Tom Peterkin: Military becomes political battlefield

The Royal Burgh of Stirling will host the UK government's Armed Forces Day. Picture: Greg Macvean
The Royal Burgh of Stirling will host the UK government's Armed Forces Day. Picture: Greg Macvean
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FOR the politicians looking at their 2014 calendars, there was an intriguing clash highlighted in The Scotsman earlier this week.

Not only was it a clash of diary dates, but also a collision of the ancient and the modern and, in its own a way, a clash between the Yes and the No campaigns.

On 28 June, the Royal Burgh of Stirling will host the UK government’s Armed Forces Day, a date that coincides with the first day of a festival nearby marking the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.

As reported in these pages, this has presented all sorts of logistical challenges for the organisers of the two events. It also poses some interesting political dilemmas. Given that the slightest cough and splutter next year will be viewed through a political prism, it is inevitable that both sides of the independence debate will take a huge interest in activities in the Stirling area at the end of June.

Indeed, it was impossible not to miss the twinkle in the eye of one UK government source when it was mentioned that the two dates would coincide.

It wasn’t the thought of a Red Arrows fly-past putting an anachronistic spoiler on the Bannockburn celebrations and frightening the horses, which will take part in a “brutally realistic” re-enactment of the battle, which had put a spring in his step. It was more the mischievous thought that a day commemorating contemporary heroes of the British Army might resonate more with the public than folk dressed up as heroes of a centuries-old conflict.

Bearing in mind that the last Armed Forces Day held in Scotland attracted royal visitors and the Prime Minister, it is unimaginable that Better Together do not hope to benefit from a celebration of British military tradition and bravery.

No doubt the SNP will take pains to be represented at the MoD event, too. Alex Salmond was at the Armed Forces Day held in Edinburgh in 2011. His party may want to establish a separate Scottish defence force and have deep reservations about the morality of recent conflicts, but it has been a staunch supporter of the troops.

It would be tempting to view the Bannockburn re-enactment as a “Nat Fest”, given that the independence movement has long rallied at the battlefield from where Robert the Bruce sent proud Edward’s Army homeward – tae think again. But there will be plenty proud Scots, who support the Union, who will be keen to commemorate a great Scottish victory, arguing that celebrating a milestone in their nation’s history is not incompatible with the wish to remain part of Britain.

From a Yes perspective, there will also be those who take the view that the sight of medieval re-enactors putting the English to flight with their spears, axes and swords has little to do with today’s civic Scottish Nationalism which prides itself in being open to all.

The one thing that is for sure, is that the chances of either event being celebrated without political distractions are nil.