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Games are almost over, so soundbites will now begin

HAVING consulted the annals of the Sixties, it would appear there are no firm rules about how best to end a love-in, the likes of which has been happening in Glasgow this past week while the Commonwealth Games have roared onwards and upwards.

Heavens, the last time the city was this happy the dentists were on strike.

The police steaming in used to be a favourite way to bring hippy-dippy proceedings to a close, but now that our law enforcers carry enough kit to invade a small country, that might be seen as overkill. We could all shake hands and agree never to speak again of this summer of love, a time when we were preternaturally cheery and spoke endlessly of our love for all things athletic, even if the last sprint we undertook was a dash to grab the last multi-pack of crisps in the supermarket.

Either way, it will be all over on Sunday and normal service will be resumed. And we all know what that means. Like the monster in a bad horror movie, the independence referendum is back. No stake through the heart, no hunk of kryptonite, can kill this thing. Scotland has a date with destiny whether it wants it or not. There is no giving this one a dizzy.

Much was made by both sides about keeping politics out of the Games. First Minister Alex Salmond even declared a "self-denying ordinance", only to show, a nanosecond later, that he would be much less successful in this endeavour than he has been on the 5:2 diet. By the time Team Scotland's medal haul hit the 37 mark, beating the tally for the last Commonwealth Games, he could control himself no longer, praising the "fantastic achievement" and noting that the athletes' dedication was "inspiring the nation".

In general, however, the First Minister put on an admirable show of restraint, and how it must have exhausted him to do so. The frustration of those stuck in bus, train or traffic queues this week will have been nothing compared to that of a First Minister deprived of a chance to win gold in the 800m speechifying. As for Better Together's Alistair Darling, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, the Tories' Ruth Davidson et al, one hopes they all enjoyed the peace and quiet. We certainly did.

The truth is the politicians have stayed schtum because to do otherwise would have been to turn a happy band of Games-supporting Scots into a torch and pitchfork wielding mob. There has been an unspoken agreement at work in Scotland this past while to give politics a holiday. Having been subjected to one of the longest campaigns in political history, the public were in sore need of a break.

When it comes time to ponder what made these Games such a success, we should not underestimate the fierce, collective desire to forget about the referendum for a while and speak of things other than currency unions and oil revenue projections.

Yet for all that the politicians stayed away from soundbites, these were intensely political Games. How could they not be, happening so close to the referendum? If you want to see how political they are, observe the indecent haste with which both sides in the independence debate rush to claim the success of the Games for themselves. This is one triumph that is not going to be short of fathers. Each side, as they gaze into the dewy eyes of their newborn and choke back a tear as its little finger hooks their own, will see in the infant named Glasgow 2014 a reflection of themselves, their own aspirations made flesh, their own dreams realised. Aye, it fair makes you want to vomit, and it has not even started yet.

Yes supporters, for example, will see a relatively small nation, given the chance to prove what it can do, punching so successfully above its weight it is easily the equal, if not the better, than its nearest competitors. If this is what can be done under a Scottish Government with one hand tied behind its back, goes the thinking, imagine what feats could happen under independence. No one is calling Scotland too wee, or too poor, now (Usain Bolt may have own views, of course, but he does not have a vote).

Past disasters, the Scottish Parliament building where costs went through the roof, the tram project that ran into calamity after cock-up, are all forgotten. We have yet to see the final cost-benefits reckoning for the Games, but for now it is widely accepted that Glasgow dared, and Glasgow won. Team Scotland, on and off the track and field, inside and outside the velodrome and the pool, showed what it could do. And it did so in a good-natured fashion. So there was a touch of mass hysteria in the air, but better that than wall-to-wall gloom.

The trouble with this analysis is that with a few tweaks it could equally be adopted by the No camp. Scotland has shown it can hold its own, and more, with what it already has. Imagine what it would do with a little devo max. The Games were a triumph of partnership: between the organisers, the Scottish Government, the city council, the UK Government and the wider Commonwealth of nations.

Everyone working together for the better, not going it alone and taking on all the risk. As for Team Scotland, here was a nation already at ease with itself and its identity. The crowds who roared Flower Of Scotland had more than enough breath and goodwill left over to cheer English athletes. There was no cringe on display in these parts.

Expect more of this glory grabbing and point scoring in the television debate next Tuesday between Messrs Salmond and Darling. Both sides should be careful though in believing their cause has been boosted in an unqualified fashion by the Games. For if Glasgow 2014 has shown anything it is that the public, when it comes to matters of national identity, are far more sophisticated than politicians give them credit for. Like a Games commuter, they can chop and change to suit: the morning in the Velodrome and the evening at Hampden; proudly Scottish but happy to cheer on others.

On balance, this very complexity, this ability and desire to pick and choose, is likely to favour the No camp, those who see nothing too terrible in the status quo, can live with it, regardless of its flaws. Call it keeping one's options open, call it being feart; whatever it is, its force cannot be denied.

There will be more chances to ponder on the shifting nature of the ties that bind us before we know it: next Monday, indeed, when services take place to mark the start of the First World War.

A sharper contrast to the Games could scarcely be imagined, yet Scots will take the events in Glasgow in their collective stride as well, selecting and rejecting that which does, and does not, speak to them as individuals. After this long, hot summer of political campaigning, sporting endeavour, and remembrance we should at least be able to agree on one thing: that there are more things in heaven and earth that move Scots than can be summed up in a politician's soundbite.

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