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Commonwealth Games: Alex Salmond's new best friend is a big green thistle named Clyde

Mascot could play key role in battle for Scottish independence

His name is Clyde Thistle, an energetic plant from Glasgow with spiky purple hair and an insatiable appetite for exercise. But the official mascot of Scotland's 2014 Commonwealth Games, unveiled yesterday, could also prove helpful in First Minister Alex Salmond's battle for independence.

To the men and women going to compete there, the Glasgow Games will be a grand sporting occasion – nothing more, nothing less. But for Mr Salmond, the competition is about an awful lot more than just sport. This is the only big, international multi-sport get-together that Scotland can compete at in its own right. Not only that, but these games are to be held in Scotland in the year of the referendum.

This was always going to be Mr Salmond's last big opportunity to cultivate and nurture patriotic pride in Scottish sporting success ahead of the ballot, and he has always been determined to milk it for all it is worth. It is against that political background that the unveiling of Clyde Thistle has to be seen. Of course, it should stressed, right at the outset, that the mascot was created by 12-year-old Beth Gilmour from Cumbernauld: Mr Salmond had no role in the design at all. But the First Minister probably couldn't have come up with anything more exclusively patriotic and overtly Scottish if he had done the drawings himself. The thistle mascot is Scotland's national flower and emblem. It wears a top bearing a defiant impression of the saltire and goes by the name of Clyde, probably Scotland's most famous river.

Now, compare that with previous Commonwealth Games mascots. Manchester's mascot for 2002 was Kit, a yellow cat. There was nothing overtly English about it, there was no flag of St George or a Union Jack on it.

Even the last time the Games were in Scotland, in Edinburgh in 1986, the mascot did not fly the patriotic flag like it does now. Then it was called Scottie and was, unsurprisingly, a cottie dog – again with no saltire or other in-your-face references to Scotland.

But these days, things are different. For the next two years, everything in Scotland is going to come back to the constitution and independence – including the Games. Mr Salmond will be desperate to put behind him the success of Britishness at the Olympics – and the booing he received at the hands of an Olympic celebration crowd last week. To do that, he has to make sure no one is in any doubt that these Games are all about Scotland. So be prepared: Clyde is just the start.