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The Bannockburn myth

Posted on January 08, 2012 by

Sometimes this blog wonders if it’s missed a meeting that everyone else in the Scottish/UK media and blogosphere was at. It’s hard to explain in any other way the sudden outpouring of absolutely demented, nonsensical keech that’s inexplicably spewed from all corners recently about the SNP planning to hold the independence referendum in June 2014, on the 700th anniversary of the Battle Of Bannockburn.

It’s been everywhere this week. The Herald started it a few days ago, the Express reported the “speculation” about it, the Telegraph asserts it as the “favourite” date without citing any source, while the Mail (never knowingly delayed by research) has simply stated it as fact. The Scotsman’s deputy editor – who you might reasonably expect to have his finger more on the pulse of Scottish politics – has mocked it on Twitter, while his own paper perpetuates the lie. The Guardian (normally by far the best UK paper at covering Scottish affairs non-idiotically) are at it too*, and even a proper grown-up journalist like the BBC’s Andrew Marr repeated it in an interview with David Cameron on Marr’s TV show this morning. SNP supporters have fretted about it.

But where has it suddenly come from? The SNP has been (not very) quietly pushing the date of the referendum back for months now, from at least as far back as October 2011 when the party’s business convenor Derek MacKay placed it “towards the end of the Parliament”, which was uniformly interpreted as meaning at least 2015 or even 2016. Anyone listening to Alex Salmond discuss the subject of late couldn’t miss him saying much the same thing, talking of the vote being “well into” the second half of the Parliamentary term and other similar phrases.

The halfway point of this Holyrood session is November 2013. The Bannockburn anniversary is just a few months after that, and it would take some real mental gymnastics for anyone to interpret the SNP leadership’s consistent messages about the referendum’s timing since the election as pointing to such a conclusion. But more than that, it’s simply stark, raving, howling-at-the-moon insane.

Salmond’s narrative for at least the last decade has been one of unbroken Anglophilia. Give him the slightest chance and he’ll wax lyrical about what a great country England is, how we’ll retain the Queen as head of state and how the social union between the nations of the UK will remain intact even if Scotland becomes independent. Scotland and England, as the First Minister recently put it in a perfectly-pitched appearance on The One Show, would still be “the best of friends”.

And while the cynical might argue (wrongly, in this blog’s view) that such assurances are just the voice of political expediency talking, as the FM attempts to play down how traumatic the break-up of the Union might be, pretty much everyone in Britain – regardless of how bitterly they oppose Salmond’s policies – agrees that he’s one of the smartest political operators anywhere in these islands.

So what sort of barking-mental nutjob would you need to be to believe Salmond would suddenly decide to hold the independence referendum in a red mist of Braveheart fervour on the anniversary of Bannockburn, perhaps the most emotive and divisive date anyone could possibly conceive between Scotland and England? Such clumsy stupidity would fly openly in the face of a long-standing party leadership policy, which is handily detailed by Paul Hutcheon in this very weekend’s Sunday Herald [paywall]:

“SNP thinkers have long tried to avoid linking Scottish independence to centuries-old battles with England. In 2003, Kenny MacAskill, now Justice Secretary, urged the SNP to distance itself from the annual Bannockburn rally, to celebrate the 1314 Scots victory. “Should the rally, with its celebration of victory over the English, remain an accepted part of the SNP’s calendar? The answer has to be no”, he said.”

(The full speech can be read here. The SNP gradually withdrew from attending the Bannockburn Day rally in an official capacity, finally stopping altogether in 2008.)

That the SNP would hold the referendum on the 24th of June 2014 is an idea no less ludicrously, obviously cuckoo than suggesting Salmond had proposed a new Scottish national flag of Wee Jimmy Krankie‘s face on a tartan backdrop with a haggis fringe, yet here are mature, normally sensible political commentators (and also the Daily Mail) treating it as a serious possibility? Is it just us? Have WE gone mad?

Let’s make this absolutely clear. There is not one chance in a thousand of the independence referendum taking place on Bannockburn Day – unless the UK Government completely loses its mind and imposes that date itself, of course. We’ll accept a £1000 bet from anyone and everyone, here and now, that the SNP will not propose any such thing at any point. Hell, we’ll even pay 10 to 1 on it. Any takers?

