YESTERDAY was the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath, a seminal document in Scottish history and indeed in the history of political thought in Europe. The declaration was the first glimmerings of the doctrine of popular sovereignty, the first recognition anywhere in the world that a country and a nation was more than its ruler, it was the embodiment of all its people.

The Declaration of Arbroath was the first document anywhere that articulated the belief that a monarch or ruler only held their lofty position as long as the people consented, and that should the ruler no longer enjoy the consent of the people, the people had the right to remove them.

The Declaration of Arbroath is to Scotland as the Declaration of Independence is to the USA, or the Magna Carta is to England. So you might think that its 700th anniversary would be marked in similar ways to the 200th anniversary of the American declaration of independence in 1976 or the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta in 2015.

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You would be wrong, because this is Scotland and we’re not allowed to celebrate our achievements. The good news is that no official events or commemoration services had to be cancelled because of the coronavirus lockdown. The bad news is that’s because there weren’t any to begin with. The 800th anniversary of the English Magna Carta, a document without legal force in Scotland and which was signed while Scotland was still an independent nation and would remain so for another 500 years, was a major event.

The Royal Mint issued an official £2 commemorative coin. The Royal Mail issued a set of commemorative stamps. The BBC produced a TV documentary fronted by the historian David Starkey as well as a radio series fronted by Melvin Bragg.

There was an official ceremony to mark the anniversary at Runnymede where the Magna Carta was signed. It as presided over by the Queen, and was attended by then-prime minister David Cameron. They were regaled with a procession re-enacting the history of the charter, a parade of schoolchildren bearing specially designed flags, and a fly past by the RAF.

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The occasion was further marked by the unveiling of new public artworks by the sculptor Hew Locke, and a new four-metre tall statue of the Queen. There were several commemorative events every month throughout 2015, including a number at the Westminster Parliament.

Scotland’s big constitutional anniversary gets a radio programme on Radio Scotland presented by Billy Kay. Now this is not to diminish the estimable Billy Kay, far from it. He produces valuable and worthwhile work, he is a real worker at the coalface of Scottish history and culture. But the contrast is jarring.

There are no commemorative coins, not special stamps, no specially designed flags, no processions of schoolchildren, no commissioning of public sculptures.

You’d almost think the British state didn’t want to remind the people of Scotland that they are heirs to a distinct political and constitutional tradition that regards sovereignty as resting with the people and not with the monarch. Heaven forfend that anything happens that might encourage those uppity Scots by reminding them that they used to be independent.

READ MORE: Coronavirus forces Declaration of Arbroath celebrations to go virtual

It’s entirely unsurprising that the British state seeks to downplay a significant anniversary of such an important document in Scottish history. The very last thing that Boris Johnson and the Conservatives want is for Scotland to take pride in its distinctive constitutional traditions.

That might encourage us to seek to apply them to our current situation, and that would never do. It plays into the hands of the British state and its apologists to keep Scotland in the dark about its own past and its own heritage, and the ignorance abounds.

Glasgow SNP councillor Mhairi Hunter tweeted the most resonant passage from the declaration: “As long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. 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.”

She was immediately attacked by a horde of British nationalist trolls who wanted to remind her Braveheart was just a movie. British nationalists are insulated in their prejudices by a thick layer of ignorance. That suits Boris Johnson just fine.

READ MORE: Illustrated Declaration of Arbroath is a labour of love

It is, however, far more difficult to explain why it is that the Scottish Government has been distinctly underwhelming in commemorating the 700th anniversary of the declaration. There were no official commemorative events headed up by the Scottish Government or Holyrood to be cancelled. There was nothing of note scheduled.

The failure of the Scottish Government to lead in this regard gives the likes of the British authorities and the BBC the perfect cover for their own failure to pay due heed to aspects of Scottish history that still have a resonance today.

How can we castigate those public bodies for not putting even a fraction of the same enthusiasm into the commemoration of the Declaration of Arbroath as they did for the anniversary of the Magna Carta when the Scottish Government has done the square root of heehaw as well? We have a Scottish Government that believes the only path to independence is through demonstrating the quiet and efficient management of Scotland as a devolved administration. However, it takes a lot more than dry managerialism to lead a nation to independence.

It takes emotional intelligence as well as the intelligent management of the issues that we face as a nation on a day-to-day basis. It’s that emotional intelligence, and an organic bond to Scottish traditions and culture that is so sadly lacking. A country that doesn’t know its own past is a nation that has nothing to pass on to the future.

However, all across Scotland thousands of ordinary Scots were taking matters into their own hands. People organised their own commemorations and celebrations of Scottish sovereignty and in so doing have demonstrated the true spirit of the Declaration of Arbroath. It is that spirit which will carry us to independence. The Scottish Government can either choose to lead it, or the people will leave it behind.

That’s the lesson of Arbroath.

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