In just 196 days, the 20th Commonwealth Games will kick off in Glasgow, the first time the city has hosted the second largest multi-sport event in the world. 12 years on from the original ‘we can do this’ moment in Manchester, 4500 sportsmen and women from 70 teams will compete in front of over 1 million spectators in 17 designated sports. The city, and the country, will be alive with excitement. And that excitement is already building.
The Queen’s Baton Relay is today in Cameroon, the 25th of the 70 countries it will visit on its journey around the Commonwealth of Nations. Every venue is ready and already being used by competitors and the public. 92% of the tickets have been sold, and 15000 volunteers (from 50000 applications) have been chosen to support the athletes, the city and the Games, and welcome the visitors who will arrive. And the cultural events will promote the talent and creativity of modern Glasgow and Scotland to the world.
Tonight I will relay that message of organisation and vision to the House of Lords in a short debate that will focus attention on Glasgow 2014 from the rest of the UK. And I will be hoping to hear in response that the UK government is assisting in all possible ways to make sure that the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council can deliver the best Games ever.
The UK Government can help by ensuring that efficient systems are in place for Visas, and that support is available for security, promotion of investment and even weather forecasting. It has already helped to ensure that the co-ordination between London2012 and Glasgow2014 is strong, with advice helping in the planning of the 2014 events and the continuity of legacy programmes. That co-operation must work right up until the starting gun and throughout the Games themselves.
When we decided to bid for the Games in July 2002 we had three key goals: to showcase Glasgow and Scotland to the world as a location for major events, tourism and investment; to leave behind a legacy of economic development and sporting inspiration, particularly in Glasgow and the West of Scotland where poverty is still a reality for too many; and to provide a platform for some of the best athletes in the world to compete at the highest level, and for Scots to shine and win more medals than ever before.
That vision is close to realisation today. And all along the cross-party approach has been key to that success.
Patricia Ferguson MSP, Sports Minister in my Cabinet, led the bid with style and dedication, Shona Robinson MSP, her successor for the new Scottish Government in 2007 has taken forward the organisation with professionalism and sound judgement. Successive administrations in the City Council have been consistent and visionary in their determination to deliver Glasgow 2014. For once in our divided land the politicians have pulled together and the result will be spectacular.
It is vital now that we finish the job in the same way. The leadership of Glasgow City Council is largely in favour of Scotland’s membership of the UK, while the Scottish Government leadership is in favour of independence. 2 months out from the vote, the potential for problems is obvious.
That is why I have called today for a break in campaigning by both sides in the campaign for the referendum on Scottish Independence in September 2014, to cover the two weeks of the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
There are genuine concerns that the Games, and the image of Scotland, could be damaged by attempts by either side – for and against – to use the Games to promote their cause, or to use the venues for campaigning. There is a real possibility that worries over politicisation will distract organisers, athletes and performers in their preparation. Between now and 23 July there will be week after week of debate and publicity. After 3 August, there will be a final 6 weeks of campaigning up to the vote.
To stop and work together for 2 weeks should not be beyond us, and I hope both campaigns will sit down and agree to do so.