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The man in the mirror

NOW is the time.

And now is the hour. It is 25 minutes past five on July 7, 2013. Andy Murray's hands are trembling and he shakes his legs to dissipate the tension as he stands on the very doorstep of history. Murray is shackled by a past that has included five defeats in the finals of grand slams.

On this sunny Sunday in southwest London he has engaged in hand-to-hand combat with Novak Djokovic for just more than three hours and is now surely only a couple of blows - maybe, please God, just one - from the greatest victory in his career, the greatest victory in any Scotsman's career.

He stands alone, exposed in front of 15,000 spectators in a suddenly silent Centre Court. Tens of millions watch on television. He serves, Djokovic returns, Murray drives deeps and the Serb's shot is caught by the net.

It is over. Great Britain has waited 77 years for a winner of the men's singles at Wimbledon. The Scot has done it.

There is a temptation, irresistible, to make it political. Alex Salmond waves a Saltire, David Cameron claims him as GB's son. The next day Murray quietly but surely attests that he will have his say on independence. More pragmatic counsel may prevail.

There is nothing to be gained from his participation in the debate. Advocate Yes, and the detractors will label him a millionaire who lives south of the Border and thus irrelevant, and the sponsors may be wary of a client who is severely compromising a lucrative middle-England constituency. Press for a No vote and he will be criticised for abandoning his home country, becoming a Scot-lite.

Murray's words may not be heard because of this lose-lose scenario, but his actions offer lessons than can be used in a modern Scotland and may even give us an idea of how to approach one's vote on September 18.

Murray, who takes every opportunity to declare his Scottishness, is not burdened by prejudice. He not only coexists with the idea of England but cohabits with an Englishwoman, Kim Sears, in Oxshott, Surrey. He has a cadre of close Scottish friends but his best mate is Ross Hutchins, a 28-year-old Englishman.

Murray was born in Glasgow and raised in Dunblane but his tennis education was taken to another level in Barcelona. He is not tied physically to Scotland but he is a Scot of a certain type. He has an identity, a humour and a voice that chimes with his countrymen and women but confuses, even irritates, others, a substantial group of them in England. He knows this, accepts it. But he does not change it.

As an individual he has shown the most edifying traits that have marked great Scotsmen. He has travelled from his homeland to find fame and fortune, but that is what people from small countries normally have to do. His Caledonian attitude is more peculiarly marked in his demeanour and in his attitude to work, perhaps even to pleasure.

There is a darkness to Murray. Defeat pains him physically and psychologically. A great achiever, he once did not mark his career by the tens of millions won, the dozens of tour titles gained, but by the repeated failures in the Grand Slams.

He had to confront this demon of failure that dogged his final step. He did so in the mirror of a locker room in Flushing Meadows, New York, in 2012 when he saw Djokovic wipe out his two-set lead in the final of the US Open. Murray regrouped and won in front of two other Scotsmen of a different age but of the same mettle: Sir Alex Ferguson and Sean Connery, one a No vote supporter and the other a campaigner for a Yes vote.

Murray shrugged off the shroud of this "death by Grand Slam final" by relying on virtues that are held to be strongly but not exclusively Scottish. He is thrawn. He embraces a work ethic that continues to make demands even in the aftermath of Grand Slam and Olympic glory.

Murray did not sip champagne in the VIP lounge in Leeds earlier this month when he won the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year Award. He accepted it, with customary self-deprecation, in Miami, where he is training in preparation for another season of sweat, anxiety and the sort of personal and public examinations that are the constant companions of leading sports stars.

Here there is a moment for a change of ends, a reflection. Do we take Murray as an example of how the individual Scot, poised on the cusp of the greatest vote in the country's history, should take charge of his or her own destiny and cast a Yes vote? Or do we take Murray as an example of how the Scottish identity can survive, nay thrive, in the context of the United Kingdom?

Murray, at only 26, can be used to promote either yea or nay, at least until he decides to speak out for himself.

It may be better, however, for the lad from Dunblane to keep his views to himself. Does the Scottish electorate really need to know the views of celebrities, whether sporting or artistic?

The lesson from Murray may be simpler. It can be encompassed in the irrefutable assertion that he found freedom by being true to himself.

He was hurt by his failures but addressed them, worked hard and found success. He ventured out into a world with no guarantees but with a faith in his talent.

On a night of destiny in New York, he looked in a mirror and made a choice to fight on rather than surrender. At Wimbledon, he was beset by fear but overcame it.

His greatest lesson? For the Yes campaigners it will be that nothing worth having is easily gained. And the No supporters? They will point out that he is a Scot who has succeeded as a Great Briton.

However, the biggest lesson for all of us may be that we should look in the mirror and make a decision based not on anxiety but on faith. And then - Yes or No, win or lose - be able to face ourselves in that same mirror the next morning.

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