The Bannockburn Tartan Clown Show, 2014

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 8 August 2013)
The 700th anniversary of the battle which defined the Scots people is descending into farce.

Midsummer Day 2014 will mark the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, a battle which did much to define the Scots as a people and Scotland as a nation.

It was a battle King Robert the Bruce never wanted, to face the might of the English army on an open field. However, his brother, Edward Bruce, had laid siege to Stirling Castle and the English governor holding it had agreed that if an army did not come to relieve the castle by midsummer, he would surrender to the Scots forces. As it was, the Scots and English met on the land above the Bannock Burn on Midsummer Day 1314. The Scots, in a demanding position on the high land of the New Park to the south of Stirling, fell upon the English forces under King Edward II and utterly decimated the most modern, best equipped and most highly trained army known at the time. It was a complete rout, and while the Wars of Independence dragged on for another 14 years (some would argue 28), there was never another serious attempt by the English to invade Scotland. In 1328 King Edward III of England signed the Treaty of Northampton, recognising Scotland’s independence from England in perpetuity; a treaty which has never been rescinded incidentally.

Bruce’s victory at Bannockburn was indeed a momentous event. But as ever, history is more than the tale of kings and queens, of battles and generals. It was recorded by both Scots and English chroniclers of the time that behind the infantry, the archers and the footsoldiers of the Scots, came common people. Armed with pitchforks, scythes, knives, or anything they could lay their hands on, the ordinary people of Stirling set about the remnants of the English forces. The idea which Sir William Wallace had started when he first rebelled in 1296 had taken fruit, and blossomed on the field of Bannockburn; the idea that they were a sovereign people and that this land was theirs. Bannockburn had bought them more than just their own king, it had bought them something beyond price, nationhood and freedom.

Fast forward 700 years and just how far have we evolved in our freedom? Well needless to say the Scotland’s official tourist body, VisitScotland, and the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) could hardly let this momentous date pass without doing something to mark it. 2014 will have a Homecoming Scotland event, similar to the one held in Edinburgh in 2009, when Scots from all around the world are invited to come ‘home’ to Scotland for a gathering. As part of the Homecoming events, there will be a three day event marking the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, which will have tourist stalls, food and drink and “re-enactments” of the battle.

All sounds like fun, doesn’t it. Hold on though, firstly the Bannockburn Live event will not be held over the three days of the anniversary. It will in fact run from 28 to 30 June 2014, the weekend after the actual anniversary (23-24 June 1314).

And what of the freedoms which the Scots fought for on that momentous and bloody day in 1314? Bannockburn, among other things, bought us political freedom, so one would imagine this would be recognised by the organisers? Except they will not be. The National Trust for Scotland has stated in the strongest terms that there will be no political stalls, or even political banners, allowed at the Bannockburn event.

A spokesman for the NTS has stated “It is a non-political event, full stop. We are talking about concessions for sale of produce, sale of merchandise, that sort of thing. We have a veto on the products and produce that are sold so, clearly, anything that we regard as unsuitable for what will be a family event would not be allowed to be sold. We won’t be allowing banners in other than the types that are being sold within the arena area.” So in other words, no political banners, no banners at all in fact – except the tartan tat which will be sold inside the even perimeter, and which no doubt the NTS will make a fat profit upon. Anyone who has ever been in a gift shop at any NTS visitor attraction will already know the facts about this already.

And just who in the Scottish Parliament is overseeing all this, given that the NTS are getting £250,000 of government funds for the event? Murdo Fraser, Convenor of the Scottish Parliament enterprise, energy and tourism committee. Mr Fraser, supporting the anti-political stance, stated “Prohibiting the presence of political stalls, banners, canvassing and leafleting will be essential in creating a family-friendly atmosphere. Bannockburn 2014 is aimed at those wishing to commemorate our shared history, free from the pressure of political campaigning. I was previously concerned that the SNP and Yes Scotland would hijack this event to promote their separatist agenda. Now, armed with the knowledge that this will not be allowed, I am confident that the event will remain free from political undertones.”

Mr Fraser of course was referring to the fact that the referendum on Scottish independence will take place on 18 September 2014, and apparently voicing his fear that the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the official campaign, Yes Scotland, may have tried to hijack the event for political purposes. There was never any such intention to do so however. Murdo Fraser of course is a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) representing the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Association; the party in Scotland which is most opposed to Scottish independence. So don’t let anyone kid you, this is political already. This fact is easily evidenced by Murdo Fraser’s own words, “SNP and Yes Scotland would hijack this event to promote their separatist agenda”. The term “separatist” is but one negative connotation thrown about by unionists to smear those in favour of an independent Scotland. After such an outburst, I am frankly surprised that Murdo Fraser was allowed to keep his position as Convenor.

The anti political stance also brought comments from the official no campaign in the referendum debate, Better Together. A Better Together spokesman stated “All eyes will rightly be on the Scottish Government in the run-up to the referendum. I think the public would take a very dim view if they thought that this was in any way part of a propaganda exercise ahead of the vote. Bannockburn should be all about bringing people into Scotland to generate money for the Scottish economy, not politics ahead of the referendum. We very much welcome the moves by the National Trust.”

