SCOTTISH Conservatives have expressed fears that the SNP will “hijack” an upcoming display of the Declaration of Arbroath at the National Museum of Scotland.

The key document, written by Scottish barons to Pope John XXII in 1320 asking him to recognise the country’s independence and acknowledge Robert the Bruce as king, is being made visible to the public for the first time in 17 years next summer.

The Declaration had been due to go on display for its 700th anniversary in 2020, but this was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The National:

Now The Herald has revealed that it will be part of the National Museum’s special exhibitions gallery between June 3 and July 2, 2023. Correspondence revealed in a freedom of information request reveals that it will almost certainly be the last time the document will be able to be displayed in “many years” due to its “fragility”.

Emails between the National Records for Scotland and the National Museum showed that the Declaration exhibition was also planned to be rescheduled for 2021 – but this was abandoned amid Covid fears, and concerns over the display clashing with the Holyrood elections.

One employee said it could be “difficult for us to keep control of the narrative if political parties are launching their campaigns” on the same day as the display.

After searching for new dates, the organisers settled on June 2023 – described as a “suitably secure and environmentally appropriate venue”.

READ MORE: Why a 700-year-old letter to a pope is key to Scotland’s story

But with the Scottish Government planning to hold an independence referendum in 2023 – though there is currently no date set – the Scottish Tories have claimed “eyebrows will be raised” by the timing of the exhibition.

Other correspondence has also shown that Culture Secretary Angus Robertson’s office asked if it was “impossible” to open the display in 2022, but organisers said 2023 would be the “optimum opportunity … allowing a significant Scottish and international audience”.

Sharon Dowey (below), the Scottish Tories’ shadow culture minister, claimed: “[The public] have already made it clear they do not want the SNP to hold another divisive independence referendum and will be concerned that the nationalists might hijack this display.

"It looks as though there has already been ministerial interest in these discussions, showing SNP ministers are looking at ways to interfere in the work of National Museum of Scotland. They must explain why they asked this display to be brought forward to this year and start focusing on the issues that really matter to communities across Scotland.”

The National:

A National Museum of Scotland spokesperson argued that the timing had been selected “to fit in with our busy public programme and allow as many people as possible the rare opportunity to see this unique piece of Scotland’s history”.

They went on: “The display has had to be repeatedly reprogrammed due to the Covid pandemic and we have been working to find dates for some time.

“While we are aware that a potential independence referendum for next year has been the subject of discussion since last week’s local election results, no specific timings have been published and there is no reason to reconsider our approach.”

The Declaration of Arbroath – considered one of the country’s most important documents – was last displayed at the Scottish Parliament.

SNP MPs mocked the Tories for their reaction to the document’s upcoming display, describing their responses as “ridiculous”.

READ MORE: The Declaration of Arbroath in Angus and the world

Stewart McDonald, MP for Glasgow South, said: “In a crowded field, the Scottish wing of the Tory party must be their most mind-numbingly ridiculous, paranoid and intellectually void.”

John Nicolson, the party’s culture spokesperson at Westminster, added: “Tory folly on display too as the Declaration of Arbroath to be displayed for first time in 17 years. Is there a more ridiculous ‘party’ than the @ScotTories?”

Mhairi Hunter, who lost her seat on Glasgow City Council last week, also commented: “This is a completely absurd row. The Declaration of Arbroath is a hugely important part of our history, no matter your views on independence. It's pretty miraculous that it has survived all these centuries. It will be amazing to see it.”