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Scotland’s nationalists say the case for independence is founded on thoroughly modern principles, but such is Alex Salmond’s love of history that he marked the start of the last month of referendum campaigning in Arbroath, a town best known for the politics of the 14th century.
The Scottish first minister and former medieval history undergraduate was unapologetic in hailing the historical resonances between the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath – an appeal by Scottish nobles for papal support against England – and his own more modern “Declaration of Opportunity”.
The Declaration of Arbroath – which was signed in the name of the “Community of the Realm of Scotland” and which made the job of King of Scots contingent on resistance to English rule – was an early articulation of popular sovereignty, Mr Salmond pointed out.
“On September 18th, every single one of us will have the future of our country in our own hands,” the first minister said on Monday evening. “We will all be equal, before the ballot box. True popular sovereignty will come to Scotland.”
Mr Salmond’s declaration – focused on issues of health and welfare – is unlikely to echo in Scottish history quite as long as the 1320 declaration, which was penned in resonant Latin that in translation still graces innumerable souvenir mugs and tea towels.
The document was a vigorous defence of Scotland’s independence after decades of invasion and conquest by English kings and it helped to secure the position of Scottish king Robert the Bruce.
Critics of Mr Salmond who accuse the first minister of sometimes playing loosely with the facts in his arguments for independence might see some parallel in the somewhat creative account the 1320 declaration gives of Scotland’s origins. The Scots, it says arrived on north Britain from “Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules”.
Certainly, political opponents were not impressed. Jackson Carlaw, Scottish Conservative party deputy leader, saw the appeal to history as a sign the independence campaign was “hitting the rocks”.
“It is simply ludicrous that he should posture as some latter day Robert the Bruce in Arbroath,” Mr Carlaw said.
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