It’s the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath, the first time that the sovereignty of the people of Scotland was articulated, the first time that we see the dawning of realisation that all of us who belong to this ancient collectivity that constitutes this nation should have an equal say, an equal right, an equal voice. All those many hundreds of years ago, our ancestors stood up and declared that it would be the people of Scotland, not a king or a monarch, who had the ultimate right to decide the path that their nation treads. In magnificent words that still resonate down the years, they declared that there’s a limit to the power of a monarch, that a king may only rule as long as the people allow it. They told us in words that still ring loud and true that they made their declaration not for what might be in it for them personally, not for their egos, their glory, or their fame. They did it because they refused to consent to a Scotland that was a possession of an unaccountable monarch in a far away land. They did it, they told us, for liberty itself, for the right of a people to self-determination.
They did it because it was the right thing to do. They did it because even then, in such a very different time with such different standards, mores, and beliefs, they recognised that Scotland belongs to all of us or it is nothing. That land that is covetted by estate owners and lairds, by the rich and the powerful who seek to use it as their plaything, it is ours. Our breath animates its landscape, our hearts beat in its burns, our spirit lives in its rocks, our stories inform its shape and its names.
Those who trod this land before us asserted that this corner of the Earth of ours would never consent to being the bauble of a monarch, the plaything of a king, or a mere possession like an ermine robe that could be donned and discarded as some lord saw fit. A ruler – they told us – who defies the people is a ruler no more. A ruler who rules without the consent of the people is not our ruler. We are obliged to defy, for the sake of morality, for the sake of the common good, for the sake of Scotland and all her people. We are obliged, for the sake of liberty itself. We are obliged, or this land ceases to be Scotland. The ruler of this land can say what they please, but we are the people, and we are more. Our voice is louder. Our voice is stronger. Our voice will be heard.
Today we live in a different Scotland, a Scotland which sees its links to the world being lopped off in the name of an English nationalism that neither knows about Scotland nor cares about it. We live in a land that’s a mere adjunct to the pretensions of a British state that tells us we’re a partner in a union but treats us as chattel, bound by chains of lies and deceit. We live in a Scotland that knows that it doesn’t have to be this way, a Scotland that knows that it can be better, that it can be different, that it can be more.
Now, on the anniversary of the day that our forefathers stood up against the depredations of a cruel king, despoiling the land, destroying the people, we stand again. We are not and will never be a garland on the crown of a Tory Prime Minister. We are more than a convenient site to park the UK’s nuclear weaponry. We are more than a tartan fig leaf to allow the British state to pretend to itself that its nationalism isn’t just the nationalism of Greater England. We are more than a vassal dependent upon the permission of Boris Johnson or anyone else in order to decide for ourselves what the future of Scotland will be. We are the people of Scotland, and we are more.
We are living in a time of death, a time of fear, a time of distancing ourselves from our loved ones as an unseen and silent killer stalks the land. We long for the embrace of a friendly hug. We long for our mother’s kiss on the cheek. We long for the laughing togetherness of a night with good friends. We nourish the memories of better times, of sunshine and rain, of casual touch, of the wind on our faces. We live in the imagination of a better country and dream a dream of a Scotland that is shimmering on the horizon in a beautiful dawn. It tells us that we are more than the Cringe. We are more than the shortbread tin. We are more than the kaleyaird and the tartan tied box in which those afraid of Scotland’s true potential would seek to imprison us. We are more.
We are the people of Scotland. We are the sons and daughters many times removed of those who gave their lives for the principle of Scotland’s liberty. We are joined to them down the ages in an unbroken chain of belief and commitment, a shining cord of Scottishness. We know, as they knew, that to be Scottish isn’t a matter of who your parents were, it’s a gift that all of us who live here give to our children. We are the people of the glens, the islands, the tenements, the villages and crofts. Our tears are the rain that falls on Arran, our voices the wind that blows over Orkney, our strength is the granite of Aberdeen, our spirit the sun that breaks over the Southern Uplands. We are the children of the crofter and the Panjabi farmer. We are the sons of the Jewish refugee from the ghettos of Eastern Europe and the weaver in a Paisley slum. We are the daughters of the Irish poet and the Caribbean song. We are grandchildren of the English carpenter and the Welsh miner. We are this land and this land is us. Scotland is all of us, and we are more.
We declare that this is our land, that it is open to all who choose to love it, that it belongs to all who cherish it. And we affirm that we are the people who will determine the destiny of Scotland. On this day, 700 years distant from the declarations of our ancestors we feel that we’ve never been closer to them. So we stand and we make the declaration of Barlanark, the declaration of Ballater, of Craigmillar, of Kilsyth, of Tarves, of Tain, of Roxburgh, of Rosyth, the declaration of every town and village in this green and wet and windy land that sears into the soul and uplifts the spirit. We are the people of Scotland, and we are more.
And finally, because we could all do with some cheering up during these difficult times…
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