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Shona Robison rejects calls for indyref debate truce during Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games

It would be "unrealistic" for campaigners in the independence debate to call a truce during this summer's Commonwealth Games, the minister responsible for the event has said.

Commonwealth Games and sport minister Shona Robison insisted that politicians from all parties were "mature enough to recognise" that the sporting event was "hugely important" for Scotland and said that no-one would want to risk jeopardising its success.

She spoke out after former Labour first minister Jack McConnell had suggested that campaigners for and against independence should call a halt to their activities when the Games are held in Glasgow.

The massive sporting tournament is being held in the city between July 23 and August 3, just weeks before Scotland's independence referendum on September 18.

Lord McConnell said there was a "genuine concern there will be a temptation on both sides of this debate in the period of the Commonwealth Games, given the numbers around and the focus on Scotland, to engage in a continuing debate on the referendum campaign".

He argued, for that reason, "it would be wise right now, six months before the Games, for both sides to say that they will agree a truce for that two-week period".

He said the Commonwealth Games was "an incredible opportunity to showcase what is modern Glasgow and modern Scotland".

Lord McConnell added: "A clear statement of intent here would be very meaningful, it would be meaningful for the athletes and it would be very meaningful for the Games organisers."

He said politicians should "campaign as relentlessly as they want to between now and then, and of course again afterwards in the six weeks running up to the big vote".

But he stressed that when the Games were taking place the focus should be "on Glasgow, on Scotland and on winning some gold medals for Scotland".

He voiced fears that athletes competing in the event or Games organisers "might be exploited or used by either side", and insisted: "I don't think it's a lot to ask both sides of politicians to lay off for that fortnight."

The former Scottish Labour leader added: "We can concentrate on making sure these Games are a huge success and still have a very vibrant, successful referendum campaign that delivers a clear decision for Scotland."

He also recalled how campaigning in the devolution referendum campaign in 1997 was halted in the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana.

Lord McConnell said: "We did stop campaigning, both sides stopped, and we resumed immediately after the funeral.

"It didn't detract from the turnout and it didn't detract form the result, it didn't detract from what everybody remembers as a really vibrant, dynamic campaign.

"If we can do that right in the middle of a campaign, in the final days of it, then we can certainly do it eight weeks out at the start of the Commonwealth Games and make sure we put Scotland and the Games first, and put politics second for that two-week period."

But Ms Robison said: "I don't think you can compare the Commonwealth Games and the death of Princess Diana."

She said that she believed a truce in the referendum campaign "would be unrealistic to be honest", adding: "How would you stop meetings happening in Peterhead or the Borders? Why would you do that? It would be unrealistic to do that."

Instead, she argued it would be "more realistic" for politicians to continue to work on a cross-party basis when the Games were concerned.

Ms Robison also stressed that athletes competing in the Glasgow Games "should not be brought into the political debate on either side of the referendum", adding: "I don't think that would be fair."

She continued: "I think we're all mature enough to recognise this is a hugely important event for our country, we all want it to be a success, no-one wants to jeopardise that in any way.

"I think we can do that by continuing the good working relationships we've built over many years."

She said cross-party work on the Games had been carried out "through a general election, through a Scottish election, through a local election and despite rigorous debate through those elections we've still managed to sustain cross-party working around the Games".

Ms Robison added: "I think politicians of all persuasions across the debate will enjoy the Games, will be involved as appropriate, but I don't think there's any desire to hijack the games.

"What we all want is for it to be a huge success for Scotland. We've invested a huge amount of time, effort and resources in planning what will be Scotland's biggest sporting event.

"Everybody wants it to be a success. We want Scotland to win medals, we want Scotland to welcome the world. It's a fantastic opportunity for Glasgow and for Scotland.

"The Scottish Parliament has its differences amongst the parties but the Games have always risen above that. We're able to rise above the day-to-day politics when it comes to the Commonwealth Games."

But Ms Robison said: "I don't think you can compare the Commonwealth Games and the death of Princess Diana."

She also told Good Morning Scotland that she believed a truce in the referendum campaign "would be unrealistic to be honest", adding: "How would you stop meetings happening in Peterhead or the Borders? Why would you do that? It would be unrealistic to do that."

Instead, she argued it would be "more realistic" for politicians to continue to work on a cross-party basis when the Games were concerned.

Ms Robison also stressed that athletes competing in the Glasgow Games "should not be brought into the political debate on either side of the referendum", adding: "I don't think that would be fair."

She continued: "I think we're all mature enough to recognise this is a hugely important event for our country, we all want it to be a success, no-one wants to jeopardise that in any way.

"I think we can do that by continuing the good working relationships we've built over many years."

She said cross-party work on the Games had been carried out "through a general election, through a Scottish election, through a local election and despite rigorous debate through those elections we've still managed to sustain cross-party working around the Games".

Ms Robison added: "I think politicians of all persuasions across the debate will enjoy the Games, will be involved as appropriate, but I don't think there's any desire to hijack the games.

"What we all want is for it to be a huge success for Scotland. We've invested a huge amount of time, effort and resources in planning what will be Scotland's biggest sporting event.

"Everybody wants it to be a success. We want Scotland to win medals, we want Scotland to welcome the world. It's a fantastic opportunity for Glasgow and for Scotland.

"The Scottish Parliament has its differences amongst the parties but the Games have always risen above that. We're able to rise above the day-to-day politics when it comes to the Commonwealth Games."

Blair Jenkins, chief executive of the pro-independence campaign Yes Scotland, agreed with Ms Robison it was unrealistic to call a halt to campaigning during the Games.

He said: "The Commonwealth Games promise to be a wonderful spectacle to be enjoyed by people at home, in the rest of the UK and all over the world.

"But we are also engaged in a vitally important debate about our country's future and it is unrealistic to halt the campaign for two weeks, especially so close to the referendum vote.

"Of course, people will be focused on the Games and that is as it should be. But there will still be a demand for information from both sides in the independence debate and it is our role and our responsibility to provide it."

Blair McDougall, campaign director for the pro-UK Better Together, said: "This is an important intervention from a respected former first minister.

"He is absolutely correct to say that nobody should use the Commonwealth Games as a political tool to get votes in the referendum.

"Whilst it's hard to see campaigning draw to a halt completely, there is no doubt that we should focus our energies on making the Games a great event for Scotland."

Liberal Democrat sport spokesman Tavish Scott said: "If the SNP try to use Scottish athletes to score partisan political points on independence, they will be booed by people the length and breadth of Scotland.

"It is revealing that Alex Salmond today cannot find anything wrong with politics and the Commonwealth Games running in parallel. I suspect that is all Scotland needs to know about what will happen this summer."

Scottish Conservative sport spokeswoman Liz Smith said: "Sport should never be politicised. It is vitally important that all people in Scotland, whatever their views about the referendum, get right behind our Scottish athletes and that the Commonwealth Games is not used as a campaigning forum."

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