming facilities as well as the games village at Dalmarnock. The other key element that the current Executive has dithered about is whether the headquarters of our national sports agency should be part of that fuller development. There is uncertainty for staff, the council and the community.

There has been a signal for change. What I want from the Executive, rather than indecisiveness and bluster, is a commitment to ensure that we maximise the opportunity offered by the 2014 bid to benefit the most disadvantaged communities in Scotland. It is time—a great phrase that I heard recently—for action, not animosity; it is time for leadership, not indecisiveness; and it is time for the Executive to raise its game.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative 9:46 am, 21st June 2007

This is my first rotten-fruit-and-vegetables debate. The Tory motion is not difficult to support—as was the intention—and it would not benefit from the opportunist and somewhat spurious SNP amendment. That any controversy is attached to the motion is due entirely to the laboured and fevered machinations of the Executive, led lamentably on this occasion by the First Minister, who has been cheered on with some bluster from the sidelines by Kenny Gibson—at least one member of the First Minister's team is prepared to support him.

It might come as a big surprise to the SNP that we have all got its central message: we know that it seeks to bring about an independent Scotland. However, it is pretty depressing to see the First Minister make a torturous intervention to propose that the view that Scotland should be excluded from the United Kingdom Olympic team in 2012—a team in which it has competed happily and successfully in the modern era—is unanimously held.

Whom has he consulted? On his flying visit to Northern Ireland or in planning his trip to Wales, did he discuss the implications of the move for those countries? Were Scotland to withdraw, the other teams would have to represent the United Kingdom (excluding Scotland), the partially United Kingdom or the untied Kingdom. Or would the Wales and Northern Ireland teams be obliged to stand alone and compete by themselves as separate nations even though they have expressed no desire or ambition to so do? Was the matter discussed in Ulster and has the phone yet rung in Wales, or has the First Minister, without thought for Scotland's reputation, just shot from the hip with no regard for the practical consequences for anyone else?

It is clear that the reservations that Scottish athletes—whose views ought to figure prominently in the debate—have expressed about their access to sound finance, training with peers and the competitive buzz of being in the UK team would be as nothing compared to those of Welsh and Irish athletes, whose athletic futures are equally prejudiced by this discordant wheeze of the First Minister.

Let us hear no more of it. Were Scotland ever to become independent, issues inevitably would follow that constitutional change. However, let us not forget that, even now, 75 per cent of Scots have no such shared interest with the First Minister.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I apologise for being late—I had to go back home this morning.

The member referred to the athletes. Although he is a lot younger than I am, does he recall that most Scots who have won Olympic medals have sought to distinguish themselves in some way as Scots? For example, Bobby McGregor wore a tartan towel, and Ian Black and Elenor Gordon also distinguished themselves as Scottish. Does that not indicate something?

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

I happily wear a saltire T-shirt when I am on holiday abroad, but it does not mean that I am any less proud to be British. That was a ridiculous point to make.

The Olympics should not be manipulated cynically to bring about a constitutional change. People in Scotland and, I suspect, even many of the SNP's supporters have no desire to see a great and hugely anticipated forthcoming national event hijacked by student union politics. The SNP now holds high office and should act accordingly. Or is it, as Murdo Fraser suggested, that today's SNP amendment disguises the front bench's abandonment of its policy, notwithstanding that the First Minister thought the Olympic team the most urgent matter to pronounce upon on television during his first weekend on the job?

Whatever ministers' posturing on the Olympics, surely we are all united in our desire to see Glasgow secure the 2014 Commonwealth games, with a bid that has been lauded as "truly impressive". I hope that we build on the momentum of a successful Olympic games to inspire, now and in the two years leading up to 2014—indeed as a lasting legacy in the years thereafter—a generation of children to abandon their PlayStation 2 or 3, their addiction to RuneScape, YouTube and "Big Brother" and get outside and be active.

