Channel NewsAsia

Scots, English face off at Bannockburn battle once again

Scots and English met again on the battlefield Saturday to mark 700 years since their legendary battle at Bannockburn, in an anniversary laden with symbolism three months before Scotland votes on whether to leave the UK.

STIRLING: Scots and English met again on the battlefield Saturday to mark 700 years since their legendary battle at Bannockburn, in an anniversary laden with symbolism three months before Scotland votes on whether to leave the UK.

For many Scottish nationalists, the victory of King Robert the Bruce's small force over the mighty English army of King Edward II was a decisive moment in Scotland's fight for independence from its overbearing southern neighbour.

A sold-out crowd of 10,000 gathered at the site in Stirling to watch a re-enactment of key moments from the 1314 Battle of Bannockburn, performed by the group behind the epic scenes in Hollywood movies "Gladiator" and "Robin Hood".

About 250 men from around the world donned replica armour, swords, maces and pikes to tell the story of Bruce's victory against the odds which helped secure the Scottish throne.

For some in the crowd, the memory served as encouragement ahead of September's referendum, when Scots will vote on whether to once again go it alone or stay within the 300-year-old United Kingdom.

"This is what Scottish independence is all about -- keeping the faith, hanging in there when it seems like the odds are against you," said Steve Lamont, a 50-year-old lawyer from near Dundee who will be proudly voting 'Yes'.

The anniversary events have long been in the pipeline and critics of the nationalist government in Edinburgh say their decision to hold the referendum this year was deeply cynical.

But First Minister Alex Salmond insisted Bannockburn was an "iconic moment in the history of the nation" that should be marked by all Scots, regardless of their politics.

He made a brief visit to the re-enactment site after attending Armed Forces Day, a celebration of the British military and veterans also held in Stirling on Saturday.

"Bannockburn, just like Armed Forces Day, is for people who believe in Scottish nationhood," Salmond told AFP.

British Prime Minister David Cameron also attended the armed forces parade and fly-pasts, where he appealed to Scots to vote 'No' to independence in September.

"All our nations in the UK have proud histories," he told reporters.

"But what we decided to do was to come together as a family of nations, and I think we all benefit from being part of that family."

A farmer from Fife opened the re-enactment as the magnificent Bruce, thundering on his horse across the field to bring down his axe on the skull of an unfortunate English knight.

As in war, things did not go completely smoothly. Bruce's axe broke, an English fighter accidentally fell off his horse, and some cast members forgot to turn off their microphones backstage and inadvertently swore at the whole crowd.

But the final showdown went off without a hitch, and there were loud cheers as Bruce's forces massacred the English.

Visitors from across globe came to see the two-day Bannockburn event, the highlight of a year-long tourist drive dubbed "Homecoming Scotland".

Danus Skene, the chief of the Clan Skene whose ancestors fought alongside Bruce at Bannockburn, acknowledged that a nostalgic view of the past was good for tourism.

But the 70-year-old, a strong supporter of independence, said it had no place in discussions about Scotland's future.

"This image of Scottishness is not helpful. The debate is about national self-management, it's about a whole range of contemporary issues," he told AFP.

"That's what we're talking about, not dressing up in armour."

The weekend's events kicked off with a parade by 1,600 pipers on Friday night, where many in the crowd waved flags with a Union Jack on one side and the Scottish Saltire on the other.

The mood in Stirling reflects the most recent poll for the Financial Times, which put the 'No' camp on 47 per cent, 10 percentage points ahead of the 'Yes' campaign.

Watching the pipers with their kilts and bagpipes set off from Stirling Castle, a key battleground, Scottish tourist Rodney Collins admitted it was stirring stuff.

But he said: "I don't think Scotland stands on its own economically. A lot of it is focused on emotions, not good commercial sense."

Tweet photos, videos and updates on this story to  @channelnewsasia