Scotland and Arbroath 1320 – 2020

700 Years of Fighting for Freedom, Sovereignty, and Independence

by Klaus Peter Müller (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 582 Pages
Series: Scottish Studies International, Volume 43

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Arbroath 1320 to 2020: 700 Years of Fighting for Freedom, Sovereignty, and Independence in Scotland, England, Europe and the World (Klaus Peter Müller (Mainz))
  • I. C. 1000–1500: The Middle Ages
  • (Post)Colonial Contexts of the Declaration: Conquest, Resistance and the Ambiguities of Writing Back (Silke Stroh (Münster))
  • The Declaration of Arbroath in the Shadow of Scotus (Alexander Broadie (Glasgow))
  • The Declaration of Arbroath and Contractual Kingship:Reading the Deposition Clause in the Middle Ages1 (Dauvit Broun (Glasgow))
  • II. 1500–1800: The Early Modern Age (Renaissance, Reformation, Revolution) and the Enlightenment
  • ‘He Is Not a Scot—Christ! Who Is Not Pleased with This Book’: Arbroath, Scotichronicon, and the Production of Scottish Identity (Mark P. Bruce (St. Paul))
  • Concepts of Freedom, Sovereignty, and Independence in the English Revolution: John Milton and the Levellers (Klaus Peter Müller (Mainz))
  • The Declaration of Arbroath in Scottish Political Thought, 1689–1789 (Murray Pittock (Glasgow))
  • Ideas of Dependency and Freedom in the Scottish Enlightenment (Christopher J. Berry (Glasgow))
  • III. 1800–2000: Scottish Diaspora, Romanticism, Imagery, the Industrial Revolution, Political Reforms, Scottish Nationalism
  • Rhetoric and Reality: The Quest for ‘Freedom’ in the Scottish Diaspora1 (Marjorie Harper (Aberdeen))
  • Illegitimate History: Scott’s Fictions of Sovereignty (Ian Duncan (Berkeley))
  • The Declaration of Arbroath and the Absence of Imagery (John Morrison (Lincoln))
  • Industrialising Scotland and the Nation: Nationalism, Liberty and Independence (Christopher A. Whatley (Dundee))
  • “Auld Round O”: Carlyle, Knox, and the Declaration of Arbroath (David R. Sorensen (Philadelphia))
  • The Declaration of Arbroath and Scottish Nationalist Constitutional Thought in the Twentieth Century (Richard J. Finlay (Strathclyde))
  • Scotland’s Hidden Powers? Politics and the Union in an Uncertain Age (Ewen A. Cameron (Edinburgh))
  • IV. 20th & 21st Centuries: The Media, the Law, Utopian & Real Struggles for Freedom, Sovereignty, Power, Independence & the Common Weal
  • “Coveting Nothing but Our Own”: Arbroath and the Modern Independence Movement (Alasdair Allan (MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar))
  • The Declaration as Polyvalent Signifier: The Semiotics of Absence in the Representation of Scotland (Neil Blain (Stirling))
  • (Re)Covering the Declaration of Arbroath: International Perspectives on a National Claim of Right (Ben McConville and Hugh O’Donnell (Glasgow))
  • Landscapes of Resistance in the English North: the Poetics of Freedom in Kes (1969) and The Selfish Giant (2013) (David Forrest (Sheffield))
  • The Declaration of Arbroath and Scots Law (Aileen McHarg (Durham))
  • Declaring Arbroath: Atque Supra Crepidam1 (David McCrone (Edinburgh))
  • Utopia in an Age of Apocalypse: A Reflection on the Politics of Europe and Ecology (Edouard Gaudot (Paris/Brussels))
  • Brexit and Scotland’s Independence Debate: New Arguments for Autonomy (Anthony Salamone (Edinburgh))
  • Taking Back Control: Devolution, Agency and Brexit in the North of England (Sarah Longlands (Manchester))
  • The Declaration of Arbroath, Contemporary Nationalist Mythology and the Common Weal (Ben Wray (Glasgow))
  • Afterword: A Public Declaration (Robert Crawford (St Andrews))
  • Contributors
  • Index
  • Series Index

Klaus Peter Müller (Mainz)

Arbroath 1320 to 2020: 700 Years of Fighting for Freedom, Sovereignty, and Independence in Scotland, England, Europe and the World

Abstract: This introduction gives information on the contributors to this book and the topics they will deal with. The cultural contexts that provide the backdrop to all problems discussed will be presented in connection with a short history of the concepts of freedom, sovereignty, and independence in essential cultures since Arbroath, ending with the current threats to these values. Big tech, digitalisation, politics, surveillance capitalism, and people’s ignorance appear as key challenges.

