Tom Devine: Salmond’s Declaration of Arbroath launch ‘a chance too good to overlook’ – NewsEverything Scotland

It’s hardly stunning {that a} main Scottish nationalist similar to Alex Salmond invokes the Declaration of Arbroath on April 6, 2021, 701 years to the day because it was signed by the leaders of Scotland.

Not solely is that this an necessary anniversary but it surely comes a matter of weeks earlier than the nation goes to the polls in a Holyrood election prone to be dominated by the problem of independence for Scotland. For these supporting the nationalist trigger it might have simply been too good a political alternative to overlook by failing to make some reference to the Declaration.

It’s in any case really outstanding textual content. In 2016 the Declaration was positioned on UNESCO’s Reminiscence of the World register so vital is its sonorous prose invocation of human freedom: ’It’s in fact not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, that we’re preventing, however for freedom-for that alone, which no trustworthy man provides up however along with his life.’

READ MORE: This is how the Declaration of Arbroath is being up to date for the TikTok technology

Signed by members of the Scottish aristocracy and better clergy, it nonetheless has had profound attraction to all by the ages no matter their rank in society. Medieval historians each at house and overseas take into account the Declaration ‘essentially the most celebrated doc in Scottish historical past’, as one stated, and, for one more, ‘essentially the most eloquent assertion of the case for nationwide independence to be produced anyplace in Europe.’

The previous, in fact, has been used earlier than to bolster the case for Scottish independence, most notably within the 1990s with the story on movie of William Wallace and the ensuing craze of Braveheartism, although the saga of Wallace as advised by Hollywood was replete with delusion and error. The Declaration, alternatively, is the true factor, an epic of unvarnished, resonant and great prose, the credibility and authenticity of which can’t be doubted.

In truth, the case of Salmond’s use of historical past to assist a nationwide trigger has had even longer antecedents and plenty of extra variants than the Braveheart film. In a well-known and seminal lecture delivered on the Sorbonne in Paris in 1882, the historian, Ernest Renan, requested the query:’Qu’est-ce due one nation’, ‘What’s a nation?’. He went to argue strongly in opposition to the traditional knowledge of his day which assumed {that a} nation was based on ethnicity and language.


As a substitute, he superior the case that the id of a nation depended in the end on collective sentiment, which itself was grounded on remembrance by the nation of occasions previous, imagined, legendary or actual. In Renan’s perspective a nation’s sense of itself derived from its historical past and the collective consciousness which got here from that. Due to this fact, if the individuals of a nation of their thoughts and feelings ceased to really feel like a nation, it might not be one.

Renan’s pondering helps to clarify why the nice nationalist revolutions of the nineteenth century, which created quite a lot of new nation states out of the embers of disintegrating multinational empires, the place shot by with historic remembrance and reference and even had historians among the many management of their actions for nationwide willpower.

READ MORE: Alex Salmond calls for Independence negotiations in ‘week one’ after election

Through the Victorian period in Scotland, no such revolution passed off. The nation was fully comfy with its place throughout the British Union and the unprecedented advantages reaped by unprecedented financial transformation and the returns which flowed from a worldwide Empire during which the nation was an enthusiastic accomplice with England. Scotland’s historians of that point subsequently tended to write down in uncritical assist and admiration of the Union.

At the same time as late because the 1960s the historiography of contemporary Scotland (as distinct from the superb work on the unbiased nation earlier than 1707) was immature and underdeveloped, frankly a Cinderella topic. When the newly elected Burnett-Fletcher Professor of Historical past at Aberdeen College delivered his inaugural lecture in 1964 he supplied a devastating critique when he asserted that the nationwide historical past of Scotland since 1707 was much less studied than the historical past of Yorkshire.

Since then, there was an infinite transformation in trendy Scottish historic research, judged by the vary, high quality and amount of publication, variety of students within the discipline and the fixed movement of in a position analysis college students. Because the 70Ist anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath is well known, Scotland might be assured it now has a professional-based trendy historiography to equal any nation on the planet which might function the important context for present debates on the way forward for the nation.

Sir Tom Devine is the Sir William Fraser Professor Emeritus of Scottish Historical past and Palaeography on the College of Edinburgh.

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