First Minister speech at Bannockburn visitor centre
First Minister Alex Salmond
Bannockburn visitor centre
28 March 2014
Bannockburn secured the emergence of the modern Scottish nation.
The battle was immediately deemed iconic; a colossal victory despite overwhelming odds and it was fought for the most noble of causes - the defence of king, country and community of the realm.
As W. Mackay Mackenzie observed in his study of Bannockburn written for the centennial of 1914, ‘history is but a literary and political exercise; a mist of rhetoric has settled upon the field’. This victory was quickly and has been repeatedly chronicled in word, poetry and song.
All battles have to be mythologised to some extent if their memory is to survive and many much more recent than Bannockburn have undergone this process. However this formative point in our history was not bought at any sort of bargain. The casualties on both sides in the Wars of Independence were enormous.
When Eddie Morgan became our Makar, his first work was a translation of a poem about Bannockburn, written by an English eyewitness. I want to quote a passage from it now.
“How can I sing of so much blood…
I cannot number the humblings and tumblings of hundreds that fall.
Many are mown down, many are thrown down,
Many are drowned, many are found and bound”.
The poem reminds us that here at Bannockburn, are places where thousands, far too many thousands, of men lost their lives. And part of the remembrance of any battle, even one 700 years ago, should be respect and honour for the fallen.
However the inspirational central myth of Bannockburn, and indeed the essential truth of the event, lies in its preservation of Scottish freedom and independence.
If the battle did not in itself win the war, it certainly did prevent defeat and six years later inspired the Declaration of Arbroath, to become known as Scotland’s Declaration of Independence, which enunciated two supreme and rightly admired ideas.
It supplied the first ever European articulation of the contractual theory of monarchy, better known today as the sovereignty of the people. Those who sealed the declaration stated that:
“if this prince shall leave these principles he hath so nobly pursued, and consent that we or our kingdom be subjected to the king or people of England, we will immediately endeavour to expel him, as our enemy and as the subverter both of his own and our rights, and we will make another king, who will defend our liberties”
The Scottish monarchy was thus rendered elective and the contract reciprocal. The document then went on in the most famous passage,
“For so long as a hundred of us remain alive we shall never submit…… It is not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting but for freedom alone which no honest person will lose but with life itself.”
Herein is articulated the aspiration of national and individual freedom for which humankind worldwide still yearns as the most “noble thing”. Such, ultimately, was the legacy of Bannockburn.
The highest compliment I can pay to this centre is that it rises to its setting. Through sensitive architecture, modern scholarship and stunning computer graphics, it will enable people from Scotland and around the world to understand why Bannockburn has resonated down these ages.
It communicates to a new generation the significance of this site as the birthplace of our modern nation. And it helps us appreciate anew that the democracy and liberty that we enjoy today, and indeed the coming peaceful opportunity for freedom, we can in the greatest part credit, to these struggles of seven centuries ago.