Keywords: History; Arbroath; freedom; sovereignty; independence; threats; Middle Ages; Reformation; Revolution; Enlightenment; 19th, 20th, 21st centuries; industry; business; politics; digitalisationartificial intelligencebig tech; capitalism; ignorance; knowledge; learning; citizens' movements; nation; individuality; Brexit

1 The Evolution of Freedom, Sovereignty, and Independence from Arbroath to Today

At the beginning it is always useful to briefly define the three key words of the title, which instantly also represent essential values. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) (Salazar 1919) is for me the authoritative and usually best source. It basically equates the two words ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’, which people sometimes try to distinguish, seeing ‘freedom’ as the more general term and ‘liberty’ as describing more specific, often political freedoms. Cowen’s (2008, 37) historical distinction is also worth recalling: “It is of note that freedom is an Old English word whereas liberty appears to be a late medieval Latinate acquisition.” The OED defines ‘freedom’ as “I. The state or fact of being free from servitude, constraint, inhibition, etc.; liberty.” The next additions are very important throughout the Middle Ages and the early modern age: “1.a Exemption or release from slavery or imprisonment = liberty” with further reference to “letter of freedom (now ←9 | 10→historical): a document emancipating a slave”, saying that its first source is from 1225. Not being a slave, or serf, meant that one was free.

The next two meanings are also worth remembering and directly connect freedom with independence: “2. Nobility or generosity of character, magnanimity.” Does anybody think of this today? Certainly not. But we should, as such an attitude would improve our societies considerably. “3. The state or fact of not being subject to despotic or autocratic control, or to a foreign power; civil liberty; independence”, source from 1389. “4. a) The state of being able to act without hindrance or restraint; liberty of action”, 1400. Definition 5 speaks of “the power of self-determination attributed to the will” with a source from 1340, and finishing with John Locke’s 1690 definition in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding “ii. xxi. 123 ‘In this then consists Freedom (viz.) in our being able to act, or not to act, according as we shall choose, or will.’ ” The OED definitions of ‘liberty’ are rather similar, the first one saying “The state or condition of being free.”1

This is how the OED defines ‘Sovereignty’:

1. Supremacy or pre-eminence in respect of excellence or efficacy c.1340. 2. Supremacy in respect of power, domination, or rank; supreme dominion, authority, or rule. c.1374. 3.a spec. The position, rank, or power of a supreme ruler or monarch; royal authority or dominion. 1387. b. transferred. The supreme controlling power in communities not under monarchical government; absolute and independent authority. 1860. 4. A territory under the rule of a sovereign, or existing as an independent state. 1715.

There is nothing of surprise here, apart from the fact that the words “excellence or efficacy” might remind one of the “Nobility or generosity of character, magnanimity” historically connected with ‘freedom’. We should remember these qualities, as they would definitely improve people’s thinking and acting today. Perhaps the most important difference connected with ‘sovereignty’ is the fact that “ ‘In Scotland, the people are sovereign’.” (Bulmer 2014). In England it is the parliament.

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1.1 The Declaration of Arbroath: Its Characteristics and Key Values

The Declaration of Arbroath, dated 6 April 1320, was originally a letter to pope John XXII, perhaps written by Bernard de Linton, abbot of Arbroath and Chancellor of Scotland from 1308 to 1328, and it began in this way: “To the most Holy Father and Lord in Christ, the Lord John, by divine providence Supreme Pontiff of the Holy Roman and Universal Church, his humble and devout sons”, namely forty explicitly named Scottish earls, barons, magnates, stewards, magistrates, “and the other barons and freeholders and the whole community of the realm of Scotland send all manner of filial reverence, with devout kisses of his blessed feet.”2 The “widespread renown” and ancient history of the nation of the Scots is referred to, “nowhere could it be subdued by any people, however barbarous.” It has been “reigned by one hundred thirteen kings of their own royal stock, the line unbroken by a single foreigner.” Scots were “almost the first” people whom “our Lord Jesus Christ” called to “His most holy faith”, “confirmed in that faith by […] the most gentle Saint Andrew, the Blessed Peter’s brother”.

