It’s been a dreamy notion of mine over the years to pick up a caravanette and traipse around Western Europe for three weeks over the summer, following the caravan of the Tour de France. The fact I have no drivers’ licence, speak about as little French as it’s possible to escape from my Standard Grades with a pass with, and no means to pay for such a jolly, has never quite punctured that particular inner tube of hope.
But it turns out all I might need is a ScotRail day return*. Already over a year in the planning, the Scottish bid for the Grand Depart of Le Tour 2017 is kicking up a sprocket or two. Although the idea of the planet’s biggest spectator sporting event coming to grace our sodden shores is fantastic enough by itself, it’s the timing that makes it potentially awe-inspiring.
As things stand, a Yes vote in Autumn 2014 would trigger negotiations on the final settlement between the rUK and Scotland. Most public pronouncements on what happens next indicate the Scottish elections of May 2016 go ahead as scheduled currently, albeit electing MSPs with a considerably wider remit. The other date crucial to all this is the date of formal independence, i.e. at what stage MSPs formally take legal and constitutional responsibility for those matters reserved under the Scotland Act 1998.
Given the precedent under that Act – where the formal transfer of power took place on the 1st July 1999, 7 weeks after the elections to Holyrood – it seems sensible to assume a similar timescale, if only to keep things orderly with regards the mandate the parliamentarians elected in 2011 have with regards matter newly under their remit post-Independence. Members elected in May 2016 would have no such issue. So 1st July 2016 seems likely to be the date of formal independence.
Here’s where Le Tour comes in. You’ll note I’ve left out the “de France” part, and for good reason. Whilst undoubtedly French to its core (and all the better for it), the race has become more and more of a ‘Tour de France and other places’. It has evolved over time to be a celebration of Europe, with an obvious French bias (a situation brought into sharper focus when you realise a French rider hasn’t won the thing since 1985). The race starting in the capital of a newly-independent European nation state carries with it a host of political and cultural statements about Scotland’s place in the world, and Europe’s potential embrace of a 28th EU member nation.
Imagine a prologue Time Trial along the cobbled streets of the Royal Mile, heading downhill to the Holyrood building, round the foot of Arthur’s Seat, and heading back towards Princes St and the Castle. The first stage taking in the Forth Bridge, the Wallace Monument, Loch Lomond and thence into Glasgow. And the next day heading south, finishing in Carlisle as a symbol of the new partnership of equals between the people of these Isles. All along the routes hundreds of thousands of people waving the flags of umpteen nations, most prominent amongst them the Saltire. And dozens of commentators on dozens of TV channels around the world explaining the background and recent events in Scotland.
Le Tour started slightly earlier than normal this year, partly due to quirks of the calendar, and partly due it being an Olympic year in the Northern Hemisphere. Usually it kicks off on the first Saturday in July.
In 2017, that Saturday is the 1st of July. Potentially the first anniversary of Independence Day.
* – Which still begs the question as to which internal organ I want to sell to pay for it.