by Rab Bruce’s Spider

The “Too wee, too poor, too stupid" argument takes many forms. Its latest manifestation is a claim that Scottish athletes going to the Olympics as part of Team GB have benefited from being part of a larger nation, with the clear inference that they wouldn’t have managed to get there without the help of the UK.

Now, there is an element of truth to this but, as with so many Unionist arguments, it is revealed as absurd when examined more closely.

For a start, there are athletes from a great many countries competing in Rio. Most of them got there without help from the UK. Indeed, former colonies such as Jamaica have managed to produce world class athletes without any assistance from the UK. For example, it seems unlikely that Yusain Bolt could have won any more medals than he has done already if Jamaica had still been ruled from Westminster.

When it comes to small nations, countries like Finland and Slovakia have produced athletes who have won Olympic medals and larger but poorer countries like Ethiopia and Kenya still churn out world class competitors. This suggests that neither population size nor a country’s wealth has much to do with the calibre of athletes that country produces. Naturally, a country with a higher population is likely to produce more athletes of the required standard to compete in the Olympics but that is not at all the same thing as saying Scottish athletes could not get there without help from the UK.

but let’s look at that help. Like all organisations, the British Olympic team has to make choices about where to spend its money. There is no doubt that many of the Scottish athletes will have benefitted in some way from UK funding but that funding tends to go to sports where there has already been an element of success. For example, Table Tennis gets very little in comparison to other sports because Britain hasn’t produced any medal winners in Table Tennis. This reveals the different priorities. For the athletes, it is taking part that counts but the money men in charge concentrate only on medals and they do it in such a way that the medals need to come first. In other words, if Britain were to produce a Gold medal at Table Tennis, that sport would receive more funding next time round but the medal needs to come first. This means athletes have to do it more or less on their own before the British Olympic team steps in with greater financial assistance.

Even for those sports which do receive assistance, most of the athletes who are out there representing the UK will have reached their current level of ability largely through their own dedication, natural ability, sponsorship money, and significant help from friends and family rather than financial assistance from the UK’s Olympic team.

It cannot be denied that UK funding will have helped Scottish athletes but the extent to which it has made the difference between them reaching a qualifying standard or not making the grade is difficult to quantify. Above all, the claim that they are only there because of UK funding implies that an independent Scotland would be too wee and too poor to provide similar financial support. This is perhaps the worst aspect of this sort of argument because it implicitly assumes that Scotland would be unable to match the achievements of other small nations when it comes to producing athletes. As ever, putting your country down seems to be the aim of those people promoting this line of thought and that is the saddest thing about it.