On Scotland’s independence and the importance of History

700 years ago, in early summer of the year 1314, took place the battle of Bannockburn near Stirling castle in Scotland. The Scottish victory of king Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) over English king Edward II (1284-1327) and his army led to the declaration of Arbroath in 1320, and eventually to the Independence of Scotland in 1328.

On september 18, 2014, Scotland will be answering the independence referendum question: « Should Scotland be an independent country? Yes/No. »

What part History will be playing in the decision of the Scottish people of the 21st century? Which influence movies such as Braveheart and Rob Roy, both from 1995, exert on Scottish identity? Scottish mythology, books inspired by historical facts and events, History based plays and TV-Hits like Game of Thrones are all contributing to an imaginary Scotland. A good example of this swerve to fiction is King MacBeth, the 11th century Scottish king Mac Bethad Mac Findlaích, who vanished into William Shakespeare’s fictional character, his historical self eclipsed by centuries of stories and tales. There are also the Scottish kilt, the Claymore longsword and the blue facial and body paint shown in the movie « Braveheart », none of these elements actually dating from the 14th century and none being related to the historical figure of William Wallace, a man who died in 1305.


16th century two-handed Scottish Claymore sword © Army Museum, Paris, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Pascal Segrette

Historically correct or no, these figures and objects from the Past are essential for today’s « Scottishness ». The ever increasing number of battle reenactments and events related to History, the growing success of by History inspired costumes, weapons and material culture show the importance of History in the building of modern day identity. The idea of a Nation, born in the 16th century, seems to evolve into a new form of 19th century nostalgia of past glory, fame and fantasy.

It was in the 16th century where modern Scotland was built, not in Medieval battles. An important figure –  less warlike, but far more decisive and as brave as any medieval warrior – was John Knox, a protestant clergyman who’s revolutionary ideas concerning democracy and justice changed Scotland forever. But Knox was a man of his time, and his misogyny expressed in his writings, letters and sermons recall centuries of male domination, leaving him a politician doomed as a retarded die-harder.

Today’s Scotland is made of many origins: Pictish, Roman, English, French, Danish. All these differences forged what we call Scotland, the land of the Scots and ancient realm of Alba. It’s first inhabitants, the Picts (from Latin Picti = »the painted ones ») spoke a Celtic language linked to Breton, Welsh and Cornish, not Scots, which is of Germanic origin and resembles closely to English.

September 18th will tell if Scotland can make the difference between a Scottish dream, and Scottish History.

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