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To celebrate victory, we must reflect on defeat

It seems almost certain Scotland's independence referendum will be held in 2014, a year when Scotland should be a particularly vibrant, busy and confident country.

We shall be hosting both the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup, and there will be another Homecoming.

There will also be the 700th anniversary of our greatest ever military victory, Bannockburn, when the Scots, led by the brilliant if enigmatic King Robert the Bruce, routed a larger invading English army.

There is every reason why Bannockburn should be commemorated with enthusiasm, but there is also every reason why these commemorations should have nothing whatsoever to do with the independence referendum.

Bannockburn, understandably and quite properly, has special significance for the SNP. Indeed Scots of all political persuasions have every right to take enormous pride in this landmark victory which, even if it did not guarantee Scotland's independence, at least helped us along the way. It led directly to the Declaration of Arbroath, one of the most noble enunciations of responsible nationalism in world history. What was particularly impressive about the Declaration was its demotic integrity; it made it clear that the king was answerable to his subjects.

The coming independence referendum will be about integrity, too. The Scots have every right to contend for their independence and I for one would like to see us fully independent. On the other hand, it is vital that we progress to full independence as partners with our friends and neighbours to the south. I've always thought Scottish independence would be a boon to the English as well as the Scots; it would let the English define themselves, and work out what it is to be English rather than British, something that they often seem confused about.

What has to be avoided at all costs is any nasty anti-English spirit besmirching the referendum campaign, a potential danger of having the referendum in the year of the Bannockburn anniversary.

There is a further point. Before we get to the Bannockburn anniversary we have, as I've mentioned before, to mark the 500th anniversary of our worst ever military defeat. In September 1513, at Flodden Field, a few miles into England just south of Coldstream, the Scottish nation suffered its greatest single catastrophe.

One of the many tragedies was that this was wholly unnecessary. Bannockburn was about the Scots dealing with invaders; Flodden was about an unnecessary and provocative large scale Border raid led by an over confident, reckless and vainglorious king, James IV, who was less militarily astute than he thought he was.

James died in the battle, as did most of his aristocracy and much of the cream of Scottish manhood. Between 6000 and 10,000 of them – no-one is sure exactly how many – perished in just three hours. The king's mutilated remains were taken south; the story goes that eventually his head was severed and used by some yobs in an improvised game of football.

To compound the mortification, the Scots were defeated by England's second army; the first one was in France, led by the King Henry VIII (another vainglorious monarch who was not quite as smart as he thought he was). The English at Flodden were led by a geriatric second rank general, the Earl of Surrey, but he was experienced and wily – far too wily for James.

Flodden was every bit as significant as Bannockburn, albeit in a negative way. The Scots were left impotent, bereft and isolated, and a generation later proved unable to defend themselves when Henry VIII launched his wicked "rough wooing," laying waste to much of lowland Scotland.

I think it would indicate depressing national immaturity if we chose to celebrate Bannockburn with enormous enthusiasm but the year before tried to pretend Flodden never happened. Even worse would be to allow the humiliation of Flodden to induce any feelings of anti- English spite. The incredibly sad debacle of Flodden should be marked next year in a spirit of quiet but deep reflection and reconciliation.

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