Thus the Scots had lived in “freedom and peace” until Edward I invaded Scotland, pretending to be a friend, but committing so many deeds of cruelty “no one could describe nor fully imagine unless he had seen them with his own eyes.” From these countless evils the Scots were delivered ←11 | 12→by King Robert I, the letter says. It does not mention his decisive battle of Bannockburn in 1314 or the important capture of Berwick in 1318, but points out that Robert acted generally “like another Maccabaeus or Joshua.” This is directly followed by what is clearly the key passage in the letter in our context, as it expresses the position and justification of a king in the Scottish nation:

Him, too, divine providence, the succession to his right according to our laws and customs which we shall maintain to the death, and the due consent and assent of us all have made our prince and king. To him, as to the man by whom salvation has been wrought unto our people, we are bound both by his right and by his merits that our freedom may be still maintained, and by him, come what may, we mean to stand.

Here the key qualities and essential justifications of a king of Scotland are expressed: he must be a king justified by 1) God (“divine providence”), 2) Scottish “laws and customs”, and 3) “the due consent and assent of us all”. He must also 4) “merit” this consent by 5) bringing “salvation” to the people and 6) maintaining their “freedom”. These are the key characteristics and values of this letter that have stayed with us as basic qualities of a government that deserves the people’s support. They have also been part and parcel of the long history, tradition, and mythology of the Declaration of Arbroath which will be addressed in our book.3

The letter continues, however, re-affirms the people’s right to decide who should be king and says very clearly that they would depose even Robert I if he dared “to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English”. He would instantly become their “enemy and a subverter of his own right and ours”. The passage concludes with the words most often quoted from the letter:

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for, as long as a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be subjected to the lordship of the English. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

If people know anything from the Declaration of Arbroath, they know this powerful emphasis of freedom. A word of perennial significance to human beings. Our book will analyse how it has been understood in different periods and cultures. ‘Freedom’ does not mean the same thing to everybody. It is also the key word connected with all transformations of the Declaration into myths. But another word in this passage should also be highlighted, of great importance in all centuries, but (for bad reasons) highly controversial, contested and even brought into discredit in our time: ‘honest’. Only honest men will sacrifice their own lives for freedom, the letter says. Dishonest people will not. An intriguing claim. It won’t suffice to say that this claim is connected with the important class aspect of the letter, even though this is, of course, partly true: the signatories, i.e. the aristocracy, magnates, and clergy, claimed that they were honest and civilised people. This class aspect is dealt with in various chapters in our book. Important quite generally in all discussions of the key values of the Declaration is one essential value that is inseparable from ‘honest’, even though the link is not always seen: justice. There is no freedom without justice. And it is one of the greatest achievements of human society that there is (at least notional) equality of people before the law, the basis of justice and freedom.

The letter continues with what the signatories actually want from the pope, namely that the English “leave us Scots in peace”. He should admonish the English, and the text expresses this with another significant statement, not only a reference to God again, but to an astonishing equality: “since with Him Whose vice-gerent on earth you are there is neither weighing nor distinction of Jew and Greek, Scotsman or Englishman, you will look with the eyes of a father on the troubles and privations brought by the English upon us and upon the Church of God.” The letter is a very intelligently written text. Here it makes the pope aware of the fact that the troubles the Scots have because of England are also the troubles of “the Church of God.” Getting rid of one trouble means that the other is ended, too. The second equality expressed here between “Jew and Greek, ←13 | 14→Scotsman or Englishman” is even more astounding and another cheek to England, where Edward I had in 1290 expelled the Jews from his reign (cf. Morris 2009, 226 ff).

The Scottish case should, therefore, indeed “truly concern” the pope, who had enough problems of his own, which are only politely hinted at in the letter, and was keen on increasing the military forces of the crusades, explicitly mentioned and connected with the “false reasons” given by princes who in reality simply prefer “making war on their smaller neighbours”. How “cheerfully our lord the King and we too would go there if the King of the English would leave us in peace”. But if the pope believes “the tales the English tell” and continues favouring England to Scotland’s “undoing, then the slaughter of bodies, the perdition of souls, and all the other misfortunes that will follow […] will, we believe, be surely laid by the Most High to your charge.” The explicit conclusion is that “as obedient sons to you as His Vicar, and to Him as the Supreme King and Judge we commit the maintenance of our cause, casting our cares upon Him and firmly trusting that He will inspire us with courage and bring our enemies to nothing.”

