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Great Scott! What Might A 'Yes' Vote Mean For British Sport?

19/09/2014 12:21 BST | Updated 12/11/2014 10:59 GMT

In all of the uncertainty surrounding the future of Scottish-based banking giants, a currency union, and the sovereignty of the Saltire; the potential effects of Scottish independence upon British sporting hopes - especially in the run up to Rio 2016 - perhaps deserve greater consideration. It is often mooted that a sporting figure from the Celtic fringes, Andy Murray or Rory McIlroy to name but two examples, are only considered 'British' when they are successful, and that they lose their Northern Irish or Scottish identities as a result.

But what if, on Thursday 18th September, the Scots were to cut their ties with the United Kingdom, taking their sporting stars with them? Were we to imagine a future where, as in many professional international sports such as football, rugby, lacrosse or golf, all sporting ties in Great Britain were forgone in favour of national representation; what would that then mean for British sport?

1) 'Murray Mound' becomes 'Henman Hill' once more?

The loss of Scotland from the Union would precipitate the loss of one of Great Britain's most successful sportspeople of the last decade. At the US Open in 2012 Andy Murray became the first British man since 1936 to win a Grand Slam singles title, before finally banishing the long-standing curse of Fred Perry's triumph at Wimbledon a year later. Whilst recent injuries and shaky form have seen Murray slip out of the world's top ten rankings, Murray comfortably remains the British number one - a position he has held continuously since 2006. Add into the mix a Gold Medal at London 2012 and it is easy to see why the Glasgow-born Murray is celebrated as the crowning jewel of Scottish sporting pride.

And what would Great Britain be left with? Quite simply, the loss of the only British tennis superstar of the last fifty years would be catastrophic, especially for the mens' tennis game. Rising talents in the female game such as Laura Robson (Australian-born but London-based) and Heather Watson (Guernsey) may well provide a strong if unspectacular base for a Scottish-less British future in tennis, both having broken into the world's top forty in the past two years. The same however cannot be said for the mens' side. Remove Murray and there remains no English, Welsh or Northern Irishman inside the world's one hundred best, no one who has ever even broken into it. A 'Yes' vote would realistically leave Great Britain facing the reality of no more Grand Slam successes for a decade at least.

2) An end to Olympic overachievement?

Britain has long since punched above her weight on the greatest sporting stage of them all, the Olympic Games. Fourth place in Beijing, third in that remarkable summer in London 2012, Team GB will undoubtedly be targeting another top-five finish in the Rio 2016 Medals Table. This could prove a difficult task, however, should the referendum result in an independent Scotland. The numbers speak for themselves. At Beijing 2008, Scottish athletes won three gold and three silvers medals in a Team GB total of 47 podium finishes. Remove the Scots and Britain would have sunk from fourth to joint-eighth place in the overall medals total.

In London the Scottish contribution was even more marked: seven golds, four silvers and three bronzes amounting to 14/65 (or over 21%) of the medal haul. And then there are the figures and icons of the Olympics themselves. Sir Chris Hoy, flag-bearer in the Opening Ceremony and a proud Scotsman, became Britain's most successful ever Olympian; Katherine Grainger captured hearts upon Eton Dorney; Daniel Purvis helped an unlikely Mens' Gymnastics team somersault to an historic bronze medal.

There are, of course, limits to the effect that independence would have on the Olympic prospects of a Scottish-less Team GB. In terms of the Golds-led medal table favoured by the IOC, GB would still have placed fourth in the medal table at both Beijing and London. As The Guardian noted in its review of 2012, Yorkshire alone would have finished twelfth on the Medals Table, as would have an independent Scotland. It must be remembered that the vast majority of success, enthusiasm, and funding for British sport is still concentrated in England, especially at centres of excellence such as the universities of Loughborough and Bristol.

Nevertheless, it is an inescapable truth that some of Britain's most promising athletes, currently preparing their build up for the next showpiece in Rio, may be lost from the new 'Team GB'. Genuine medal hopes including swimmers Michael Jamieson, Ross Murdoch and Hannah Miley, rower Heather Stanning, and sailor Luke Patience to name but a few, could very well disappear from the rostrum under the British colours. Whether there would be a process of national self-determination for such sporting stars, time will tell, Team GB bosses will surely be hoping that there will be.

3) The largely unaffected sports

In truth, Scottish independence should have a negligible impact upon the majority of people involved in the enjoyment and execution of professional sport. For avid followers of the Barclays Premier League; the average rugby player in next year's World Cup; the money-men that work behind the scenes in the F1 paddocks, a 'Yes' vote would realistically mean very little. In such sports, where commercialism has largely blurred the distinctions of national identity (or where international teams are already divided into English, Scottish, Welsh et al realms), independence may mean little more than the alteration of a flag graphic.

One unknown quantity, however, may well come to fruition in the event of a 'Yes' vote, and that is the social ramifications of the potentially political, economic, and cultural divorce that threatens to take place between Scotland and her British former counterparts. An affected economy will have undoubted effect on grassroots participation, although for better or for worse, it is impossible to tell. School curriculums may change in the hands of a fully sovereign Scottish state, investment in sport and cultural channels could suffer at the hands of attempts to balance out the expected outflow of capital markets and tertiary sector employment.

This, of course, is all guesswork. Yet that does not make it a worthless task. the question of the future of British sport remains a key, if ultimately secondary consideration in the difficult decisions to come. In the build up to Rio 2016 in particular, a severing of ties could prove hugely detrimental to the British attempts to continue their tale of Olympic improvement with each passing Games. It may well take a 'Yes' vote for the rest of the United Kingdom to realise that, in a sporting sense at least, a considerable portion of our success is attributable to a population north of the border now vehemently divided over the need to break an historic bond.