I WAS very interested to read Hamish MacPherson’s article “Celebrating Arbroath, even under lockdown” published yesterday in The National.

The article is comprehensive in covering the background and content of the Declaration of Arbroath, but it does perhaps bury the lede (to use the modern journalistic parlance).

It’s inevitable that the past be observed through the prism of the present, and so our modern interpretation of the Declaration as a foundation of sovereignty is understandable. However, as well as including what is undoubtedly an expression of Scotland’s independence, the Declaration also commits the Scottish people to the horror of the then ever-present war of the Crusades. Hamish describes this promise as “a master stroke”.

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As it turned out, Scotland did not play any significant role in the war in the east, but the promise made by the nobles on behalf of the people of Scotland cannot be so glibly disconnected from the other more palatable sections of the Declaration. If the letter had been successful in the fullest of its ambitions we would now have in our history books accounts of the Scottish blood wasted on foreign soils to no purpose except the aggrandisement of the great and mighty.

The fact that we don’t is down to circumstance and the politics of the time, but the promise made cannot be ignored, and it should not be dissociated from the Declaration of Independence. The document must be understood in its entirety, with all of its purpose intact, if it is to be understood at all.

If I was an opponent of Scottish independence I would point to the Declaration of Arbroath as being as much a promise of war as of independence. We cannot bring one section of the letter into view without risking criticism when the less savoury parts are also exposed.

At a time when we are seeking to make friends and influence people, we might be wise to exercise caution over what we choose to celebrate.

Stewart Robinson

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