Arbroath edict latest episode in Scottish autonomy row

Latest debate another rerun of what it means to be a patriotic Scot

Nearly 700 years ago, Scottish nobles went to Arbroath to sign a letter in Latin that declared Scotland’s right to be an independent kingdom, rather than feudal lands controlled by the English.

“For, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule,” the Declaration of Arbroath declares in words that most Scottish schoolchildren once knew.

"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," it went on. Today, Scottish first minister Alex Salmond, in the latest act of symbolism in a summer of symbolism, makes his own journey to Arbroath to pledge "a Declaration of Opportunity".

Playing on the theme of a document seen as Scotland's Magna Carta, the Scottish first minister will say that the referendum offers the chance "to take power out of the hands of Westminster elite".


His decision to evoke memories of the Declaration of Arbroath – said by some to be the model for the US Declaration of Independence, though this is questioned – provoked mockery from opponents.

Exciting passions The temperature of the debate is racheting up significantly, with opinion poll numbers indicating that the margin between the sides is narrowing

– if the No side is still ahead.

Last year, the Scottish National Party derided critics when they said that the Yes side would seek to draw on William Wallace Braveheart imagery to excite passions.

However, the Yes side – and today’s event in Arbroath is but the latest – is ready to use every tool to connect with voters with just a month to go before the September 18th referendum.

Tonight, the first of a series of television advertisements by both sides in the campaign will be broadcast – with opposing sides, in different ways, emphasising the patriotic nature of their cause.

The Yes, Scotland three-minute advert is optimistic and confident about Scotland's future, with one participant saying: "Someone once said that no one is perfect, but being Scottish is close enough."

The Better Together campaign that is seeking a No vote, has felt the need to emphasise that casting a ballot against independence is patriotic – following accusations by some on the Yes side that it is not.

‘No way back’ “I can be patriotic and I can vote No and I can walk about with a Saltire flag,”

says one, while other participants point to the friends, neighbours and family south of the border. Equally, the Better Together advert will drive home the message to Scots “that there is no way back” if a majority decide to vote for independence a month from now.

Meanwhile Mr Salmond remains furious about the intervention of Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, who said it was "hard to see how the world would be helped by an independent Scotland".

Fully accepting the Scots' right to decide, Mr Abbott said the enemies of peace and freedom elsewhere in the would cheer to see the United Kingdom break-up.

In Response, Mr Salmond said the Australian prime minister’s remarks were “foolish, hypocritical and offensive”, though in truth such interventions are useful to him since they help to fuel resentment among Yes voters.

Interestingly, the latest series of opinion polls indicate that voters are worried that Salmond cannot guarantee his pledge that an independent Scotland would be part of a sterling currency union.

Equally, however, a majority do not believe – despite repeated public warnings from the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats – that London would go ahead with its threat to bar them from such a union.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is News Editor of the The Irish Times