Here I am in the SR Cafe sipping my latte and pouring over my copy of the Declaration of Arbroath
before the exhibition opens in the National Museum of Scotland in June. My Latin's a bit rusty but I'm beginning to get the drift – warring nobles and rival kings vying for the upper hand in Scotland and desperate to secure Papal patronage for their cause. Nothing really to do with burgeoning democracy nor a prototype of the American Declaration of Independence
. It wasn't even called a 'declaration' until after the American one was in place – just a letter to the Pope.
The way nationalists have tried to appropriate this historical document to serve their narrative reminds me of the satirical book of my youth: 1066 And All That: A Memorable History of England, Comprising All the Parts You Can Remember
. I recall organising a public meeting during the Indyref campaign and asking those who indicated they wanted to attend for their email addresses so we could send details of the meeting. One man who had assured me he wanted to hear all the arguments and hadn't made up his mind yet, gave me his as: email@example.com.
Misappropriation of things Scottish to serve the nationalist narrative is par for their course. It annoys me to hear them on TV speak for all Scots when they are only speaking for themselves and those who agree with them.
When they wrap themselves in the saltire, I don't feel the need to wave a Union Jack in retaliation. I don't really like flags much. I just want the saltire to be used to represent Scotland appropriately. The SNP Government have littered the country with Gaelic signage – a lot of it synthetic Gaelic nonsense. In reality, the major contributions to advancing Gaelic language over the years have been when Brian Wilson was Labour's Scottish Office Minister for Gaelic and even before that when Tory, George Younger, was Secretary of State.
They even like to claim historical figures for their cause – people who are no longer here to speak for themselves. They told us that Robert Burns would have voted Yes. His recorded views on these matters are to say the least ambiguous not to mention the fact that he wouldn't have had a vote at all. Only about 4,500 people in the whole of Scotland had a vote in his day. Then they decided Keir Hardie would have voted Yes. Here in Ayrshire, we claim him as one of our own but we also know he was a great internationalist; he supported a Scottish Parliament within the UK; he helped build the Labour and trade union movement in Scotland but also in the UK; he represented a Welsh then an English constituency. They've even had the audacity to suggest the late John Smith would have voted Yes – the man who believed devolution was the settled will of the Scottish People. '1066 and all that' indeed.
They have also tried to misappropriate political concepts like social democracy and progressive politics. Their recent leaders have given the rhetoric a high level of usage but a very low level of practical implementation. The NHS is run-down, our schools are struggling and poverty levels remain as high as ever. Labour at its worst retained that strain of the democratic socialist ethos to help keep the flame flickering till better times came along. The SNP don't have that to fall back on. That's why it was no surprise to see almost half their membership back a leadership candidate who espouses something close to the 'one-nation Tory' philosophy.
It's not that long ago that SNP supporters were waiving Catalan flags all over the place in support of their nationalist cousins in Catalonia. They too were desperate to be seen as progressive social democrats, but given the opportunity they abstained alongside the then ruling conservatives when the Madrid Parliament passed a socialist motion to exhume Franco's body from the Valle de los Caídos
(Valley of the Fallen) memorial in Madrid. Now it would be unfair to suggest that abstention represented a sympathy for Franco – it was more complicated than that – but it does show a lack of progressive political insight to fail to see the significance of siding with the conservatives on such an issue.
The SNP too has the rhetoric but no instinct – happy to cross picket lines to attend the Scottish Parliament and get on lunchtime TV; cynically claiming to see no difference between Labour and the Tories; portraying Scotland as all 'Jock Tamson's Bairns' thus ignoring the deep social, wealth and class divisions of its history.
They claimed 'The Vow' that appeared in the Daily Record
just before the referendum was reneged on when it wasn't – say it often enough and you will be believed. Their submission to the subsequent Smith commission we were led to believe was going to be in the form of constructive amendments – it turned out to be a rather thinly veiled rewording of their failed independence prospectus. They tell us they strongly backed devolution – when the truth is they were late to the table.
The Claim of Right for Scotland
was a document crafted by the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly in 1988, declaring the sovereignty of the Scottish people. It was signed at the General Assembly Hall, on the Mound in Edinburgh – on 30 March 1989 by 58 of Scotland's 72 Members of Parliament, 7 of Scotland's 8 MEPs, 59 out of 65 Scottish regional, district and island councils, and numerous political parties, churches and other civic organisations, eg trade unions. The SNP stayed away. They backed the scrapping of Clause 28 – yes, most SNP MSPs ended up voting to scrap it – but they happily took all the money 'Keep the Clause' champion, Brian Souter, could put their way. They even had the audacity to try to take credit for Labour MSP Monica Lennon's period poverty initiative.
Anyway, my latte is stone cold now and I'm beginning to struggle with all this Latin text. But I've read enough to know that I've got the gist. I was right from the start. This is more about declaring Scottish independence from the jurisdiction of marauding English Norman Kings that any prototype of a sovereign people's democratic rights. That's just more spin. Time for a refill, I think.
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