Speakout: Homecoming 2014?

1 Sep 2009 in Festival, Heritage

Bannockburn – or Arbroath?

MARK MORPURGO argues that the recent leaking of plans to have the next Homecoming Year as 2014 raises some interesting historical, modern political, and practical issues ahead of the Highland Homecoming event in October

LAST WEEK, SNP plans to subsidise school trips to the site of the Scots victory over the English prompted claims the government was using public money to push Nationalist propaganda. However, according to leaked documents (Sunday Herald, 13 September 2009) that row was “only a skirmish ahead of a much bloodier confrontation to come. They show Alex Salmond wants 2014, the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn, to be another Year of Homecoming.”

On the face of it, another Homecoming Year has a logic, but is Bannockburn really the focus of celebration we want in a modern day Scotland? It is true that an army of some 8,000 Scots faced and overcame overwhelming military odds.

Homecoming Scotland

In the battle and the massacre that followed estimates of 11,000 English dead out of an army of 18,000 might give any xenophobic modern Scots a pleasurable kick. However, even in historical terms, though Robert Bruce’s position as king was greatly strengthened by the battle, full English recognition of Scottish independence was not achieved until more than ten years later.

In today’s Scotland, which portrays itself as welcoming to incomers, and in which English people and people of English descent play such a pivotal role, is a massacre of an English army, however key to Scotland’s history, really something we wish to focus on as a theme for encouraging tourism?

We must remember that more English tourists came to Scotland as part of the Highland Year of Culture 2007 and Homecoming 2009 than visitors from abroad, despite Homecoming being promoted strongly in the US and Canada.

What message will this send to potential tourists from England? What reaction will there be from the so-called ‘national press’, who are already fairly negative about Scottish affairs? Scots may claim that the London-based press don’t matter, but the reality is that the press can negate much of the investment in a big tourism budget.

The Bruce Monument at Bannockburn

It should also be considered that there are a lot of English people who have made their permanent homes in Scotland, and are fully integrated and involved in the cultural life of the country. All this year I have been involved in writing up Homecoming events in the press, and have been struck by how many event organisers and passionately involved volunteers are not native Scots.

There are plenty of other issues to be assessed and actioned before we rush headlong into another nation-wide and costly tourist jamboree.

How is this all going to be paid for? 2014 already has the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup, both of which will be costly to run. The Olympic Games in London in 2012 has already become notorious for diverting funds from Scottish charities, voluntary groups and grant-dependent bodies.

In an awkward juxtaposition of news in the same newspaper that day, Tom Gordon reported the following on the same pages as the leaked document about the 2014 plans (‘The Money Hole’).

“With a £300m shortfall in budgets, Scottish public spending faces huge cuts … Around 70% of council spending is statutorily protected: police and fire boards, education and social work. Ministers have also signalled they won’t cut free care for the elderly, or end the freeze on council tax. That leaves other council services, such as libraries, museums, leisure centres, trading standards and cleansing to bear the brunt of the cuts.’ Presumably these cuts will also hit many of the local events which have added to whatever value Homecoming 2009 has had.

The Bannockburn Monument

Over the months of writing up Homecoming I have the feeling that many events will have a lasting and beneficial impact on communities. But some events have often been arranged by commercial operators, who are more interested in what profits they can make from the event than in leaving any lasting legacy either to the community or to ongoing tourism and local businesses.

I would support most things that add to tourism and business in our area, but we are not yet in a position to say how successful this year’s events have been, and what economic returns there have been for such massive investment. Homecoming, Visit Scotland and the Executive should surely draw breath and talk to those involved, not just claim that 2009 has been ‘an enormous success’. By all means let us plan for the future, but could we do it in a considered fashion?

It is just a thought, but would not the anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath in 2020 be a most appropriate date? Or is that maybe too far away for election-oriented politicians?

This was a declaration of Scottish independence, and set out to confirm Scotland’s status as an independent, sovereign state and its use of military action when unjustly attacked. The language of the Declaration has worldwide resonance to this day.

The Declaration of Arbroath (© National Library of Scotland)

Whatever the motives behind the Declaration, the fact remains that this 14th century document is one of the earliest expressions of a form of Scottish national consciousness yet found, and one of the earliest documents in European history to assert that the ruler is chosen by the people. Maybe that is more to be celebrated than a massacre!

Mark Morpurgo is a volunteer with the charity Lochgoilhead Fiddle Workshop/Fiddle Folk and its Gaelic arm Fèis Cheann Loch Goibhle. They have been involved in a number of Argyll Homecoming events – Spirit of the West, Cowal Open Studios, ‘Gathering Around’ in Dunoon and the St. Columba Ceilidh Trail of Argyll and Ireland. Amongst other things, they raise funds to put on regular concerts for Cowal and Mid-Argyll communities.

The Highland Homecoming event runs from 19-31 October 2009

© Mark Morpurgo, 2009