NATIONAL columnist Lesley Riddoch and filmmaker Charlie Stuart want members of the public to record lines from the Declaration of Arbroath on mobile phones.

The project is designed to help them complete a new film celebrating the 700th anniversary of the famous letter that prompted the Pope to recognise Scotland’s independence in the Middle Ages.

According to former BBC broadcaster Riddoch, the idea of making a film to distribute on YouTube was sparked by All Under One Banner’s early cancellation of the march planned for April 4.

She said: “Clearly, it was just going to be a matter of time before all official celebrations were cancelled too – including Arbroath 2020’s Community Pageant Procession and Festival Concert at Arbroath Abbey. Neither BBC Scotland nor STV seem to have any TV documentary planned. So, the solution was obvious. Get filming fast.”

Riddoch and Stuart were in the middle of making a film about Estonia but found themselves grounded when the coronavirus stopped travel to the Baltic state in early March. The pair switched efforts to making a film about the declaration and managed to interview five leading authorities on the period, with appropriate social distancing, before the coronavirus shutdown last week.

The film is now being edited and will be posted online by April 4 – the date most celebrations were due to take place – though April 6 is the actual anniversary.

READ MORE: The significance and power of the Declaration of Arbroath

Riddoch said: “We’d like members of the public to record some of the declaration’s key lines on their mobile phones and post the films on our new Declaration of Arbroath selfies Facebook page.”

“There’s guidance there about how best to record a line. It took me five goes and my contribution is a bit limp. By contrast, musician Karine Polwart and comedian Bruce Fummey are dramatic and awesome.”

This “audition” process will help the filmmakers see who can give deliver the lines powerfully and also factor in diversity so every part of modern Scottish society is represented.

“We’ll be getting back in touch with the most useful contributors to deliver other lines. So that means we need people to get going with their Declaration Selfies today.”

Most Scots are aware of the declaration’s famous phrase “It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself,” but may know little more about the diplomatic letter sent from the Scots to the Pope in 1320, calling for Scotland to be recognised as an independent kingdom against English claims of overlordship.

Artist, writer and film interviewee Andrew Redmond Barr made this point in his new book, The Illustrated Declaration of Arbroath.

He wrote: “Though written in the bleakest times of war and violence, this Declaration spoke to the most basic human desires for freedom and peace, and revealed something profound about Scotland’s earliest ideas of people-power, liberty and nationhood.

The passage continues: “It represented an idea of Scotland so often almost lost and defeated throughout the ages, but always somehow mended and restored.”

READ MORE: Declaration of Arbroath to go on public display in Edinburgh

Billy Kay, presenter/producer of a three-part radio series about the declaration, also reveals in Riddoch and Stuart’s film an interesting new theory about its possible influence on the men who drafted the American Declaration of Independence. His series, The Declaration, will be broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland at 13.30 on April 6, 7 and 8.

Other interviewees include historian Fiona Watson and Stirling lecturer Tom Turpie, whose new book, The Declaration: What It Meant Then And What It Means Now, examines how Scotland’s climate – emerging from a mini ice age in 1320 – may have prompted military stalemate and encouraged King Robert’s eloquent move towards peace. The film also features members of Arbroath Abbey Time Themes, a re-enactment group that’s been meeting since 1947 to celebrate the famous signing date.

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