Bannockburn slaps ban on independence campaigners

Roy Murray (King Edward) and William Gilchrist as (Robert the Bruce), launch Bannockburn Live. Picture: Greg Macvean
Roy Murray (King Edward) and William Gilchrist as (Robert the Bruce), launch Bannockburn Live. Picture: Greg Macvean
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INDEPENDENCE campaign groups are facing a ban from attending the official celebrations marking 700 years of the Battle of Bannockburn in a bid to keep the event “non-political.”

Groups stalls and leafleters will be told they will not be welcome at the Bannockburn Live festival, which will be held less than three months before voters go to the polls.

And the official in charge of the event say people would even be discouraged from bringing their own flags and banners to the event if they were embossed with a political message.

However bands will not be prevented from taking the stage wearing clothing with political messages, and some debates and discussions will be held at the event, but will be kept strictly “non-political.”

A number of prominent supporters of the independence cause, include singer-songwriters Dougie MacLean and Karine Polwart, have been booked for the festival, which producers Unique Events say will capture “every essence” of Scottish culture.

It will also feature a pop-up bookshop, stand-up comedy, a food and drink showcase and an ancestral arena allowing visitors to find out if they are related to anyone who played a part in Robert the Bruce’s famous victory over the English. More than 350 performers will performing in recreations of medieval encampments and the battle itself, which will be staged as a piece of open-air theatre six times over the weekend.

Almost 40 different clan organisations are expected to attend the event, which is receiving £650,000 in public funding, although VisitScotland - which agreed to take overall responsibility for Bannockburn Live in January - is hoping to recoup around £250,000 from ticket sales if it is a success.

Caroline Packman, Homecoming Scotland director at VisitScotland, said: “Bannockburn Life isn’t a forum for political campaigning.

“It’s a great day out for all the family, enjoying yourself, learning about the history of Scotland and immersing yourself in culture.

“We’ve not been approached by any (campaign groups). But it’s got nothing to do with politics at all, it’s not that kind of event, and that’s what we’ll be telling people.

“We have not got as far as determining what stewards will tell people with political flags or banners, but we would strongly discourage it.

“It’s not a day for politics or party-political campaigning.”

Some of Scotland’s leading musicians are lined up to appear, including Julie Fowlis, the Gaelic songstress who won worldwide fame after appearance on the soundtrack of Disney-Pixar film Brave, Roddy Woomble, frontman of indie favourites Idlewild, Roddy Hart and The Lonesome Fire, who recently won a week-long residency on Craig Ferguson’s US chat show, Celtic supergroup Treacherous Orchestra, and Rachel Sermanni, the face and voice of RBS’s latest advertising campaign.

Pete Irvine, director of Unique Events, said: “Why on earth we would be doing anything to do with the referendum? This is a cultural festival.

“We probably won’t have any political stalls as a rule, but it actually hasn’t come up as an issue yet. We can’t really stop anything carrying a flag or wearing a t-shirt. We can’t really censor what people wear.”

Scottish tourism minister Fergus Ewing said: “I don’t really see it (Bannockburn Live) as being a matter of politics at all.

“It won’t be a day for politics, it will be a day for celebration, remembering the past, treasuring our history, and of course our roots. The diaspora feel very strongly about where they came from, the blood is strong. There are many people throughout the world who will be coming to Scotland and that is good enough for me. It won’t be an event for party politics at all.”

Mr Ewing admitted he had not yet invited any UK ministers to attend the event, but insisted they would be made welcome. “I very much hope that we will see some of our colleagues from the UK government attend. If they come along I will happily buy them a dram.”

Around 45,000 for the festival went on sale last summer but just 2500 have been sold so far. Of these, around 38 per cent of these have gone to overseas visitors.

Bannockburn Live, which was launched last June, was taken over by VisitScotland from the National Trust for Scotland in January after the conservation charity raised concerns about the possibility of making a significant loss on the event due to an unexpected clash with the UK government’s major Armed Forces Day event in Stirling on the first day of Bannockburn Live. A third day for the festival was dropped while the overall capacity was more than halved, from 45,000 to just 20,000.

Tickets for each day cost £22 for adults, although they do not include access to the new £9 million visitor centre at the battlefield. All VIP tickets, which did include entry to the new venue, have now sold out, despite a price tag of £82.50.

Mr Irvine, whose firm has been planning the event for the last year, refused to predict a sell-out for the event, but insisted it was a “cheap ticket.”

He said: “People haven’t really known what the event is until now. This will be a completely new kind of festival, where history takes centre stage. This mix of the theatre, national and natural history, outdoor activities and top-class music has not been seen before. We think this is the good-value family event in Scotland this summer.

“It’s cheaper than other festivals like HebCelt and Belladrum and cheaper than other events like the Royal Highland Show. I’m sure the tickets are going to do really well.”