Tweet Follow @RPJblog
By Jason Michael
IN THE YEAR OF THE LORD thirteen hundred and fourteen a Scots army under the command of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, met the host of Edward II – numbering as many as 25,000 men – near Stirling at Bannockburn. Bruce, with no more than 10,000, was heavily outnumbered. The English army was superior in every respect, and the rest, as they say, is history. On Saturday, the 704th anniversary of the first day of the battle,* more Scots assembled on the field of battle to claim their nation’s independence than Bruce led there those seven centuries ago. It turns out the old saying is true, we do have long memories in this part of the world.
*But before we go on, please humour me. Allow me for a moment to be a pedant and a killjoy, not because I’m sore at not having made the commemoration, but because I take great pleasure in doing this sort of thing. According to the Chronicle of Lanercost – a history recording events between 1201 and 1346 – the Battle of Bannockburn began on the “On the vigil of the aforesaid Nativity [of St. John the Baptist],” 23 June. Yet 23 June is not the real anniversary of Bannockburn. Our independence day is on the 4 July – and here’s why: On 3 September 1752 Great Britain switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. People went to bed on 2 September that year and woke up on the 14 September. When we factor in the loss of these 11 days, the 4 of July will be the 704th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Bannockburn.
However – as I was saying, I was unable to make the day. It was my intention to arrange with the organisers a speaking slot, but sadly I was unable to reach anyone at All Under One Banner. We can imagine, with all the outstanding work they are doing – and it really is outstanding, they were run off their feet. Given that I live in Dublin and have commitments here, it’s just not possible to attend every march. I have to prioritise those where I can elbow my way onto a platform. Sure, someone has to take the pressure off the Wee Ginger Dug [tongue out emoji].
Bannockburn was – is – important, and I felt I had something to say. I still have something to say, and here’s as good a place as any to say it.
Standing on the field of Bannockburn, on this day of all days, we are transcended as a nation. When we drink this cup in memory of events so long ago we imbibe the power of place, we are moved through time, and we are united in a common and tempered solidarity with one another. Nothing says nationhood more powerfully than this – togetherness in bonds of memory at a place that belongs to us all by gift and by right. These three things were to be the flesh on the bones of what I wanted to say: time, place, and all of us – we Scots.
We began with the silliness of a calendrical peculiarity, because the calendar – the marker of these past seven hundred and four years – frames how we make sense of ourselves and our world in time. At the head of the year stands the Roman god Janus; from whom we are given the month of January, a deity with two faces – one looking back and the other looking to the future. He’s a fitting symbol for Newerday, don’t you think? Looking back over this expanse of seven hundred years we remember; not that we were there to remember, but to honour our dead. In spite of all the joy, the banners, the music, and fresh fighting spirit, this is a place of sacrifice. Nothing less than freedom was purchased here, and it was paid for in a currency we are here to ensure is never demanded again.
“It is good and honourable to remember our dead,” says the Maccabees – other worriers of an ancient nation who fought against tyranny and oppression. It is good and it is honourable that we remember the price that was paid on this soil, and in every battlefield where Scots – alone and with brothers and sisters in arms – defied the will of bullies. We remember every effort that has been made for Scotland’s freedom by Scots; all those named and nameless heroes who have brought us to this wonderful moment in the story of our country – and we give them thanks.
But we too have a second face, the one that has brought so many of us here. We are a people with our faces set like flint on the further horizons of the future. The past has taught us why we should be free. Many of us here are still in the chains of the past, bearing the brunt of decisions made at Westminster. Long enough have we endured second and third-class status in this union of the spirit-crushed and defeated, long enough have we put up with merely being tolerated in our own home. Our future is ours to decide. This was bought and paid for here at Bannockburn and at a thousand other places since. It is bought again in the fact that we refuse to forget, refuse to give up. Scotland is Scotland’s, for all those born here as much as it is for those who choose to embrace or gift and heritage.
Other than being the place of sacrifice and memory it is, Bannockburn is our place – here and now we have made it our Scotland in miniature; a snow globe of the country we have together imagined and hold as precious as a newborn baby in our arms. Together we brought this miracle of Scotland into the world and nothing – nothing – will prise it from us now. We are standing in the birthplace of what will become in our days the world’s newest state. You did this!
By coming here today, whatever course your journey to independence has taken, you have acknowledged that you – that we – have a place. There is a place for us. Your feet have taken you on a pilgrimage, making this place the sure and certain sign that we are truly a people on the move – and our destiny is a place we will call home; our place of origin and our final destination. Here, right where you stand, is as radical as it gets. Radical is when we dig deep into the foundations of who we are, into the deepest recesses of our culture and history – and this, sisters and brothers, is that deepest place. Before you go home take off your socks and shoes and feel the power of this in your toes. Let this time and place water you like the thistles you are.
Dear fellow thistles – this brings me to the last thing I wanted to say. Whatever you are; lions, unicorns, thistles – I want to talk about you. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’ve travelled a fair bit. I’ve seen some things. Maybe you have too. But I have never fallen so deeply in love with a people than I have fallen in love with you. In the 90s I left a broken place, a Scotland that saw defeat and hopelessness as normal. As the years went by, coming home twice or three times a year, I watched my home town deteriorate as though it were a stop-gap animation of an apple rotting. I remember reading of a referendum on independence in Dublin and I remember my initial fears and doubts – a hope I was not strong enough to trust.
Then you folk came along and wrecked my one-man ex-pat pity party. In two glorious years I watched from afar as you blossomed and bloomed. In Kilmarnock, in Glasgow, in Edinburgh I saw with my own eyes the colour changing in people’s faces. People who I had known all my life, people who I had only known to walk with a stoop, were walking like giants. It was the coffee I needed to begin a new day as a new Scot – a renewed Scot. You brought me home. Thank you. You are the secret ingredient of Scotland.
When the votes were counted, when our hearts broke together, when my brother wrote to me: “More hope needed,” I knew – like all of you – that I had a new purpose. A butterfly rebellion had begun, and right here, right now, we can see that we’ve taken to the air. We are in flight. We got to where we are because of the people around us. Look about you and see the heroes of this field, the women and men who have given their all to make this place, at this time, the meadow of our beginning. We are together and we are on a mission, one that was begun a long time ago, which we renew today. Take this mission as a flaming torch of hope and love and light the fires of St John’s Day – of Bannockburn’s day – wherever you go.