Friday, July 12, 2019

The Declaration of Arbroath.

The Declaration of Arbroath is to go on display next year. It will go on show at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh from 27 March 27 to 26 April 2020 to commemorate the 700 years of its signing.
Stirring patriotic stuff yet after 1320, the Declaration of Arbroath was quickly forgotten and only resurfaced in 1680 when it becomes influential, not as an expression of nationalism, but to support those who sought to curtail royal power. It was only later that the Declaration of Arbroath came to be seen in more nationalistic terms.
Scotland in 1320 was a very different country to the Scotland we know today and therefore we should not give to a medieval mind-set the interpretations of a modern age.
So what did the signatories of the document actually mean by "we" and "freedom"? The "we" who attached their seals to the document were all noblemen. And it was their freedom that the authors of the Arbroath declaration were solely concerned about. Certainly not the liberties of their serfs and servants. The common-folk of Scotland had no say in the matter. The idea that the peasant in the fields or guildsman in the burghs had any sort of say is laughable. The “people” of Scotland meant the nobles, the majority of whom were still culturally Anglo-Norman, despite inter-marriage. The Declaration signatories certainly had no concept of popular sovereignty of any Scottish citizens.

Those medieval signatories to the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath were merely feudal barons asserting their claim to rule and lord it over their own vassals, and most definitely not leading any "liberation struggle" as some left-nationalists would like to represent it as.
The oft-quoted section of the Declaration reading:
 “..if this prince [Bruce] shall leave these principles he hath so nobly pursued, and consent that we or our kingdom be subjected to the king or people of England, we will immediately endeavour to expel him, as our enemy and as the subverter both of his own and our rights, and we will make another king, who will defend our liberties”

This should be read as a cautionary warning and a veiled threat to Robert the Bruce himself for he had switched his allegiance numerous times in the past.

The lesser-known earlier 1310 Declaration of the Clergy (the clergy being usually the younger sons of the nobles) proclaimed the Kingship of Robert. It begins by stating that John Balliol was made King of Scots by Edward Longshanks of England, but goes on to criticise Balliol’s status, because an English King does not have any authority to determine who will be the King of Scots. Such authority rests with the Scots themselves and alone, ignoring the fact that the Scottish nobles had given up that right in negotiations with Edward over twenty years beforehand.

The Declaration stated:
 “The people, therefore, and commons of the foresaid Kingdom of Scotland...agreed upon the said Lord Robert, the King who now is, in whom the rights of his father and grandfather to the foresaid kingdom, in the judgement of the people, still exist and flourish entire; and with the concurrence and consent of the said people he was chosen to be King, that he might reform the deformities of the kingdom, correct what required correction, and direct what needed direction; and having been by their authority set over the kingdom, he was solemnly made King of Scots...And if any one on the contrary claim right to the foresaid kingdom in virtue of letters of time past, sealed and containing the consent of the people and the commons, know ye that all this took place in fact by force and violence which could not at the time be resisted.”
Like a lot of such grandiose statements we've seen down through the ages, the Clergy's declaration was nothing more than misleading propaganda, which sought to disguise the facts of history.
In 1305, William Wallace was captured in Robroyston near Glasgow by John de Menteith, a Scottish knight and handed Wallace over to the English to be executed. Menteith put his seal to the Declaration of Arbroath. 
Why does Scotland need this affirmation of independence? The answer is Scottish nationalism is based on a myth: the myth that Scottish people are different from Englishmen, Irishmen, Welshmen, or Cornishmen. But differences in speech, dress, pastimes or traditions are too superficial to form the basis for any real distinction. Workers in Scotland and the rest of Britain share a common tongue, common values, common aspirations and common interests: they have shared and forged a common history, and should now be looking to a common future – the world socialist cooperative commonwealth of common ownership.

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