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Bannockburn, the Crown and a sovereign decision

In an enjoyably ironic twist, one of Scotland's most prolific sculptors was actually born in England.

Charles d'Orville, later known as Pilkington Jackson, hailed from Cornwall, yet based north of the border after 1911 he embodied Scotland's history, wars and leading characters in stone.

Thus it is Jackson's statue of Robert the Bruce, executed in 1964 when the artist was 76, that'll this week form the centrepiece of commemorations (not, according to organisers, 'celebrations') to mark the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.

His most famous commission is positioned to face southwards, the direction from which the English army approached, but ministers have promised this weekend's event will mark Bruce's defeat of that army without being, heaven forbid, "political". This naturally gives rise to cynicism. Speaking in Edinburgh last week, the former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major said he found it "rather sad" the SNP had chosen the 700th anniversary for the referendum to, he added, "maximise the opportunity for any anti-English sentiment that may exist".

Now not only did Sir John appear to think the Bannockburn anniversary was in September rather than tomorrow, but this is one referendum myth that really ought to have been laid to rest before now.

Even if the Scottish Government had intended anti-English sentiment to result from the two-day event, then they clearly haven't done a very good job of it. Ticket sales have been sluggish and the three-day festivities reduced to two, a downscaling hastened by the UK Government's mischievous decision to stage the annual Armed Forces Day in Stirling on Saturday.

Inevitably, the significance of Bannockburn is seen through a referendum prism: Labour's Richard Simpson says it's only "appropriate only as part of our history, not as a present day anti-English rallying point", LibDem Willie Rennie says it should be used "to remember the fallen and learn the lessons of division and war" and Tory MSP Liz Smith that the anniversary "should be kept in perspective".

The SNP's Bruce Crawford, meanwhile, says it was a pivotal event in Scottish history "and so it is right this year's anniversary is marked", while the non-civic strand of Alex Salmond's multi-layered Nationalism, from his undergraduate studies to enthusiasm for Mel Gibson's Braveheart, has always perceived Bannockburn as an event with enduring resonance.

In his engaging new survey of The Scottish Question, Professor James Mitchell politely rebukes the First Minister for seeing "some unbroken line reaching back to Bannockburn and the Declaration of Arbroath", just as Gordon Brown has reached back to Runnymede in 1215. To Mitchell the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

The cult of Wallace and Bruce was once, of course, a staunchly Unionist project. Last weekend I hiked up to the Wallace statue in Dryburgh . Designed by a self-taught sculptor called John Smith, only its height (21.5ft) is impressive, the likeness being more idealised than credible. "GREAT PATRIOT HERO!" proclaims the inscription. "ILL REQUITED CHIEF!"

It adorns the cover of Graeme Morton's 1999 book Unionist Nationalism, which explores the mid-19th century British state's deployment of what would today be considered Nationalist historical symbolism. Bannockburn, meanwhile, was as much about monarchy as independence, a conflict between two sovereigns, Robert I (of Scotland) and Edward II (of England). It's also a reminder the SNP - for which the annual Bannockburn parade used to be the highlight of its year - has been consistently royalist in its approach to independence.

Sure, pillar-boxes bearing the royal insignia were blown up in the early 1950s, but the motivation wasn't republicanism, rather (justified) indignation at the designation EIIR. In response Lord Cooper famously made a passing reference to a distinctly Scottish conception of "sovereignty" that swiftly entered Nationalist lore. "The myths of Bannockburn and William Wallace were present," writes Professor Mitchell, "but these more recent myths proved more important."

Important, but also problematic, for when Nicola Sturgeon last week unveiled a draft Scottish constitution, critics were quick to highlight the contradiction between its assertion "the people of Scotland are sovereign" and Section 9 which states that "Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth is to be the head of state succeeded by her heirs and successors to the Crown according to law and will continue to enjoy all rights, powers and privileges".

One of those privileges being the (admittedly academic) right to veto Bills passed by the Scottish Parliament which, as the Scottish Socialist Party leader Colin Fox has pointed out, fundamentally undermines the "sovereignty" of the Scottish people.

A Scottish Government spokesman yesterday offered a rather tortuous attempt at squaring the circle, arguing the Queen forming an "intrinsic part" of an interim constitution was "consistent with the of Scotland being sovereign" because in an independent Scotland "all state power and authority comes from and is subject to, the will of the people".

The trouble is that equally intrinsic to the concept of the British monarchy is that all "state power and authority" flows from the top (the Crown) rather than from below (the people). Both cannot be true. Of course the easiest way to clear up the confusion would be to have another referendum on having an elected head of state, as the SSP desires. Indeed after 1997 that was - and technically remains - SNP policy, although the First Minister and his court have gone to great lengths to expunge it since the 2011 Holyrood election. It remains a curiosity of the constitutional debate Salmond has deprived his party,and thus the wider electorate, of the most direct means by which to exercise their sovereign will.

That is by the by, for even if there were another referendum, there's only modest evidence "the people" share the desire of the SSP and a majority of SNP members for an independent Scottish republic. So even if there's a Yes vote this September, the new state will still bear certain adornments of the old.

"It was a battle that won a nation, a kingdom for a new king," observes Alistair Moffat in his new history of Bannockburn, The Battle For A Nation; keen, like others, to establish a link between then and now. "In September 2014," he adds, "the eyes of the world will again be on this small nation as its people decide on its future". But the more realistic conclusion comes from Professor Mitchell. "A party, movements, or indeed nation," he writes, "that expresses its radicalism by reference to myths and historical allusions rather than using these to mobilise opinion in favour of change is living in the past."

Yes, Bannockburn is important, but it's little more than a distraction when set aside bigger - and seldom addressed - challenges faced by most states, old and new, in 2014.

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