The letter had no immediate effect. Pope Clement V had excommunicated Robert I in 1306 for killing John Comyn, but Robert I was recognised by pope John XXII as king of an independent Scotland in 1324, and peace between Scotland and England was concluded only with the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, signed by Robert and ratified by the English parliament in 1328 (cf. McNair Scott 1982). The letter was not explicitly mentioned for a very long time. But from an historical point of view, it was a huge step in the perennial process of people fighting for freedom, sovereignty and independence. Our book gives an intriguing insight into this process and shows how the thinking and values expressed in the 1320 letter are reflected in important later periods and cultures even when no explicit references to it are made. The key cultural contexts and themes addressed in this book with the names of the contributors in bold type will now be presented. Whenever I speak of ‘our book’, I do mean the illuminating result of these excellent writers.

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1.2 The Contributors, Their Themes, Topics, and Cultural Contexts

‘The Declaration of the Clergy’ had already “declared nothing less than that ‘the people’ had chosen their king”. It was strongly influenced by “Lamberton’s conversations with John Duns Scotus in 1302” (Oliver 2010, 142), and the significant influence of Duns Scotus on the 1320 Declaration is analysed and comprehensively described by Alexander Broadie in our book. Broadie speaks about “William Lamberton, chancellor of Glasgow Cathedral and then Bishop of St Andrews”, his “input into the Declaration of Arbroath”, and many other reasons why Scotus is necessarily connected with the Declaration.

The revelation of such significant cultural and intellectual contexts of the Declaration is a particular asset of our publication. The cultural contexts of the Middle Ages are thus further revealed by Dauvit Broun who not only contends that the Declaration was “especially highly regarded in the late-medieval Scotland” but finds intriguingly new interpretations for the letter. Silke Stroh reveals the (post)colonial contexts of Arbroath in connection with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s De gestis Britonum from the 1130s and also refers to “three vital documents from 1301: the English king Edward I’s letter to the pope as another colonial text, and the Scottish responses commonly known as ‘Instructiones’ and ‘Processus’.” All of these authors thus show that the ideas of Arbroath in 1320 are not unique and singular occurrences but part of a significant stream in the process of the evolution of human thinking and developing cultural practices.

Freedom, sovereignty, and independence are values each nation and each individual human being needs to fight for without cease. They must never be taken for granted and are never freely given to people by those in power. The opposition to these values is numerous and relentlessly at work. Our book reveals how human beings in key periods after Arbroath have managed or failed to preserve these values, how they have defined and understood them in their various cultures. The book thus has a chronological structure and selected highly qualified people for the respective periods with the assignment to describe how the Declaration, its key values, arguments and criteria have been dealt with. Literal references to the Declaration have not been the main focus but rather how its essential ←15 | 16→values and aims have fared in different periods. This will provide readers with an intriguing survey of the development of democracy and the increasing power of the people in control of national governments in representative countries and periods of our world.

Mark Bruce links the Declaration with Walter Bower’s Scotichronicon, John of Fordun’s Chronica Gentis Scottorum for a discussion of the intriguing connections between them, between fact and fiction and Bower’s use of narrative for the creation of a Scottish Brucean identity and the claim of Scottish sovereignty. Klaus Peter Müller focuses on a key event in human history when the Rump Parliament in London in 1649 for the first time in this history put into practice the essential point in the Declaration of Arbroath that the people can take the king’s power away. King Charles I was set on trial, found guilty of not only working against the people but even spilling their blood in an unnecessary civil war and was sentenced to death. Scotland played its part in the English Revolution, but the focus is on John Milton and the Levellers who represented and expressed thinking about freedom, sovereignty and independence in exemplary and truly revolutionary ways. Murray Pittock follows this up and covers “Scottish Political Thought” from 1689 to 1789. Christopher Berry also deals with the hugely relevant period in the evolution of human thinking about freedom, sovereignty, independence, and reason in society, the Enlightenment. It’s illuminating that he highlights a term that must never be forgotten in this thinking: “Dependency”. He gives an excellent description of the very different dependencies in the Declaration and the Enlightenment and speaks about the highly significant shift from a feudal to a commercial, i.e. modern world with new freedoms. At the same time, however, this new world increased the value of a rather old dependency: property and money. They defined who you were and whether you were allowed to vote or not. They defined how free you actually were. Readers will instantly become aware of the fact that these values have lost nothing of their significance in our time. Their importance has rather dramatically increased.

