Siol nan Gaidheal
The Bannockburn Rally this year (2003) was an absolute disgrace. The rally held to commemorate one of the most significant events in Scottish history, a defining moment in our nation's past, attracted perhaps 300 people, and even this figure may be a little optimistic. No pipe band appeared to lead the march through the town. Had it not been for the gracious offer of an Argentinian-born piper to lead the march onto the battlefield, and to the cairn for the wreath-laying, then the sound of the pipes would have been entirely absent. An error in organisation? - perhaps not. It is now time to consider why this annual commemoration has deteriorated into little but a shallow mockery of its former self.
In the heady days of the 70's, nationalism rode the crest of a rising wave, and the annual march and rally became part of the focus for this. Despite the setback of the 1979 referendum and the ensuing miserable Thatcher years, the rally remained a true expression of nationalist aims and aspirations - almost an annual recharging of mental batteries. Those who can recall the late 80's and early 90's, most especially the exhilaration of Siol Mark II, when many things appeared to be becoming possible, can now only view these times as a halcyon past. Numbers attending rose into the thousands, and the march always featured a colour party and hundreds of flags and banners, and all the attendant festivities. A true and forthright celebration of our history, with noise and pageant, enjoyed by all who were present - whether participant, onlooker or merely curious tourist.
The rally has always had a political aspect, whether the voices were those of Wendy Wood, William Wolfe and Winnie Ewing, or of Jim Sillars, Margo MacDonald, Alex Salmond or John Swinney. But a defining moment occurred during this year's rally. After turning up in their fancy cars following the actual march, (instead of leading the march as in all previous years), the political contingent scurried up to the cairn, laid the wreath, and scurried back to their little lorry, with its non-functioning P.A. system, for their speeches. Once regarded as a high point in the day's events, this has nowadays degenerated into little more than comic farce. A respectful silence fell as Madame Ecosse addressed the assembled few - for after all, she has been at the forefront of Scottish politics for years beyond count. However, her grasp on current public political perception has been slipping for some time, and she actually appeared astonished at the ripple of laughter from the crowd when she introduced John Swinney as "the man who will lead us to independence". Predictably, following MacAskill's fatuous comments a few days beforehand, Swinney was heckled - not continually, or even particularly strenuously. But the response was automatic. No dissent is allowed or tolerated within the straitening confines of "Scotland's Party" nowadays.
It seems as if the politicians now propose to take over the rally purely for their own reasons. Item 8 in the Provisional Agenda for the SNP 69th Annual National Conference in Inverness this September makes for some interesting reading. It states boldly:
"Conference notes the declining numbers of Party members attending the annual Bannockburn Rally and is concerned to ensure that we continue to mark this important historical landmark in the history of Scottish Independence.
Conference requests that the National Executive reconsider the arrangements made for the Rally with a view to organising a weekend summer school in Stirling on the same weekend which could be preceded by a brief Rally at the Borestone followed by a march to the centre of Stirling.
Conference notes the objective of such a move would be to open the debate on Independence to new international thinking and involve many more overseas contributors, expatriates and younger people.
Roseanna Cunningham MSP
Jim Mather MSP
Stewart Maxwell MSP"
We have no real argument with the first paragraph - as stated above, Siol nan Gaidheal think it is a disgrace the way that this commemoration has declined over the past few years. However, it is the second paragraph we take urgent issue with. The last thing needed at Bannockburn is its complete appropriation by a group of inept politicians, purely for political reasons. Why do they think that people nowadays stay away in their droves? Attendance at Bannockburn used to be because the speeches were inspirational - not, as they have become, a dull litany of complaints about the treatment of dinner ladies. That's not to say that the treatment, good or otherwise, of dinner ladies isn't important, because of course it is. But it's not why people go to Bannockburn.
Flicking further through the above mentioned Provisional Agenda for the SNP 69th Annual National Conference one comes across Item 11, entitled 'Stimulating National Self-Belief';
"Conference asks the National Executive Committee to appoint an ad hoc committee of Party members with the remit of stimulating imaginative, constructive Party activity out-with Council and Parliamentary Chambers, to generate and promote patriotic self-belief throughout the electorate, inspired by our own belief in the potential value of independence and by our pride in the historic integrity of the Scottish nation, formed as it has been over more than a thousand years, and still is today, woven together to work for a better Scotland and a better world, using the principles of social democracy.
Linlithgow Constituency Association."
A worthy proposal, and we can only laud some of the sentiments expressed. However, once this initiative has descended into the quagmire of committees, sub-committees, and appointees of political correctness, just how inspirational a message to the Scottish people may emerge from the other side? Far better, we think, for the activists who remain true to the principles of national independence to grasp this and run with it themselves, rather than submitting it for politicians to modify, twist and finally spew forth changed out of all recognition. The grass roots need to examine this proposal carefully, and then take the ideas and do it themselves, without the 'guiding light' of political cronies and nonentities.
The Bannockburn Rally especially needs to be completely removed from the grasp of politicians and placed squarely back into the hands of the Scottish people. After all, this particular commemoration is about the battle that led to the Declaration of Arbroath, one of the most important documents in medieval history, the earliest recorded public statement about the rights of man. A seminal charter which placed the wishes of the 'commonality of the realm' above mere kings, and most certainly an inspirational document which transcends the time in which it was written, ringing down through the ages to the present day. The current crop of political figures are most assuredly amongst the least appealing to the populace that Scotland has ever produced, with virtually no exception. If they ever hope to inspire Scotland out of the political apathy that the Unionists have blanketed us in, then something drastic needs to be done, and soon.
Do away with political speeches at the battlefield, (or at least speeches by politicians), and have an inspirational figure make the address. There is one man who would fit the bill, and he has already proved himself more than capable of promoting Scotland. A figure known to nationalists everywhere, home and abroad. David R. Ross, the 'biker-historian', has years of experience in public speaking, though his largest audiences tend to be those well furth of Scotland's shores. Inspirational, uplifting, and above all with no hint of condescension, he would be a worthy main speaker at Bannockburn. So we put this suggestion forward to those who still listen - Bannockburn needs to be advertised properly, in the national press, to ensure a decent attendance. It needs to have a proper focus, to give those who attend something they would want to attend for - not mealy-mouthed jam-tomorrow political whinging, but a speaker who would inspire those leaving the rally to do that little bit more every day to work towards regaining our nationhood.
We could make that start simply by retaking Bannockburn.
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