I refer members to the lottery issue that the SNP raised—let us not give the impression, as the SNP amendment and comments do, that more active participation in sport is wholly conditional on lottery funding. I hope that the games encourage youngsters into public parks, local tennis courts, football pitches and local sports facilities. In addition, a Commonwealth games in Glasgow will act as a catalyst for much else that can only benefit the city and address in part the social and lifestyle difficulties. A modern games will bring tremendous investment, regeneration and employment.

Athletes in Scotland are supported by parties on all sides as unionists. When it comes to the 2012 games, it is as United Kingdom athletes that Scots will compete and win.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 9:50 am, 21st June 2007

This is a landmark debate—we have seen the end of the cuddly nationalism that we saw throughout the election and have seen so far this session. We are back to the true face of nationalism today, as demonstrated in the rather disappointing speeches by Stewart Maxwell and Kenny Gibson. I am particularly disappointed in the minister's contribution. One would have expected in such a debate that he would take the opportunity to tell us what the new SNP Administration will do to develop Scottish sport. Perhaps he could have told us something about how we will invest in grass-roots sport or what we will do for sports in school—but no, we just got a disappointing and rather ill-informed rant about the possibility of having a UK football team in the Olympics.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

How does Iain Smith feel about having such a football team?

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I will come to that in a moment. The minister's speech showed a paucity of ambition for Scottish athletes. The SNP seems to think that Scottish athletes cannot compete on a UK stage and that somehow we need to be in a bubble on our own in order to qualify to compete in the Olympics. That SNP position is rather poor and disappointing.

I do not want a UK select football team to compete in the Olympics; there might be another way forward that nobody has considered yet. Why do we not have a home nations tournament, the winner of which goes on to represent the United Kingdom in the Olympics? That is another option that could be considered. I see no reason to have a UK select team in the Olympics. I do not support the idea and I never have.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

In that case, does the member suggest that a Scottish national football team should compete in a qualifying tournament for the Olympics?

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

If Scotland were to beat the other home nation teams in that tournament, the Scottish team would represent the United Kingdom at the Olympics. My suggestion is worth examining, although I am not saying that it would work.

I am happy to support a British team in the Olympic and Paralympic games. I am equally happy to support Scotland—the Scottish football and rugby teams, for example—in the Commonwealth games. I also support Europe, as others have mentioned, in competitions such as the Ryder cup. I have to confess that I even support England in cricket, unless Scotland is playing against the English team.

It is important to recognise that there are different levels of support. I always support my local teams and competitors first. I will be cheering on and hoping that people from North East Fife, such as Nony Mordi and Andrew Lemoncello, qualify for the Olympic games in Beijing, the Commonwealth games in New Delhi, the Olympics in London and the Commonwealth games in Glasgow. I hope that Nony Mordi and Andrew Lemoncello will represent the United Kingdom in those games.

It is fantastic that the greatest sporting event in the world is coming to Britain in 2012. It gives us a great opportunity in Scotland to develop our sport and our interest in it, as Jackson Carlaw rightly said. I remember when I was a kid that more people played tennis in Wimbledon fortnight than at any other time in the year. Sporting events such as that encourage people to get involved and active, and the Olympics offers that opportunity. I support the Glasgow bid to hold the 2014 Commonwealth games for similar reasons.

However, it is important that we ensure that the games—the Olympic games in particular—do not take money away from our grass-roots sports. If there is no investment in or development of grass-roots sport, from where will the elite athletes who will compete in future games come? We have to develop the grass roots in order to find the elite athletes. It is important that we ensure that the UK Government starts to manage the Olympic games properly in a way that does not require lottery funding to be withdrawn from important sports facilities here and in the rest of the United Kingdom. Lottery money should be used to develop facilities that can benefit sport in the long term and not—as appears to be happening—to subsidise regeneration and infrastructure projects in London.