Marjory Harper discusses “The Quest for ‘Freedom’ in the Scottish Diaspora” and gives us reasons people had for emigrating from Britain. Ian Duncan delivers insights into Walter “Scott’s Fictions of Sovereignty” with their political theme of “the long transition from regimes of absolute to ←16 | 17→popular sovereignty”. David Hume’s concept of “customary consent” was important for Scott, too, and its value has again only increased in today’s elections and media. John Morrison focuses on art, Romanticism, and the somewhat surprising “Absence of Imagery” related with the Declaration. This ‘absence’ is indeed significant: many people have complained about how long the Declaration was not mentioned in former times and how it has become mythologised since the 20th century. It thus is important that John deals with this absence and also provides us with six paintings, the last of which “appears to be a rejection of the standardised manipulation of Scottish history to make it serve the unionist cause” and “consciously rejects Walter Scott’s characterisation of Scottish history as noble and heroic”. These links between different chapters and the multifarious connections between totally different media and cultural contexts are significant qualities of our book. Christopher Whatley discusses how liberty and independence fared during the extremely relevant process of “Industrialising Scotland and the Nation”, describing how “Scotland’s middling sorts” as well as “respectable artisans” “pushed for political recognition and influence”, and providing excellent cultural contexts of these developments.

David Sorensen provides information on how Scotland’s most important philosopher and cultural critic of the 19th century, Thomas Carlyle, understood freedom, what he thought of the Declaration, and why it is inseparable from the Reformation. Richard Finlay’s discussion of the constitution presents essential contexts for legal arguments used by Scottish nationalists in the 20th century but still of extreme relevance today in all forms of opposition to the idea of the sovereignty of Westminster. His text covers “the Declaration of Arbroath, the Scottish Conventions, and the Treaty of Union in the construction of the idea of popular sovereignty”. The differences between this ‘popular sovereignty’ and the Declaration’s understanding of ‘the people’ become evident. Ewan A. Cameron provides an excellent survey of government structures, political culture and history, discusses “the word ‘Conservative’ ”, the SNP, unionism, and democratic deficits in Scotland’s position in the UK, and concludes with the verdict that “Scotland’s once hidden powers are becoming increasingly evident.”

Alasdair Allan is the only politician who has agreed to contribute to our book and deserves special praise for this alone. All parties in the Scottish ←17 | 18→parliament were invited to speak about their understanding of freedom, independence etc., but none of them has had the courage to do so. Alasdair had a corresponding experience with Scottish Labour, LibDem and Tory MSPs: “not one single MSP from these parties would sign a motion I tabled in Parliament in 2019 to highlight the Declaration’s forthcoming anniversary”. He begins in 1951 with what turned out to be a significant event, as “Scotland was now being quietly ushered out of political existence.” He provides intriguing insights into the “Modern Independence Movement” and the Scottish National Party, their use of the Declaration, and the wider pro-independence ‘Yes’ movement since Scotland’s independence referendum of 2014. Neil Blain speaks about the “Semiotics of Absence in the Representation of Scotland”, thus continues this important discussion in the context of “The Declaration as a Polyvalent Signifier”. Most of us, I suppose, will agree with his regret for the absences he describes. Ben McConville & Hugh O’Donnell are fittingly involved in “(Re)Covering the Declaration of Arbroath” by providing “International Perspectives on a National Claim of Right” in media in thirteen languages and sixteen countries between 1996 and 2019. The SNP White Paper of 2013 appears as an important turning point. David Forrest investigates a different medium, film, for a discussion of the “Poetics of Freedom” in two films depicting the English North where resistance to conformity, social and economic pressures, thus struggles for freedom derive from both the landscape and human determination.

