Heritage case studies: Scotland
Heritage case studies: Scotland

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2.5 Scottish identity

Although Bannockburn has figured recently as a mark of ‘Scottishness’ (in part because of the 1995 film Braveheart, which popularised William Wallace and was prominent in nationalist discourse in the years leading to Scottish devolution), Culloden has had a place in the minds and memories of Scots for over two centuries. In that time it has become a signifier of an invented Scotland of mountain scenery, castles and tartan. It is closely tied to the evocative tale of Bonnie Prince Charlie, his epic defeat and the legends and stories surrounding his flight.

Along with the Clearances, Culloden has done much to contribute to a lack of rootedness that has haunted the descendents of these Highlanders and has forever influenced and shaped the identity of the Scottish diaspora. The narratives that have grown up around Culloden since 1746 are closely tied to the notions of nationhood that took hold and evolved during the rise of the Scottish Romantic movement in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For decades, centuries even, the battle of Culloden has been a contentious event. Widely regarded as a defeat suffered at the hands of the English, Culloden has been used as a form of shorthand justifying nationalist and anti-English sentiment: ‘Few nationalisms do not incorporate a wound’ says journalist and Scot Neil Ascherson, and so it is that Culloden allows Scotland ‘to finger such scars’ (Ascherson, 2002, p. 174).

The year 2007 was designated as the Year of Highland Culture, which Scotland's first minister, Jack McConnell, claimed would see the Highlands and Islands ‘held up as an exemplar to others [e.g. the rest of Scotland]’ (quoted in Hunter, 2006). Culturally, looking to the north to lead the way is of great significance to Scots. In November 2006, BBC Scotland surveyed a panel of experts and members of the public, asking each group to choose the top ten most important events or people in Scottish history. Although both groups included the Wars of Independence (including Bannockburn) in their shortlist, neither selected Culloden. Yet Culloden is by far Scotland's most visited attraction, drawing over 200,000 visitors each year. Clearly there is a dissonance in the various roles of Culloden as a historical event, as an element in personal and national myth making and as a heritage place. (The full results can be seen on the website called ‘Scotland's History: the top 10’, accessed 27 May 2008.)

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