Canon Kenyon Wright (1932-2017), constitutional reformer, nominated
Robert the Bruce (1274-1329)
Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978)
To nominate the great Robert [the Bruce] may seem just too obvious – but my reasons not only run deep into the meaning of our history as a nation, but are starkly relevant to our contemporary debate on the direction of our new democracy. I choose Robert not primarily because of who he was or what he did, but for what he represents.
I choose Robert not for the legendary spider nor for Bannockburn, but for Arbroath – though Arbroath could not have happened without Bannockburn and at least the spirit of the spider.
My reference is, of course, to the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320 – so far in advance of its time in its understanding of sovereignty that it deserves to be seen as one of the foundation documents of European democracy, and is certainly the source and spring from which flows the continuous stream that leads directly to the Claim of Right of 1989, and the Scottish Parliament of 1999.
The ringing words about freedom are well known – but the most significant part of the Declaration lies in the limitation it sets on the sovereignty of the king: 'Robert himself, should he turn aside from the task he has begun, and yield Scotland of us to the English King or his people, we should cast out as the enemy of us all, and we should choose another King to defend our freedom.'
Suitably adapted, not a bad message to give to the new Scottish Parliament!
I recall the words of a Commissioner at the General Assembly of the Kirk in 1989 – 'In the Declaration of Arbroath, they said to Robert – ye may be the King, but ye dae as ye're telt, or ye're on the burroo!'
That concept of limited and answerable sovereignty, in such stark contrast to the idolatry of Westminster's claims, is the heritage which Robert represents – and we need it now perhaps more than ever as we strive for a new political culture.
He appeals to the romantic and the visionary in me.
I too have experienced that piercing love of 'the little white rose of Scotland, that smells sharp and sweet.' I too have known how it 'breaks the heart.'
At the first meeting of the Scottish Constitutional Convention in March 1989, when all those politicians lined up to sign the 'Claim of Right for Scotland' and thus recognised the sovereignty of the people, I quoted words of MacDiarmid from 'A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle' which I hope will always mark our national identity, and set our vision of the nation in the context of Europe and the world:
He canna Scotland see, wha yet,
Canna see the infinite.
And Scotland in true scale to it.