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Friday, 14 September 2012

First Minister booed at Olympic celebrations

The breaking news is that Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, received a rather hostile reception at George Square this evening.  I say "breaking news"; what I actually refer to is facebook and twitter references, as the mainstream media have had very little to say on the issue.

Facebook and twitter not being the most reliable or temperate sources of information, much debate has raged about the nature of the booing and its political and social significance.  Some dismiss this as general anti-political expression.  Others see it as evidence that the SNP's popularity and the standing of Salmond has taken a battering due to the political gameplaying that surrounded the Olympic games.  Yet others interpret this as an orchestrated act on the part of those who support the union.

Personally, I am surprised that Salmond has managed to serve over five years as First Minister without being booed by the public.  It's part and parcel of political life, as George Osborne and Nick Clegg know too well.  I also think it's unwise to attempt to draw too many conclusions from it, especially when it appears that Salmond was also cheered by many.  Surely, the nearer we come to the referendum and passions become hightened, the more we can expect of this type of thing.  It's actually a healthy thing in a functioning democracy.

But if reports are correct then it does leave the SNP with some serious thinking to do in respect to their party's public relations.  The SNP did not get it right with the Olympics.  No doubt this will come as something of a surprise to a man who is unaccustomed to such receptions and the party will realise there is work to do to reassure the public that Alex Salmond has the right vision for Scotland's future.

I've just phoned one of my friends who was actually at George Square.  He tells me that there definitely was booing during an interview with the First Minister.  Being a humourous sort, he also added that this is the kind of treatment Glaswegians generally reserve for those from Edinburgh and the crowd were not actually booing the fact he was the First Minister but the more objectionable fact he was a Hearts fan. "We just can't stand that team or their supporters", he said.  He also suggested that Catholics opposed to equal marriage might have been planted within the crowd, determined to give the First Minister a hard time.  "Yes, it was that bloody Archbishop Tartaglia and his homophobic Bible-bashers" he laughed.  The fundamental point, I imagine, being that it is impossible to gauge motivation or assign specific significance.

Actually, if it shows anything it's that the public don't take too well to politicians taking the limelight away from national sporting heroes.  They come out to celebrate the achievements of our athletes, and what do they get?  An interview with the First Minister.  Not everyone's idea of entertainment.  In that context, it's a perfectly normal reaction from a Team-GB supporting crowd that was never likely to be particularly nationalist-friendly.  The perverse thing is, the booing by sections of the crowd mean that the First Minister will be precisely what the media are discussing tomorrow, not the wider celebrations.

"Has the SNP's bubble burst?" some are asking.  No, although I suspect Salmond won't have either liked or expected the level of hostility he experienced this evening.  I find it hard to believe that Johann Lamont, Ruth Davidson or Willie Rennie would have met with rapturous applause had they similarly found themselves on centre stage at this Olympic party.  If there's any truth that this relatively insignificant event touches on it is this: Scottish politics is becoming increasingly polarised and tribal, and this extends beyond the professional politicians of Holyrood and Westminster and into wider society.  The reflections and responses on twitter alone speak volumes about this regrettable new reality.

Other than that, there's little to say other than I hope the many people on the streets of Glasgow this evening enjoyed the triumphal parade!  As far as a few boos go, they're slightly more interesting as news than Kate Middleton's topless photographs but only marginally.

What this has also shown is that Alex Salmond is not Boris Johnson.  The First Minister has neither the sense of humour nor the inimitable style of the mayor of London.  Well, we can be thankful for small mercies...

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