* When challenged by this blog and reader Robin_Bruce over the Bannockburn allegation, the Guardian quietly inserted the words “Tories claim” at the front of the sentence, but without adding the customary suffix at the bottom of the article to note that it had been amended. You can see the original version here.

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  1. 09 01 12 00:57

    They warned us… – Fauls Positive

11 to “The Bannockburn myth”

  1. Robin

    Great post. Did you see the guardian piece?
    Where Patrick Wintour says:
    "Salmond has been talking about holding a referendum to coincide with the 700th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn (1314)."
    I'm going to try to get him to provide a source, by badgering him on twitter (@patrickwintour)

  2. RevStu

    Yeah, just spotted it and edited it in. Would comment myself, but I’ve been put on pre-moderation by the Guardian for making fools of Unionists too often 🙁

  3. Robin

    Patrick is talking to the news desk, so we could well be seeing evidence one way or another in print soon:!/patrickwintour/status/156149398311665664
    Did anyone take you up on the bet?

  4. Scott

    Very good blog entry, interesting read.
    To be honest getting tired of the scaremogering the unionist campaign has been doing.

  5. KBW

    But but, the last referendum for devolution was held on the 700th annivesary of the battle of Stirling Bridge, where the Scots humped the English in the first of the wars of independece. And that was Labour. Did they do it "deliberately."
    The Battle of Stirling Bridge was a battle of the First War of Scottish Independence. On 11 September 1297, the forces of Andrew Moray and William Wallace defeated the combined English forces of John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey and Hugh de Cressingham near Stirling, on the River Forth.
    The Scottish devolution referendum of 1997 was a pre-legislative referendum held in Scotland on 11 September 1997 over whether there was support for the creation of a Scottish Parliament with devolved powers, and whether the Parliament should have tax-varying powers. The referendum was a Labour manifesto commitment and was held in their first term after the 1997 election. This was the second referendum held in Scotland over the question of devolution, the first being in 1979. Turnout for the referendum was 60.4%.
    So it was good enough for Labour, what's the beef. Any thing that will increase the vote is fair game.

  6. RevStu

    Dude, that is one awesome piece of trivia (although it’s actually 702nd, not 700th). I’ll be using that…

  7. Robin

    Bannockurn in Guardian article has morphed from:
    "Salmond has been talking about holding a referendum to coincide with the 700th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn (1314)."
    "Tories claim Salmond has been talking about holding a referendum to coincide with the 700th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn in 2014."

  8. Dave McEwan Hill

    They know not what they do.
    I suspect that Clegg and Cameron's latest sallies have removed all doubt there may have been lingering about us having an independence referendum.
    The debate will now be seriously entered by everybody about the choice we have to make at the ceretain referendum – whenever it is.
    The polarisation in Scottish politics that the SNP has always needed is now firmly in place.
    It is not left against right.  It is unionists against nationalists – and it has the added bonus of destroying the Labour Party in Scotland in the process which has cast itself on the wrong side of this argument (to the despair of many of their erstwhile supporters). A deafening silence from  that quarter at the moment is probably indicative of deep internal disquiet
    As Cameron has knocked the possibility of a Devo-max question on the head I have no idea where this leaves his LibDem Scottish support
    We should not however underestimate the depths to which the UK establishment will go to thwart Scottish independence facing the undoubted prospect of a bankrupt UK without the collateral of oil monies against its debts.
    If anything they do is anything like what they have done to date we have great hope however. They do not understand and in London are continually fed nonsense by their remaining interests in Scotland. They would be far better resigning themselves to seeking Scottish support and assistance as they try to salvage the English economy.
    Interesting times.

  9. John Böttcher

    The referendum will be in 2015.
    I find it very amusing the Unionists have taken the Bannockburn anniversary date as truth.
    I thought the Unionists would walk into Salmond's traps. They've surpassed themselves: they've ran right into the biggest one of all.

  10. DG

    Alex would appear to disagree about 2015.

  11. RevStu

    I've long said my own view was November 30 in either 2015 or 2014. Looks like the latter, since that just counts as autumn (winter being officially Dec/Jan/Feb).

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