The law is a significant system for enhancing or impeding freedom, autonomy and independence. In this context, Aileen McHarg offers an illuminating survey of the history of the essential values of the Declaration and their legal connections, constitutional links, and gives insights into very different forms of sovereignty. David McCrone’s “Declaring Arbroath” finds that “the Declaration resonates with claims that being Scottish is a matter of ‘demos’ rather than of ‘ethnos’ ”. This focus on “ ‘popular sovereignty’ (in Scotland)” provides a significant contrast to England, where there is “ ‘only one source of power: the Crown-in-Parliament’ ”. The 1988 Claim of Right for Scotland highlighted this contrast. So does David, but with further discussions of many problems, because “in the words of the Conservative MP, Enoch Powell, at the time of the Devolution Act 1979, power devolved is power retained.” Edouard Gaudot thinks that we live ←18 | 19→in an “Age of Apocalypse” and discusses European politics and ecology in this world, worrying about the possibilities of utopia among old narratives of nation and growth.

Anthony Salamone offers strong “New Arguments for Autonomy” in the contexts of Brexit and Scottish independence. Having also analysed Scotland’s place in the UK constitutional order and in Europe, he is convinced that Scotland should “take its own major decisions without risk of being overruled by England”. Sarah Longlands provides us with insights into projects and practical experiences of people taking back control today and is in this respect extremely relevant. Exploring “the concept of devolution as a form of freedom from a centralised state”, she speaks of people’s frustrations, “concepts of positive and negative freedom”, and provides direct information on informal groupings and movements which encourage engagement with civil society, committed to changing the way governments have treated communities and helping people to regain some sovereignty about their lives. Ben Wray does most explicitly what all contributors were asked to do and have also presented in their individual ways, namely a critical discussion of the myths connected with Arbroath and its essential values. He also considers sovereignty in connection with currency, i.e. economics, as well as the Scottish kind of nationalism and a key value of a free and humane society, “the Common Weal”. It is quite fitting that our book ends with Robert Crawford, an excellent scholar and poet, who discusses the influences of the Declaration of Arbroath on “the outstanding poet Hugh MacDiarmid”, but especially on “two more moderate writers interested in independence – Agnes Mure Mackenzie and Mary Paton Ramsay” in the 1930s, on himself, and on the novelist James Robertson. It is even more wonderful and appropriate that Robert’s text and thus our book ends with a new Declaration, published in the National on 10 October 2019 and expressing the idea of a humane and independent Scotland, the “Guiding Principles for a New and Better Scotland”: the “Declaration for Independence, 2019”, which “Robertson co-authored in 2019 and which was signed by a range of Scottish writers, artists, and cultural figures”.

Will Scotland at last become independent again? Perhaps already in 2020 or 2021? I would definitely want this to happen. While the “Declaration for Independence, 2019” represents the current stage of this long evolution ←19 | 20→of human beings, the people, demanding freedom, sovereignty, and independence, it is worth remembering significant earlier stages, events, and documents in this process. This must be short, of course, and Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America will be disregarded. We will also begin only in the Middle Ages, leaving out earlier periods, but acknowledging that these endeavours have certainly existed in human communities in all times and cultures.

1.3 Important Steps towards Freedom, Sovereignty, and Independence of the People

1) 1215: Magna Carta “is perhaps the first event in English history in which we can see the political process fully at work” (Starkey 2015, 5). The three versions of the Charter (1215, 1216 and 1225) have had an enormous influence in European history and are indeed “the bedrock of an evolving English constitution” (ibid.). This constitution now is “800 years old”, “showing its age and creaking at the joints.” “Is it time to give up and start again?” (Starkey 2015, 6) Starkey (155) does not think so. He gives a fairly fitting description of 2015, when he says “We are bored and we crave excitement. We are ignorant of history and have a child-like belief in the future.” (152) But he has some confidence left, because “the men of 1215 sowed a seed, which is a living, growing thing. We must hope that the last of its fruits is not yet harvested.” (155)

While most of his characteristics of 2015 are still true, there are many signs now that people are no longer bored and that efforts for change are getting stronger. Scotland certainly woke up from any boredom or lack of concern in connection with the 2014 referendum on independence, and the 2016 Brexit referendum has also alerted people to what politics has done with them. While there has been much careful thinking in Scotland about how to create a fairer, freer, and more humane society, many people everywhere have also responded with strong emotions, fuelled by frustration with politics and despair in their everyday lives. Ignorance of history, of the decisive elements in our lives, and childlike belief in simple solutions have led to extremely dangerous results today, succinctly described by Ebner (2017) and Mishra (2017) as “Rage”, “Far-Right Extremism” and ←20 | 21→Anger”, with sources beyond the present and strong links to violence in human history.

