Some days ago a friend recounted the tale of meeting a fellow independence supporter. The man was dejected, down-at-heart. He talked of losing his appetite to restore Scotland’s independence, and therefore its political rights. He explained how he felt the time to achieve statehood had been lost, and he didn’t think the opportunity would arise again in his lifetime.
Hand-in-hand with that dejection came the opinion of the SNP “not doing enough” to counter the never-ending torrent of abuse and lies, and black propaganda showered on it every day. (The SNP were certainly noticeable by their absence during the smash and grab Tory election.) His friend saw defeat in every corner of the press, in television news items and political chats shows, but especially in the faces of other Scots. It was having an adverse affect on his confidence and his will to sustain the fight for a better nation, for a constitution fit for the modern age.
If ever a man needed a good stiff drink with friends to cheer him up, he was that person. Had he been a character in a cowboy movie his wagon train pals would have dragged him to Big Sally’s salon rooms for an hour’s bedtime entertainment, only he’d emerge moping that he couldn’t do anything because he didn’t feel like a real man.
He sounded like the Reverend I.M Jolly doing his best to sell Christianity to cannibals who had assumed he would taste better if they all blessed themselves before eating him. The poor man’s cri de cœur was actually a litany of defeatism.
I’m reminded of that brief encounter after watching Andy Murray fight his way back from the brink of defeat at Wimbledon today. What a battle. He faced a wily, excitable Italian, Fabio Fognini, who had demolished him some months back on his home patch in Rome. Fognini is a tennis player with the ability to hit six balls while cooking pasta, and then one winning volley at 120 mph to the base line while adding the tomato sauce. Murray was tested almost to destruction in a rousing, nail-biting, third round tie.
To my mind Murray seemed on the point of wipe out. And I said as much. Oh ye of little faith. I felt we were back in the early days of his career, willing him to win. Make it one for Scotland, Andy, you can do it! – but all the time aware of his technical weaknesses (then) and his inexperience, assuming he would lose. Whatever seat you sat on to watch him play you’d be cowering under it within half an hour, cushion clutched on your head.
His performance today was all of that, but also that of a great champion. Like the weeks leading up to the vote in the 2014 Referendum on Scotland’s independence the match went one way and then the other. Just as it seemed he was on the point of winning Murray lost a set to the Italian. Then his game disintegrated, his confidence with it. This was in the face of an opponent prone to tantrums. The Italian threw his racquet on the ground in anger, challenged the umpire, was docked a point for making an obscenity, shouted at the clouds dramatically as if rehearsing an opera, and even strained his ankle so badly he called for aid to bandage it.
The Italian was out of sorts with everybody, at one point shushing his own supporters. Murray was unsettled by the Italian’s antics, whacking his thigh hard with his racquet, good old Scottish penitence stuff.
No matter what Murray did, what new stroke he tried, his opponent countered with ease. Watching him falter I felt a shiver of uncertainty, could Andy survive? He was rattled, particularly when Fognini took too long between serves. Even when his opponent’s serve fell to pieces Murray appeared unable to exploit the moment. I started to see the Scottish psyche in motion – confident, sure of our strengths, but riven with self-doubt just as we should be striding to the finish.
Murray faced a clever opponent, but he knew he was the better player, which was all the more frustrating he was getting beaten.
In an heroic five game renaissance, having spotted the Italian’s preponderance to repeat the same moves too often, Murray pulled a magnificent win out of thin air, to the crowd’s evident delight. Murray came back from nowhere, second-guessing his opponent at every turn, sending the Italian running in all directions simultaneously to no good effect.
Murray received a standing ovation.
In the after-match chat to camera, a waste of time for any sportsperson forced by sponsors, Murray opined: “I didn’t feel like I moved as well as I did in the first two matches,” after coming from 2-5 in the concluding frame, and saving five set points to beat the too easy going, spent Italian 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5.
“I had no real rhythm after my first couple of matches. Then today from Fabio there were a lot more rallies from the back of the court. It’s partly down to the way he plays as well. I felt a little bit off balance. I don’t know if that was anything to do with my hip or not. But that’s something I hopefully will do a bit better the next match.”
By the way, Federer speaks in a monotone same as Murray, only Federer speaks faster making him sound interesting. He’s not. But Murray is. He speaks for us. In our age he’s the very epitome of Scotland’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s our failings that we have to attend to if we are ever to own our own destinies again and feel like real winners. There is no need for us to wait for the other side’s incompetence before securing victory.
The opponents of Scotland’s progress, the control freaks, the oppressors, are lobbing psychological volleys at us: you know the slogans, tropes, and memes off by heart by now: Sturgeon is not fit to lead, she is disliked by the public; there is internal disquiet within SNP ranks; the membership are split over Europe; the SNP is tired, lost its way, run out of ideas.
Let us remind ourselves what it is we are fighting for – the right to develop.
The United Nations puts it succinctly in the Declaration on the Right to Development:
“The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.” (Article 1.1)
“The human right to development also implies the full realization of the right of peoples to self-determination, which includes, subject to the relevant provisions of both International Covenants on Human Rights, the exercise of their inalienable right to full sovereignty over all their natural wealth and resources.” (Article 1.2)
Murray shows us how we can win. His career is a list of defeats and wins again, but now he’s No 1 in the world. Study him well, for other nations are watching him, and us.