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Scots, English face off to mark 700 years since their legendary battle at Bannockburn
Actors prepare for a re-enactment to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the Battle Of Bannockburn as part of the Bannockburn Live event in Bannockburn, south of Stirling, Scotland on June 28, 2014. Up to 15,000 people are expected at the site in Stirling on Saturday and Sunday 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". The anniversary falls three months before Scotland holds a referendum in September on whether to stay or leave the United Kingdom, and critics of the nationalist government in Edinburgh say the timing of the vote was deeply cynical. AFP PHOTO/ANDY BUCHANAN.

By: Alice Ritchie

STIRLING (AFP).- 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 performers from around the world donned replica armour, swords, maces and pikes to demonstrate the stirring victory of Bruce's poorly equipped army.

For some in the crowd, the symbolism was strong ahead of the referendum in September in which Scotland will vote on whether to once again go it alone, or stay within the 300-year-old United Kingdom.

"It's not just about a battle, it's about someone who held onto his principles," said Steve Lamont, a 50-year-old lawyer from near Dundee, sitting with his two children, who were brandishing large Scottish flags.

"This is what Scottish independence is all about -- keeping the faith, hanging in there when it seems like the odds are against you."

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.

In the event, however, politicians of all hues have taken a back seat from the Bannockburn event, instead focusing on Armed Forces Day, which was also held in Stirling on Saturday.

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond was due to attend the re-enactment later on Saturday, but he also joined British Prime Minister David Cameron for a military parade and fly-pasts celebrating the contribution of troops and veterans from all over the UK.

Danus Skene, the chief of the Clan Skene whose ancestors fought with Bruce at Bannockburn, said a nostalgic view of the past was good for tourism but had no place in discussions about Scotland's future.

The 70-year-old is a strong supporter of independence, but said: "This image of Scottishness is not helpful.

"The debate is about national self-management, it's about a whole range of contemporary issues. That's what we're talking about, not dressing up in armour."

Scots' emotions vs commerce
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, one of the English 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.

Tourists from across globe came to see the two-day event, including many Americans who take great pride in their Scottish heritage.

Maria Haight, a 66-year-old retired schoolteacher from North Carolina swathed in Old Campbell tartan, said: "It's like coming home -- it's our roots, it's who we are."

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.

A six-year-old boy, Matthew, stood on a bench and shouted "Scotland" as loud as he could, but he and his pro-independence family were outnumbered by those who want to stay in the UK.

The most recent poll of polls for the Financial Times put the 'No' camp on 47 percent, 10 percentage points ahead of the 'Yes' vote.

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."

© 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse

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June 29, 2014

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