I am happy to support the amendment in Nicol Stephen's name.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party 9:55 am, 21st June 2007

I congratulate Murdo Fraser on lodging an interesting motion that is positive and negative at the same time. Up to the reference to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the motion is positive and I cannot fault it. I also realise that holding the Commonwealth games in Glasgow would be good for Glasgow and Scotland. It is unfortunate that the same tired old attitude that has held Scotland back for generations comes to the fore in the remainder of the motion. I respect the fact that every party in the Parliament has its own agenda. The Conservatives are not afraid to show their unionist credentials in their official title.

It is fortunate that I see Scotland as having more confidence in itself and as able to represent itself as a normal independent nation that participates in world events. Even though I am yet another Scottish nationalist who is England born, I consider myself to be Scottish and I cannot for the life of me see why stifling Scots' ambition is a core belief of the unionist parties.

Anyway, I return to the motion, which is just an appetiser to sweeten Scotland to back the 2012 London Olympics. Its purpose is to get Scots to back losing millions of pounds of lottery money that would have been spent on projects in every constituency and region. Probably more sinister, its purpose is also to get rid of the world-famous, peaceful and party-loving tartan army by jeopardising the Scottish national football team's future. Members should make no mistake: if a football team GB is at the London Olympics, the Scottish Football Association can pack its bags and enjoy retirement. [Interruption.]

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

I realise that Scottish football is too bureaucratic, but abolishing the SFA is not the way forward. I do not know whether the Tories want to rid us of the SFA or whether they just do not realise the by-product of their wishes, but that is where we will head if a football team GB takes to the park.

The London Olympics are spiralling out of control. In March, Tessa Jowell announced the financial estimates for the Olympics of £5.3 billion to cover building venues and infrastructure, £1.7 billion to cover the wider regeneration of the Lea valley area, £2.7 billion for the additional contingency fund, £600 million for security and policing, £800 million for VAT and £400 million for elite sport and Paralympic funding. The total is a massive £9.345 billion. Added to those costs is the cost of staging the Olympic games, which is estimated at £2 billion. Thankfully, that is to be met by the private sector.

It is distasteful in the extreme that lottery funding is to be used to subsidise a project that clearly will never break even, never mind make a profit. Given the funnelling of lottery money from Scotland to an event in London that will have few tangible benefits for Scotland, I must ask why we Scots must help to subsidise the event. When voluntary groups and charities come knocking on the door of and lobby every MSP for more resources because their lottery funding has been slashed, what will members say?

I was delighted that England hosted Euro 96 successfully, although the competition was frustrating yet again for Scotland. I sincerely wish the London Olympics every success, and I will cheer on individuals to win, as I have done for many years, not because of their nationality but because of their talent and personality. I will obviously make an exception for Scottish team members, who will be resplendent with the saltire on their competing attire. However, the London Olympics cannot be supported at all costs.

I mentioned the SFA and the tartan army. As a foot-soldier myself, I will never support a football team GB. I am Scottish and I want Scotland to compete on the world stage. Even if a team GB were for under-23s only, it would not stop the Union of European Football Associations and FIFA arguing for one British team at every future tournament. Who could blame them? The precedent would have seen set. Members should make no mistake: a football team GB would be the first step to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland losing their football independence and being subsumed by the English Football Association. It would also be the first step to Scottish football becoming a backwater, as the money would dry up and even fewer kids would have the chance of making the grade at the highest level.

In 1908, when the Olympics were first held in London, Scotland competed in its own right. Why cannot that happen again in 2012? I urge the Parliament to back Stewart Maxwell's amendment.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat 9:59 am, 21st June 2007

The debate has been interesting, if not entirely unpredictable from the moment it started. However, I was grateful that Murdo Fraser sought to achieve consensus in the chamber and that he set a different tone from that which Stewart Maxwell set.

Liberal Democrats are absolutely behind a British Olympic team. It is interesting that SNP politicians claim that, without an independent team, competitors cannot be Scottish. I reject that allegation. Margo MacDonald made the point that many Scots athletes make it clear that, although they are part of a British team, they are Scottish. To suggest that Allan Wells, Lee McConnell, Shirley Robertson and Chris Hoy are somehow not Scottish because they have participated in a British team is absolute nonsense.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I say to Stewart Maxwell that I held the Tory motion up to the light and I know that it says nothing about not having a Scottish football team, so I am prepared to dismiss such sedentary interventions.

