By a Newsnet reporter
A decision by a local authority to stage a military parade on the same day as the Bannockburn commemorations, damaged the medieval event, a Holyrood Committee has been told.
Giving evidence in front of Holyrood’s Economy Energy and Tourism Committee, Peter Irvine said his company had been forced to scale back the Bannockburn festival after Stirling Council inexplicably applied to stage Armed Forces Day in the town on the same weekend.
Mr Irvine, whose company Unique Events had been brought in to stage the event which will commemorate 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, told MSPs that the decision was taken out of the blue and without consultation.
Responding to claims that poor ticket sales had forced the Bannockburn event to be scaled back, the professional organiser denied this was the case telling the committee that he knew that a free event being held on the same weekend would affect ticket sales.
Irvine told MSPs their plans had been “truncated” only after they discovered the overlap. He revealed that he had only learned of the Armed Forces Day plan via reports in the media.
He added: “It’s obvious I’m sure why that had to be done, given another event landed on this small town in the same weekend.
“Clearly something had to be done, that’s what we did and that was the sensible thing to do, considering there was a free event in the same small town in Scotland.”
Asked if there was, “an element of surprise that Armed Forces Day was going to happen on the same day as Bannockburn.”
Mr Irvine replied: “It was a surprise when it was announced Armed Forces Day was going to be in Stirling.”
He added later: “We did hear about it from the media.”
Mr Irvine pointed out that the decision to apply for the Armed Forces event on the same day as the Bannockburn commemorations was odd given that the Bannockburn event, which commemorated a 700 year old battle, “had been in the diary for a very long time”.
The evidence prompted one committee member to question whether a political decision had been made which had resulted in the once only Bannockburn event being diminished.
SNP MSP Joan McAlpine said: “Armed Forces Day seems to have been bounced on the organisers of the existing festival,”
She asked: “Do you think this was a political decision to have Armed Forces Day in Stirling at the same time as Bannockburn, perhaps even motivated by a desire to diminish the Bannockburn festival in some way?”
Mr Irvine replied: “I don’t get involved in politics and I don’t like to get involved in commenting on politics. I don’t know how these decisions are made.”
The National Trust for Scotland also revealed it too had been taken by surprise by the Armed Forces Day decision. Pete Selman, the director of strategic development, said: “We were taken by surprise when we heard through the media about the Armed Forces Day event, which made us go back to the drawing board.”
He said having the two events in Stirling had left “a charging event going head to head with a free event” which could “potentially split the market”.
Appearing in front of the same committee, an official from the council revealed that the MoD named Stirling as the venue for armed forces day and insisted it be held on the same weekend as Bannockburn. When pressed, Conservative deputy council leader Neil Benny, who gave evidence to the committee was unable to properly explain why such a strange decision was made.,
The Tory councillor denied the date clash was a deliberate attempt to harm the Bannockburn event. He told MSP Joan McAlpine: “There’s no question there was any intent to try to diminish Bannockburn Live in any possible way.”
He added: “I’m really, really keen for the Bannockburn Live event to be as successful as possible, it’s a huge opportunity for Stirling and businesses in Stirling and a great way to commemorate the Battle of Bannockburn, which is a major part of the visitor attractiveness of Stirling.”
The council had been run by a minority SNP group from May 2008 to May 2012. However despite being the largest party in the 2012 local elections, fears grew for the 700th anniversary when the SNP were ousted after Labour formed an alliance with the Tories.
The decision by the Labour/Tory controlled council to apply to stage Armed Forces Day on the same weekend as the Bannockburn event has already caused anger amongst groups taking part in the 700th anniversary.
The Battle of Bannockburn is widely accepted to have ensured the ancient nation of Scotland endured. Robert the Bruce, whose mounted statue stands on the field, defeated Edward’s army in 1314.
However it has long been a source of discomfort for Unionists, with many voicing concerns that the 700th anniversary could lead to an upsurge in pride amongst Scots months ahead of the independence referendum.
In January last year, Scottish Labour MP Ian Davidson provoked anger after accusing Scots who celebrate the battle of doing so because hundreds of thousands of English people were murdered.
Speaking in the House of Commons, the MP for Glasgow South West claimed that commemorations to be held on the 700th anniversary of the ancient battle, which led to Scotland achieving its independence, were being held mainly to celebrate “the murder of hundreds of thousands of English people”.
Mr Davidson also claimed that the independence referendum, to be held in 2014 was timed “to take place after the anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn, which is celebrated mainly because Scots slew large numbers of English people,”
[Newsnet comment – A researcher from Newsnet Scotland contacted the Scottish Parliament yesterday at 16:00 to ask why the committee session this article refers to had not been placed online – as it should have. A spokesman for the broadcasting section blamed ‘IT issues’. At 06:50 this morning, despite every other committee and debate having been placed online, the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee was still not available to view.]