In our context, one must be aware of one essential characteristic of Magna Carta: people in 1215 tried to use “the Charter as a machinery to legitimate deposition”, “intended to usher in, however briefly, a world without kings” (Starkey 2015, 97, 100). This attempt failed and led to a civil war. But things had changed dramatically by the end of that century, when Edward I was forced to accept “in the ‘Confirmation of the Charters’ [--] that taxation could only be levied ‘with the common assent of all the realm’.” “All the realm” is another expression for what is called ‘the people’ in the Declaration. The realm or the people belong to the groups represented in parliament. And there was a significant shift in the importance of these groups from Magna Carta to the later century:

Edward’s parliaments, with 74 knights (two from each shire), around eighty burgesses (two from each town, although the number of towns summoned varied) and no less than 148 members of the lower clergy, were fully representative of the realm in a way parliaments ceased to be later when clerical taxation was considered in a separate assembly, Convocation. Parliament had come a long way since Magna Carta, which had envisaged baronial and other tenants-in-chief alone providing ‘common consent’. In contrast, a tract ‘How to Hold a Parliament’, written in the early fourteenth century, asserted that in all things ‘which ought to be granted, done or refused in parliament’, the knights from the shires carried more weight than the greatest earl. The magnates, it opined, spoke merely for themselves. It was the knights and burgesses who represented ‘the whole community of England’. (Carpenter 2004, 485)

Again, this was only a small step. But this is precisely how evolution always works, very slowly, with advancements and constant setbacks. This specific change took place, while at the same time “the unfree half of the peasantry remained completely debarred from the king’s courts. ‘What can a serf do unless serve, and his son? He shall be a pure serf deprived of freedom. The law’s judgement and the king’s court prove this’ ran the triumphal poem of Leicester abbey in 1276 after its villeins of Stoughton had failed to prove they were free sokemen.” (Carpenter 487) Freedom is never easily gained nor ever voluntarily granted.

What Carpenter (485) detects in “the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries”, namely that “a sense of community and national identity had been shaped in part by opposition to the crown”, is still important in ←21 | 22→the Declaration, even though the opposition here is mainly to England’s crown. But there is, of course, also opposition to Scotland’s crown, if it acts against the people, and in all of these processes the significant value of identity is apparent.

In the context of the Declaration, one book must be mentioned from this time, even though it does not mention Arbroath, only Robert I: George Buchanan, De Iure Regni Apud Scotos/The Powers of the Crown in Scotland (1579). He was the teacher of James VI and this book clearly stated what Buchanan wanted the king to learn, namely that the people ←22 | 23→have the ultimate power in their hands and have from ancient times been able to depose an unjust king. Buchanan actually connoted a contractual relationship between a king and his people, already implied in the “Irish kingship” of the 12th century, which was “like that of the Scots according to the Declaration of the Clergy, [--] elective and contractual.” (Cowan 2008, 51)

But not even in the 17th century could the contractual concept be openly discussed. It was explicitly described by John Locke in his Two Treatises of Government, but these were published anonymously in 1689, because of their dangerous contents. They were probably already begun in 1679 (Ashcraft 1986; Laslett 1956). James always hated such an idea, he believed in himself as a king by divine right, thus of absolute power, and published his views in the book Basilikon Doron (‘The King’s Gift’) in 1599. It was initially meant for his son Henry, but also sold in public and in even greater numbers when James became James I of England in 1603. This was the key issue for a long time: is the king the representative of God and, therefore, of absolute power, or is he the representative of the people who have ultimate power?