In the limited time that is available to me, I make the point that Liberal Democrats do not, as Jackson Carlaw suggested, wish to exaggerate the lottery funding issue or to say that it is the only issue, but it is interesting. If we are concerned to celebrate the Olympic games in this country, part of that celebration must be the fact that the Olympics will inspire many of our youngsters, as Johann Lamont said. We want that because, for the nation's health, we wish to promote far more participation in sport. It would be a tragedy if those who were inspired by having the Olympic games in this country in 2012 were somewhat limited in their ambition because the necessary infrastructure was inhibited by the diversion of lottery funds.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Within the past three years, I staged a members' business debate on the Olympics, at which I remember no Liberal Democrat being present. What did Liberal Democrat ministers do about the issue when they were in government and had the chance to do something?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

There is no doubt that one of the few people who are on the record as complaining about lottery funding is my friend Nicol Stephen. I am sorry that Alex Neil's memory has failed him in that regard. That is not typical of him, but he occasionally gets things wrong.

Liberal Democrats had a quick look at the spread of lottery funding. We managed to find statistics only for the most recent round of awards north of the central belt, in which grants were made to Buckie, Forres, Thurso, Kyleakin, Oban and St Andrews. Those grants are important. No doubt it is the same down south. In fact, 6.3 million participants across 49 sports have benefited from lottery funding.

If we are genuinely to enjoy participating in and success at the Olympics in 2012, I repeat that it is critical that the people to whom Johann Lamont referred are inspired and able to participate in sport. That would not only make the Olympics a greater success but go a long way to improving the nation's health. I hope that members will support Nicol Stephen's amendment.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 10:03 am, 21st June 2007

I shall attempt to be more temperate than I was in my opening speech, although the debate has been less temperate than I had expected.

I will flag up several issues. I acknowledge the concerns about national lottery funding, but those concerns are shared across parties—the same parties that supported at Westminster the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 and supported using national lottery funding for the Olympics. The test is not only whether Scottish young people will benefit. Throughout the UK, youngsters are determined to benefit from the Olympics.

I acknowledge the funding issue, but it should not be the decisive factor in how members vote at 5 o'clock. I do not think that the Liberal Democrats and others who have raised the issue want to associate themselves with some of the more intemperate views of Alex Neil, for example, who showed hostility to his neighbours when he said that if London wants the Olympic games, it can pay for them. That reflects a different attitude from one of concern about national lottery funding.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

It is only fair, as she mentioned me.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I thank the member for taking my intervention after some persuasion. How much is she prepared to forgo in lottery funding for good causes in Scotland in order to subsidise the London Olympics?

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Alex Neil knows that that is a false division. He knows that, on that question, a commitment has been given to the voluntary sector at a UK level, which it has welcomed.

The core of this debate was exposed in Kenny Gibson's stunning speech, when he talked about the north-British cringe. He says that Scottish sportspeople are deluded and only think that the current approach is the best approach. He says that they are experiencing a north British cringe and only think that it would be better to go and work with their peers down in England. However, he knows better. The truth is that they are being driven down to England against their will. We should have more respect for the sportspeople of Scotland and acknowledge the fact that they and their groups and bodies have thought about the issue. I am proud of Caitlin McClatchey, and I was proud of Allan Wells when he ran in a British vest. That is not the north British cringe; it is recognising how we reveal our sporting talent.

I was disturbed to hear somebody boo when Iain Smith said that he might support the English cricket team. That kind of knee-jerk hostility is the antithesis of what we teach our young people on sports fields throughout Scotland. It is to be deprecated, not celebrated, and it is disturbing that the party of government in the Parliament would collude with that kind of attitude.

