Leaders: Post-mortem required on Bannockburn

There was a flood of complaints from attendees who faced lengthy queues inside and outside the event area. Picture: Getty
There was a flood of complaints from attendees who faced lengthy queues inside and outside the event area. Picture: Getty
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FOR the performers who re-enacted the Battle of Bannockburn and those who provided the exhibitions, entertainment and ancillary attractions, there was nothing but praise from those who eventually made it into the viewing areas for the commemoration of the 700th anniversary of the battle last weekend. But much emphasis falls on the word “eventually”.

Despite substantial subsidy and promotion of the event as a major feature of the 2014 Year of Homecoming, there was a flood of complaints from attendees who faced lengthy queues inside and outside the event area. It was particularly vexing for those who had bought their tickets well in advance and who found themselves caught waiting behind those who had turned up to buy tickets on the day. Visitor experience was further aggravated by the onset of a torrential downpour mid-way through Saturday afternoon.

VisitScotland chairman Mike Cantlay took time to apologise for the delays and to those who had been inconvenienced.

A post-mortem must surely follow into how such a prestigious national occasion tripped up on a basic – and all too predictable – matter of logistics. This was an event that has received some £650,000 of public funds and was supported by two leading national agencies – the National Trust for Scotland and latterly VisitScotland. Visitors were entitled to expect more competent and professional organisation.

That said, the 700th anniversary was never going to be an easy event. With the independence referendum less than three months away, it was vital that it was not exploited for political purposes or seen as a Yes campaign affair. Promotion by the Scottish Government was of necessity muted. At the same time, it had to compete with the Westminster government’s decision to hold the UK Armed Forces Day in Stirling on the same day – a rival free attraction which was inevitably bound to draw thousands away.

Sales of tickets were notably slow from the start. The event was curtailed from three days to two and spectator facilities were also reduced from 45,000 to 20,000. Prices were cut to £22, which may only have encouraged attendees to defer purchase until the day, in the expectation of further price reductions. The organisers say 3,000 remaining tickets were sold on the final day. However, a full reckoning of overall costs and revenue from ticket sales awaits further calculation.

Among the questions that MSPs will seek to answer is whether government subsidy was effectively and efficiently spent and what steps the organisers could have taken to mitigate the problems.

The re-enactments and the attractions within the event itself were well received. But this could – and should – have been more thoughtfully organised.

A real swipe at digital dependency

What gadget-driven youngster dares sign up for a weekend without mobile phones, iPads, Kindles and laptops? A whole weekend? Having to look up? And actually talk to people?

For those who have mourned the decline of conversation, the Castaway-style retreat organised by the Scottish Youth Hostelling Association at Lochranza on the Isle of Arran in September cannot come soon enough. The sweeping behavioural change of the past decade has seen the relentless spread of digital communication and in particular the mobile phone. Is there anyone under 30 who now walks along a street without talking into a phone? Is there a meal-time not now punctuated by the checking of phones and the frenetic tapping of text messages? There’s no need even to describe the meal. A photo of the food has replaced any requirement to articulate the experience of eating.

“On the move” electronic gadgetry looks to be seriously addictive. Indeed, a generation has now grown up innocent of life before such gadgetry. It feels out of touch unless the phone is checked every few minutes. And whole days can go by with barely a word uttered, yet a silenced generation can claim it is more fully up with events than ever before.

Take away the devices and what might ensue – a delirium tremens of withdrawal? A demonic twitching of the fingers desperate to tap? And what’s happening out there? The vital tweets to which we must respond? The Facebook postings of “selfies”? What’s the worst that can befall? Not orthodox human communication, surely? With eye contact?

Lochranza in September may need serious wi-fi back-up by way of addiction counselling.