Monday 12 April 2021

Alex the Bruce tries again


What has the Scottish election in 2021 got to do with the Battle of Bannockburn? The obvious answer would be nothing. After all there are any number of medieval battles that are important historically that have no connection whatsoever with modern European politics. The Battle of Grunwald (1410) is rarely if ever mentioned in either German, Polish or Lithuanian elections. Neither the French nor the English much notice the anniversary of the Battle of Crécy and it neither influences their relations nor their elections. But elections are different in Scotland.

An election broadcast for Alex Salmond’s Alba party describes the battle between the forces of freedom and the oppressor. King Robert urges on the camp followers who after constructing homemade banners surge forward as a fresh Scottish army and by this demonstration of people power become the straw that broke the spine of English superiority. The oppressor flees south. The voice of the Bruce tells us that people power will prevail again if only we vote for Alba and unite the clans.

The only other country in Europe that could possibly have such a broadcast would have been Serbia when it was controlled by nationalistic forces invoking the Battle of Kosovo (1389) to justify all sorts of genuinely oppressive actions against Bosnian Serbs and Kosovans who were made to flee southwards by the people power of Serbs forming murderous militias. I suspect by now however that Serbia has jailed such people wishing to move forward from some of the darkest days in its history. But Scotland doesn’t want to move forward, we are still stuck with the Medieval.

What Alex Salmond wants us to do is to vote for the SNP with our first vote and then to vote for Alba with our second vote. This is no doubt what he means by gathering the clans. Perhaps if voting doesn’t do it, he will use the ancient Scottish method of the fiery cross. Maybe it was a tossup between calling his party Alba or Crann Tara (fiery cross) and he only went for the former because it was easier to spell. This is important because not one Alba supporter in a thousand can write a sentence in Gaelic including Alex Salmond.

But if Salmond is invoking the sprit of Robert the Bruce even using him to say that we need a similar act of people power in 2021 as Bruce used in 1314, who are the other characters in our modern re-enactment? We can assume that Salmond wants to send proud Boris the Oppressor back homewards to think again if he dares not bend to the will of Alex. But are we to see Nicola Sturgeon as a John Baliol or else as a John Comyn and what is Salmond going to do if she doesn’t bend to his will? Give her a sleepy cuddle until she gives in?


It isn’t obvious that people power had any affect on the Battle of Bannockburn and given that in an election each voter is supposed to have the same amount of power, it isn’t obvious that voting for Salmond’s Alba is any more an example of people power than voting for Douglas Ross’s Conservatives. But it is not really that Salmond thinks that Bannockburn is genuinely analogous as that he simply wants to invoke it as being the holy of holies and indeed the essence of Scottish nationalism.

Scotland today has almost nothing in common with 1314. There was next to no freedom in those days and many Scots were owned as serfs by people like Robert the Bruce. Scots who fought for “freedom” in 1314 would not get it. Scotland was not a democracy then, nor was it a democracy when it formed the Kingdom of Great Britain with England. Only in the UK would Scots gradually get to vote in elections. So, Robert the Bruce was just as much an oppressor as any English King who invaded.

The reason Salmond is invoking Bannockburn is because Bruce won a war of independence against the English and Salmond wants to win another. But the use of Bannockburn tells us all we need to know about Salmond’s Scottish nationalism. He is appealing to modern Scots to do what your ancestors did. He is saying we are involved in the same age-old struggle against the same oppressor.

It is amusing therefore to read English Scots for Yes writing in response:

Please take this down. Our movement is based on civic nationalism, where all who love and work in Scotland are Scots, and have a say over our future.

Blood and soil nationalism and dog-whistles about “the english” have no place in modern Scotland.

The “English Scot” writing this must have believed that the fig leaf called civic nationalism was real. But oddly Scots living in England rarely describe themselves as Scottish English people and indeed are liable to think of themselves as Scots even when they have lived in Canada or New Zealand for many generations.

Without the sense of there being a Scottish people stretching back to the time of Robert the Bruce and beyond there would be no Scottish nationalism. There would be no desire for this piece of territory to be independent if the people living in it could not appeal to an ancient country which was independent and that the people living today are related to the people living then and that they live in the same country.

Without the sense of the same people sharing the same land, there is never any nationalism. Scottish nationalists may welcome the odd English person and people from other places to their cause, but this does not change the fact that the cause is about land and ancestry.

Without there being a genuine difference between Scots and other British citizens living in the UK, the argument for independence collapses as lacking all grounds. Its only on the assumption that this land called Scotland is fundamentally different from that land called England that there is a reason to separate them. But that ground cannot be that English people live both in Scotland and in England. Rather there must be the idea that the Scots and English are different peoples.  These Scots are our people, those English are people we send homewards to think again.

No wonder the English Scot objects. The movement he has been campaigning for has turned against him. He tries to tame Alba into being a nice civic nationalist again. Alba may well pretend that it is. But if you can’t trace your ancestry back to the Battle of Bannockburn, then be careful supporting Alba or indeed the SNP for it might be you that is send homewards to think again.