The issue relating to Scottish football is interesting and significant. Labour members have said that we will support the SFA in the position that it takes. However, we do not need to have a Scottish Olympic team just because of a perceived threat to the Scottish football team—that argument is illogical and irrelevant, and it is not worthy of the minister.

A Scottish Olympic team should be established as a consequence of a decision to go independent; it should not be used as a midwife to create the conditions for an independent Scotland, which is obviously the SNP's view.

At 5 o'clock, members must decide whether they wish to associate themselves with that kind of hostility towards our sportspeople or whether they want to put them at the centre of sporting achievement. We must reassert the importance to our Scottish sporting tradition of our sportspeople wanting to be part of a British team because of the personal achievement that that confers and because of what it does for young Scots and others throughout the UK.

I urge members to support our amendment, which, critically, recognises an event—the Paralympics—that the motion and other amendments do not mention and which is about providing access to and supporting a British Olympic team of which we can all be proud.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 10:08 am, 21st June 2007

It is always a pleasure to follow a temperate Johann Lamont. She is one of the few members who makes Kenny Gibson look temperate at times.

We welcomed this debate and decided to address the terms of the Conservative motion, which is what we have done. We have looked at the overall position of Scotland in the sporting field and at how Scotland could be the best. We support the first part of the motion, which wishes the British team every success in the Beijing Olympics, but we do not believe that it is in the best interests of Scotland or Scottish sport for our sportspeople to be part of a GB team beyond then. There is a strong case for revitalising, inspiring and invigorating Scottish sport from the grass roots up by giving a sense—which we had in the Commonwealth games—that the participants are competing for Scotland. That is not, however, to put down Scots athletes who take part in the British team.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Does the minister agree that the notion of national teams competing at the Olympic games is somewhat old fashioned, given the number of international athletes who pick and choose which nationality they are going to adopt in order to get to the Olympic games?

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

There is an element of that, but the fact is that it is national teams that enter the Olympic games. If we want to do the best for our sporting stars, that is what we must address.

Criticisms of the SNP's position have been more about diverting attention away from a worrying issue that the Liberal Democrats as well as the SNP have addressed—the loss of lottery funding. Stewart Maxwell addressed the matter directly. There are huge concerns about the amount of lottery money that is being used to support the staging of the 2012 games. Nicol Stephen outlined some of the figures. There has been a rise in projected costs of more than £5 billion, and £675 million is to be contributed from the national lottery, in addition to the £400 million that has already been taken from the Big Lottery Fund. There is no doubt that the few sports facilities that we have, along with some of our lottery projects, will be hammered by that. Labour members should wake up and smell the coffee—that is happening; it is not in doubt. That is what has been said at Westminster and here.

Frank McAveety spoke about desperate negativism. What we are hearing from the Labour benches is desperate denial of what is going on. However, the Scottish people are not in denial. They recognise the achievements that could be made by fully supporting our athletes. I think that Jackson Carlaw said that the Scottish people do not support the idea of a Scottish team, although I might have picked him up wrongly, because I have a vision of him on holiday wearing a saltire T-shirt, sandals and socks.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

No, thank you.

A survey by the campaign for a Scottish Olympic team showed that 78 per cent of Scots support the creation of a Scottish Olympic team.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

No, thank you.

I suggest that that percentage would have been a lot higher if the poll had asked whether people supported maintaining the integrity of a Scottish football team rather than allowing it to play as part of a British football team.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

I am in my last minute, sorry.

I reckon that the support for that would be nearly 100 per cent and that the SFA and the tartan army would be backed all the way.

I ask members to consider the benefits that would be gained by supporting Stewart Maxwell's amendment to the Tory motion. They should sit down, think about it carefully and vote for what is best for Scotland.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 10:13 am, 21st June 2007

It gives me great pleasure to close the debate for the Scottish Conservatives and to support our motion. It has been an interesting and lively debate, and I will touch on a number of issues that have been raised.

