Sunday, 1 March 2009

The Socialists Are Coming To Town

Quite a lot of politicians have sought to use Arbroath Abbey as something of a political football (or crutch in some cases), because of its association with the Declaration of Arbroath. When I worked there, I ejected the local MSP Andrew Welsh along with a couple of his cronies when he came in (without paying it has to be said) to have photo's taken for his election leaflets. His blustering "but I'm the local MSP......." as I escorted him off the premises left me somewhat cold.

Alex Salmond, before becoming First Minister, effectively hijacked the annual ceremony which marks the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration.

It has been argued that the amount of political abuse (for want of a better word) that the Abbey has received over the years has resulted in a lack of of promotion of the site by Historic Scotland. Personally, I'm minded to give this argument some credence.

That said, one political organisation is once more coming to town for its annual rally. Step forward (literally) the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement who have a march through the town on a weekend close to the 6th April (the date written on the Declaration).

It's a peaceful and well run event, albeit a rather bizarre spectacle (and I've seen some stuff in my time let me tell you) accompanied by a piper and a flute band, the SRSM march to the Abbey, have a few speeches and then go home again.

The last time I listened to the speeches it was something of a revelation. After reading out goodwill messages from far flung places, one orator gave a speech which somehow managed to lurch from the benefits of universal Socialism to the battle tactics of King of Robert the Bruce and back again.

It left me somewhat confused, but the audience were appreciative so that's ok I guess.

Study of the Declaration of Arbroath is too often restricted to academic papers which many find a little inaccessible, but reading more on it can be extremely rewarding. As one book description on the subject states:

"The Declaration of Arbroath, 6 April, 1320, is one of the most remarkable documents to have been produced anywhere in medieval Europe. Quoted by many, understood by few, its historical significance has now almost been overtaken by its mythic status."

If you are interested in reading more about the Declaration then you could do a lot worse than buy the collection of papers on the subject called "he Declaration of Arbroath: History, Significance, Setting" which was edited by respected historian Geoffrey Barrow.

I'm all for promoting Arbroath Abbey and the Declaration of Arbroath, but I can't help but feel that a better appreciation of the document itself, set in the context of the times in which it was written might make some people think twice before using it as a political football.


The Aberdonian said...

Your last paragraph is true Jim but like the Magna Carta the declaration is interpreted and used for modern political ends.

Another example is the Claim of Right of 1689. The Constitutional Convention which drew up the blueprint for devolution published a document calling itself "The Claim of Right". The original Claim of Right lays out some very good principles but is extremely anti-Catholic (even compared to its English contemporary the Bill of Rights). Yet many of Scotland's political leaders (including the now PM) were happy to put their signature to a document bearing the name of a 17th century document which could be used to justify modern day sectarianism.

Jim said...

Thanks for your comment Aberdonian.

As always, an excellent contribution.