It will take place, as the original one did, over two glorious days, at the end of June. The 700th anniversary of Robert the Bruce’s victory over King Edward II will be a battle for independence fought, not for real, but for a virtual reality…as befits our modern age.
The SNP’s propaganda war-machine will be using the images conjured up by the re-enactment of the battle, on the supposed field at Bannockburn on the 28th and 29th June, to lob a few emotional rocks at the No campaign. Meanwhile, up the road in Stirling, the No campaigners will be hoping that the British Armed Forces Day, will be attracting 100,000 spectators waving Union Flags. The flat carse-land at Stirling will not have seen anything like it since 1314.
It’s hard to resist the temptation to draw some parallels. Edward II (David Cameron) was coming north to relieve the siege of Stirling Castle ( occupied by the No campaigners). Robert the Bruce (Salmond) drew up his troops in front of the castle and, by skilful manoeuvring, beat off a force at least 10 per cent larger than his own (the current gap in the opinion polls).
Such amusing parallels may seem too obvious and too extreme but there’s no doubt that a lot of political strategy has gone into these visitor attractions. The 700th anniversary of Bannockburn was always going to be an important even – no matter what the political circumstances of the time. No doubt the National Trust set about rebuilding of the visitor centre, at a cost of £9m, in all innocence. This is due to open in March and will include, of course, a virtual reconstruction of the battle.
It then looks like the Scottish government persuaded the National Trust to stage a real re-enactment of the battle and a whole weekend of colourful events over the 28th/29th June. It would include a number of themed “villages”, live music, craft shows, and food and drink stalls. It couldn’t help becoming a patriotic, if not nationalist, event. It was part of the euphoria package of Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup and Homecoming which might persuade doubting Scots to vote Yes for independence.
Then some bright sparks in the No camp in Stirling – where the Conservatives and Labour have formed a Unionist coalition against the SNP – thought up the idea of bidding to hold the UK Armed Forces Day on the same weekend. It would reinforce “Britishness” and spike the guns of the SNP down the hill at Bannockburn. The Defence Secretary Philip Hammond jumped at the suggestion and announced that Scotland should again host this important annual event – even though it had only recently been in Edinburgh – and, of course, Stirling would be the ideal place. Let battle commence…for visitor numbers and TV coverage.
The National Trust panicked. It had only sold 2,000 tickets out of 45,000 at that stage and it was fearful of making a massive loss. Mr Salmond sent Visit Scotland to the rescue but the event was trimmed from 3 days to 2 and its budget cut from £950,000 to £650,000. Visit Scotland bosses are currently in trouble with MSPs at Holyrood for not telling them about the changes when they gave evidence to the tourism committee in mid-January. The bosses at Stirling Council are also in trouble, explaining how they will pay the bill of £250,000 for staging the Armed Forces Day.
Faced with such jolly confusion, I decided I should do my patriotic duty and go to both events on Saturday 28th June. They both sound like a great day out – or, at least, half a day out each. But as with so many things these days, it’s not that easy to get tickets.
When I typed Bannockburn into my computer, I landed in the National Trust’s visitor centre with its game-boy presentation of the battlefield. No mention of the June weekend. The next two Bannockburn entries turned out to be “unavailable”. I then tried the Visit Scotland website but there was no link to a ticket office. There was however a telephone number, which turned out to be the rather harassed lady at the aforementioned National Trust visitor centre. Once her computer had been cranked up she was able to give me the name of a website, called Ticket Soup, which might sell me some tickets.
This indeed was a useful website. It didn’t sell soup but it did sell tickets for “the performance” on Saturday 28th. Prices ranged from £20 to £75, plus a £2 booking fee, plus an outrageous £2.30 for postage. They must be heavy and bulky tickets but I look forward to them thumping down on my door mat.
Not everyone will be as persistent in their patriotic duty. As often is the case, Scotland will need to get its tourism business up to speed if it’s to make a success of either of these events in the summer. We also need to get rid of the petty divisions and rivalries which have led to such a farce.