Murdo Fraser made the point—let us be clear about this—that the SNP's desire to have a Scottish Olympic team is nothing to do with sport but is all about politics. At the SNP's annual conference in Perth on 11 October 2006, Alex Salmond repeated the SNP pledge to pull Scottish athletes out of their British Olympic teams. I wonder whether he asked any of those athletes first. Sadly, that shows the SNP at its worst: inward looking, narrow minded and petty—despite the fact that Stewart Maxwell knows the words of a Proclaimers song. I wonder whether the SNP has surveyed the opinions of Scotland's athletes and of sports' governing bodies, especially the Scottish Institute of Sport, which has done so much to secure medals for us, particularly in swimming. None of those experts wants to dilute the potential of team GB, which, through its collective strength, may even be able to challenge the might of teams such as the United States of America.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

Not at the moment.

We are inclined to agree with the cycling gold medal winner Chris Hoy, who said that a Scottish Olympic team would dilute the resources and expertise of the British team. We also agree with Simon Clegg, the chief executive of the British Olympic Association, who said:

"The British Olympic Association ... strongly believes that we are stronger collectively than as individual countries."

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

Not at the moment.

In Athens, teams of mixed British nationalities worked together, as in the case of Shirley Robertson, the Scot who achieved the ultimate glory of an Olympic gold in sailing with her two English crew members Sarah Ayton and Sarah Webb. Incidentally, as with many Scots athletes, most of her training was carried out south of the border.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Could it be that the people whom Jamie McGrigor quotes might be in the same position as the Tory party, which utterly opposed devolution, but whose members were crawling over each other to get into Parliament once it was created? Could it be that once Scotland has an Olympic team, they will want to join it?

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

I cannot envisage any member of this Parliament joining any Olympic team—especially not Alex Neil.

Different loyalties do not have to be divided loyalties, as Chris Hoy made clear when he said that

"You can be part of a Scottish team and part of a British team."

He is dead right. What is wrong with that? I acknowledge Kenny Gibson's commendable patriotism, but neither he nor the SNP has the monopoly on patriotism, even if they would like it. The saltire happens to be a symbol for every party in the Parliament and—if I may say so—it is the smartest and best part of the union flag.

The Conservatives have whole-heartedly supported Scottish sportsmen and sportswomen. We are thrilled by the recent successes of Scottish athletes and realise that success has been brought about by clever planning so, unlike the SNP, we do not want to change a winning formula. It has taken Scotland a long time to achieve such success and political distractions could easily upset an extremely delicate balance.

We recognise the value of sport—at both grass-roots and elite levels—in promoting good health, improving self-esteem and fostering a sense of community and teamwork. Successful Scottish athletes have enjoyed the best training facilities and coaching that the UK has to offer.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Does the member agree that the issue is facilities rather than nationality? The best Scottish sprinters go where the best international sprinting coaches are, which is likely to be America. That is why Liz McColgan went to America. I am rather shocked by how narrow the debate is and by its failure to take account of the athletes and the facilities. The issue has nothing to do with nationality.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

That is not an intervention.

Mr McGrigor, you are in your final minute.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

As I have already pointed out, the athletes and the governing bodies all seem to want a British team, not a Scottish one.

I have an important question for the minister. If we had a separate team, would Scottish athletes continue to receive the investment that they receive at the moment, which we are led to believe is at least £100 million a year?

I turn to football. Of course the Scottish Conservatives believe in the integrity of the Scottish team—there is no doubt about that. I hope that the minister and other members will join me in congratulating the Scotland under-20 football squad, which will go to Canada for the under-20 world cup with the excellent coaches Tommy Wilson and Archie Gemmill a week on Sunday. In qualifying for the event, the Scotland under-20 team has done what many top European teams have not.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

You should be winding up.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

I liked Iain Smith's idea of having a youth football tournament, with the best home nations team representing the UK in the Olympics. I do not see anything wrong with that.

The SNP needs to raise its game a bit. It needs to get over its dogmatic and backward-looking view of the world, and to realise that Scottish sportspeople do not want a separate Scottish Olympic team.