Past and Present at Bannockburn

A lovely day to take a photo of a fifty-year-old statue of a 700-year-dead king.

Pilkington Jackson’s iconic statue of Robert the Bruce. Photo by yours truly.

It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

 – The Declaration of Arbroath, 1320

Those of you who follow one or another of my various blogs will be well aware of my comic commemorating the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. Likewise, those of you who know me more for my constitutional and historical observations will know that I have a great fondness and appreciation for Scottish history.

Yet frustratingly, one of the most common protestations I hear from the Yes camp is how it’s not about Bannockburn. It’s not about Braveheart and Robert the Bruce and 1314 and FREEEEEDOM. This is about the future, social justice, democracy, accountability, solidarity, and responsibility, not about old wars and long-dead kings and Robert Burns poems. Bannockburn, they say, is only ever brought up by anti-independence campaigners, to use as a stick with which to beat pro-independence campaigners – “anti-English,” “xenophobic,” “jingoistic,” “Nationalist,” “racist.” The Wars of Independence have become so tainted by misuse that they’ve spawned a variation of Godwin’s Law – Gibson’s Law.

I disagree. This is about Bannockburn, and Braveheart, and everything else – how could it not be?

 

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien

I empathise with the likes of National Collective, Bella Caledonia, and other groups and movements which seek to dissociate the referendum from the long and bloody history of Scottish independence: on the one hand, it is history, and it is foolish to base any new system upon antiquated historical precedents. But on the other hand, it is history: how can we possibly hope to learn from it if we dissociate ourselves from it?

There are perfectly valid reasons not to want to focus on Bannockburn in the referendum debate, and there are valid reasons not to consider it at all. Perhaps as an English Scot, you don’t want to consider the torrid history between your old and new nations. Perhaps you simply aren’t interested in the historical aspect. That’s all fine. What isn’t fine is rejecting it out of concern that your opponents will use it against you. In case it’s escaped your noticed, in such an important and emotional debate as this, each side is going to use every possible advantage against the other – and it’s sadly common to see Scottish history being belittled and besmirched by both sides in the debate.

Bannockburn wasn’t really about Scottish independence, they say: it was nothing more than an Anglo-Norman power struggle; that there was no distinct feeling of “nationality” in 1314; that it was just a fight between long-dead kings that doesn’t matter to modern people; that the Scots only won because of the expertise of the glorious Knights Templar; that it didn’t really secure Scottish Independence at all. It’s gotten to the point where anti-independence commentators will say, in all seriousness, that William Wallace was a proto-Unionist Hero and that Scots only remember it to celebrate the murder of thousands of English people. Mention Braveheart at your peril, or nobody will take a word you say seriously – you’ll be written off as a foaming-at-the-mouth anti-English Scottish Nationalist. All the while, they will wistfully opine about the great heroism of the World Wars, celebrate the great victory at Trafalgar, and lionise the great works of Scots – so long as it was from 1707 onwards.

When did we let our opponents dictate the terms of our own history?

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
― George Orwell

The Wars of Scottish Independence are not some fantasy spun by patriots, they are part of the very fabric of our nation. They formed and moulded the direction of Scotland for four centuries. The actions of Wallace, the Bruce, and others have ramifications which have affected the very world, from the rise of the English empire to the American Declaration of Independence. The Wars of Scottish Independence are important. William Wallace was important. Robert the Bruce was important. They are part of what makes Scotland what it is – they’re part of the reason we’re even having this blasted referendum in the first place.

No, it goes without saying that I’m not talking about celebrating that time we kicked the English basterds’ erses – this isn’t a football match. It isn’t about the Scots beating the English – it’s about the Scots repulsing an invading army and asserting their independence. Is celebration of the end of World War II “anti-German”? Is celebration of the Battle of Hastings some weird mix of colonialism and masochism? Are the Americans engaging in Anglophobia every 4th of July – and the Indians, Australians, Canadians and so many others on the dates of their independence from the British Empire?

The next time someone brings up Bannockburn or Braveheart, I’m not going to apologise, jump in and say “oh, but it’s not all about that.” Of course it isn’t all about that – if pressed, I could probably think of a hundred reasons for Scottish Independence before I would place “because Bannockburn and Braveheart.” But what does it mean, to do it “for Bannockburn and Braveheart“? Is it “these people did it, so I should too?” Not as simple as that. Is it “because they got the blood up and I’m looking for a fight?” Of course not.

No, the reason I refuse to cut Bannockburn & Braveheart from discussion on Scottish Independence is because so much of Scottish history has already been suppressed over the years. How many people know that Sir Walter Scott was, at one time, the greatest-selling author on the planet? How many Scots know that one quarter of the entire world’s shipping passed through the River Clyde? How many Scots recall the Great Michael, Radical War, the Red Clydeside, the Scottish Covenant? By making Bannockburn and Braveheart persona non grata in a debate on Scottish Independence of all things, the anti-independence collective have successfully separated ourselves from our own history.

This is what happens when one culture imposes its might on another – not just the loss of life and liberty, but the very loss of history. Both the Nazis and Soviets destroyed and suppressed Poland’s history and culture during the 20th Century. When the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, the systematic destruction of non-Muslim heritage took place despite all the protestations of the United Nations. And in the early days of the Union, Scottish history was either recast in a Union-friendly light, or cast aside in favour of a new British history – though that wouldn’t stop the British establishment from destroying their own records. Certainly the Gaelic cultures of Ireland and the Highlands suffered from what has been termed “cultural genocide” – what else could explain such atrocities as the Dress Act?

So I say: feel free to ignore Bannockburn if you truly have no interest in it. But I implore you do it for the right reasons, rather than doing the unionists’ job for them in undermining Scotland’s rich and unique history.

On the Comic

Generally speaking, I wanted the comic to be apolitical. I really did. But given the sheer power and passion running through Scotland’s creatives at this point, and certainly through myself, is it even possible for the comic to be apolitical? Was it ever possible? Such are the thoughts which have been troubling me of late. As we all know, the debate regarding Independence has substantial numbers for both sides. It’s certainly less certain than the Irish Referendum. So through the comic I’ll be asking: am I writing this part because of my political views, or is it a commentary that is greater than politics?

At the very base of it, the vast majority of perfectly ordinary people are voting whichever way they’re voting because they think it’s what’s best for them and the people they love. I know many people who share my opinions on everything from personal freedoms, equal opportunities, egalitarianism and social justice, yet disagree on how those things should be done. I suspect it might be the same for my overseas friends, be it my Republican and Democrat buddies in America, in Germany, Spain, France.

I’d like to think that my comic speaks on ideas that transcend legislation or policy, but speaks on matters of humanity – things I’d fight for regardless of the political situation, that I’d advocate for all nations and none. In fact, a case could be made that everything is political, that every opinion has political ramifications. So with that in mind, why worry about how political or non-political something might end up being? People have drawn political interpretations from The Lord of the Ring as a World War II allegory, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as Drug Culture Exploration, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a commentary on the Gold Standard. So in the end… I’m not going to fash masiel’ about out it. I’m going to write and draw a comic. However apolitical it ends up being, so be it.

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