Today marks the 700th anniversary of one of the most important documents in not just Scottish, or British, but world history. It is the subject of documentaries. It is cited as an inspiration to other national declarations. It has been registered on UNESCO’S Memory of the World. I’ve quite proud to have an illustrated edition by Andrew Barr.
We should be out in our thousands celebrating it – at Arbroath itself, throughout Scotland, and the wider world. We should be marching and dancing and laughing in the streets, singing auld sangs and chanting auld hymns, embracing our friends and family and total strangers. But we cannot, because of circumstances outside our control – and some circumstances which we allowed to happen to us.
A day of great jubilation and self-affirmation for the entire nation is strangled – politically, socially, existentially.
Many cite various passages from the Declaration as their favourite. Of course “as long as a hundred of us remain alive” and “for Freedom alone” are rightly remembered. But is is this passage which I find myself returning to:
But after all, if this prince shall leave those principles which he hath so nobly pursued, and consent that we or our kingdom be subjected to the king or people of England, we will immediately endeavor to expel him as our enemy, and as the subverter of both his own and our rights, and will choose another king who will defend our liberties.
This passage, following on as it does from reams of texts extolling the royal lineage of Robert as rightful king, shows to me that for all the talk of adhering to Medieval “international best practice,” the authors of the Declaration place some things above all that – principles, rights, liberties. A leader who will not advocate for those rights – their own included – will not be a leader for long.
I will be pondering this and other things over this most important of anniversaries. To think, of everything our nation has been through over the past 700 years, only to find new obstacles and constraints – from forces of nature, to people taking offense at the naming of temporary facilities. Forces within and without, controllable and uncontrollable. But Scotland shall abide, as it has. It survived its near-extinguishment at the hands of imperialist overlords; it survived its near-assimilation through the duplicity of its own people; it survived its own sacrifice by millions of its own citizens in the name of “certainty” and “solidarity” that was never reciprocated.
And so it will survive, for as long as a hundred of us remain alive.