And I can assure Better Together, Murdo Fraser and others in the no campaign that all eyes from those of us in favour of Scottish independence – and other Scots patriots, worldwide, will be on the Bannockburn event. One, but one, union flag on display will be seen as a political statement and all who support independence shall quite rightfully cry foul, very loudly and as one.

But then, contrary to what Better Together seem to be claiming, one would have thought that the Bannockburn event is not merely a money-making exercise, but commemorating a moment in history which defined us all as Scots and a free people, no matter where in the world those Scots who shall be commemorating it may live today. I have no doubt that next June there will be Scots across the globe who cannot make it to Stirling shall nonetheless commemorate Bannockburn in their own special way. It is about freedom and nationhood; about belonging as a people and nation. And that is something which the London lackeys of Better Together shall never understand.

There is one concession from the NTS, there will be no clampdown on people with slogans on clothing such as t-shirts. Their spokesman continued “People can wear what they like but, with 15,000 people expected each day, I don’t think a few people wearing T-shirts will make much difference.” So that’s alright then, isn’t it? Except the latest twist is indeed a restriction upon clothing, one which is by no means a political statement and which should enrage nationalist and unionist alike; the NTS and event organisers, Unique Events, intend to ban anyone wearing a sgian dubh at the event.

For those of you not in the know, the sgian dubh is the small knife worn inside the right leg kilt hose in traditional highland dress. It is part and parcel of the garb when any man wears the kilt, be it at a wedding, a rugby match, or a highland games. They were certainly never banned at the 2009 Edinburgh Homecoming and Gathering. It is an accepted part of Scottish apparel, which most people would never think to even attempt banning.

The NTS and Unique Events however have decided to ban this important part of Scottish national dress from the Bannockburn event. A statement from them read “The Bannockburn Live team are working closely with Stirling Council and Police Scotland to ensure that health and safety procedures are a high priority for the family event in 2014. As standard with public events of this scale, sharp objects will not be permitted into the arena. We respect the rights of individuals to celebrate their history and cultural traditions at Bannockburn Live, but this also needs to balance with the rights of the general public to enjoy the event safely, and with no inconvenience.”

This decision has caused an outcry from clan and heritage groups, as well as individuals. Mark Sutherland-Fisher, a past president of the Clan Sutherland Society, stated “If Robert the Bruce was reincarnated today, would they take his skean dhu away from him? It is absurd to be prohibited from wearing what is recognised as part of Highland dress.” And Graeme Mackenzie, chairman of the Association of Highland Clans, said that the move was “over the top”. And whilst the NTS and Unique Events may be claiming safety and having consulted with police, that is certainly not backed up by Police Scotland, who have no problem with people wearing sgian dubhs and who stated “We have not had an approach from the enactment people for any advice. The law states quite clearly that if is part of a national dress it is not an offence.”

Why then would the NTS and Unique Events tell institute such a ban, and tell an outright lie about consulting police in doing so? And how will they enforce this ban? Will they attempt to confiscate sgian dubhs from people at the gates, or will they turn those wearing them, perhaps people who have travelled thousands of mile for the Homecoming? What then would that say of Scots hospitality? It would bring shame not just upon the NTS and Unique Events, not just upon the Homecoming and the Bannockburn Live event, but on Scotland as a nation and the Scots as a people. Again, many of us shall be watching, and should that ever happen, then we shall speak loudly as a people to cry shame upon those of us who would bring discredit to our nation and people.

The more and more I look at the Bannockburn Live event, the more and more I see it descending into farce. I don’t see a momentous re-enactment of the battle which defined the Scots as a people, but a sideshow of tartan clowns with a Braveheart mentality, stalls full of the same mass-produced tartan tat and Bonnie Prince Shortbried Tin romanticism one can find down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile any day of any year, and no doubt with a few shouts of “Och aye the noo!”, “Braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht!” and “There’s a moose loose aboot this hoose!” thrown in for good measure.

Let them have it. I am a veteran of a great many Bannockburn Rallies and I have long been of the mind that anyone who counts themselves as a Scot, if possible, and whatever their politics, should have attended such rallies. Contrary to what some unionists would claim, the annual Bannockburn Rally is not about anti-English racism, it is a commemoration of one of the greatest events in history which formed us and made Scotland and the Scots what we are the day. It is no more anti-English than the USA celebrating 4 July is anti-British – in other words, not at all. Besides, if the “anti-English racism” claim were true, just what does that make Bannockburn Live?

I don’t know if there shall be a Bannockburn Rally on the weekend before Bannockburn Live, the closest to the actual anniversary, but I certainly hope so. If so, I shall be there, with a number of like-minded patriots. Not for a “Teuchtarfest” of tartan keech, kilt towels, and C U Jimmy wigs, but to make the statement that I am a Scot, that this is my land and my history which made me what I am today, bought dearly 700 years ago by those who fought for the rights of all free Scots, both then and for all time, no matter in the world where they may live today.

A noble hart may haiff nane es
Na ellys nocht that may him ples
Gyff fredome failyhe

(John Barbour, The Brus)

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