3) The Seventeenth Century is best seen together as one big next step, consisting of many mincing steps. It clearly was an age of many revolutions and gives us an instant insight again into the evolution of human freedom etc.: there were enormous advancements and equally strong setbacks, big steps and small ones, which will be briefly mentioned here. That there might be a contract between the people and their government is indeed an idea that developed out of the Reformation, its emphasis on individual freedom and responsibility, and the increased importance of commerce, the beginning of capitalism in its aftermath.5

James’s son, Charles I, king of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1625, adopted his father’s absolutist concept of kingship and paid with his life for stubbornly insisting on it and acting against the reality of ←23 | 24→growing opposition to this ancient idea. The 1649 trial and death penalty against him as well as the Glorious Revolution of 1688 again showed that the English parliament had more power than the king and decided that William of Orange should become king William III with his wife Mary II and replace James II and VII. ‘Glorious’ is a fitting epithet as nobody was killed by this action, which also led to the 1689 Claim of Right, passed by the Parliament of Scotland, and the Bill of Rights, enacted by the Parliament of England. Both confirmed the predominance of parliament over the king. The Claim of Right was confirmed in the 1707 Acts of Union, when Scotland and England became “One kingdom by the name of Great Britain”.6 The 1679 Habeas Corpus Act also belongs into this context of laws passed that clearly express and enhance people’s rights against a dominant authority (cf. Lewis 2003).

Parliaments’ decisions of 1689 also made further moves towards absolutism, a centralised autocratic state, and a Catholic monarchy much more difficult. Jacobite endeavours, already beginning in 1689, continued in 1715 and 1745, still had strong absolutist undercurrents. Everybody in favour of people’s freedom and strong influence on government decisions should, therefore, be happy that Jacobitism ended in 1745 (cf. Harris 2006; Pincus 2006, 2011; Sowerby 2013; Szechi 1994). How fitting that the usefulness of these claims and bills were confirmed in 2019, when Prime Minister Johnson ordered to prorogue parliament and thus used an ancient royal prerogative already abolished in 1640 by the Long Parliament. The Edinburgh Court of Session Inner House decided that this was not acceptable (though surprisingly not against the Claim of Right), then the Supreme Court in London said again and conclusively that what Johnson had done was both unlawful and void. This 2019 court decision constitutes another important step in today’s efforts to prevent public participation in government decisions, to reduce or annul the people’s sovereignty. The fight for freedom today is as strong as it has always been. The threats to public freedom and the forces against it have perhaps never been as severe, devious and numerous as today. It is absolutely fitting that ←24 | 25→Lady Hale, heading the Supreme Court, said explicitly that parliament is the people.7

One sees the endless links and connections of decrees, letters, acts and events, the alternations of progress and regress that have been typical in human history for ever. In what looks like much progress achieved in the 17th century, it is enormously significant for our historical knowledge as well as our contemporary awareness of the complexity of life at all times to end the discussion of this step with another perspective and very different evaluation. We have heard of serfdom in 1276. Smout (1969, 168) discusses it in the 17th century: “a man accepting employment in a colliery or saltpans thereby made himself a serf for life: he became a piece of mining equipment that could be bought, sold and inherited by his master”. These people “suffered a degradation without parallel in the history of labour in Scotland.” This happened at the same time when in England “colliers retained their liberty even though the industry was situated in similar places and otherwise organised on similar lines.” Smout’s conclusion (170) gives a damning evaluation of Scotland at that time:

Seventeenth-century society did not protest either in 1606, in 1641, in 1660 or in 1690: church and state alike saw it as a simple and admirable way out of an economic dilemma. The lot of the inarticulate industrial serfs should give the political historians of Scotland pause for reflection. In what senses can the civil wars, the covenants, and the revolutions of the seventeenth century be held to be about the basic liberties of man when all the contenders paused in the struggle to confirm, as a matter of automatic common-sense, the serfdom of the least privileged?

Smout is perfectly right. In my discussion of the English Revolution below, I will nevertheless show why these times still are indeed about the basic freedoms of human beings. Actually freedoms they already claimed and ←25 | 26→even practiced which were then lost again, and which we still have not yet regained. Smout also makes us once again aware of the fact that freedom does not necessarily include everybody. I have also quoted him at length because what he says here about 17th-century workers applies in the same degree to many people in our culture today, where there is in fact more slavery now than in any time in the past, and it still usually pertains to the least privileged people, such as migrants, sick and old people, children, women. (Cf. Bulman 2019)

4) American Independence (1776) and the French Revolution (1789) represent the next step. At first sight, the two events seem to be rather different, but they have the significant denominator of liberation in common. America wanted to be free from the English monarchy and created a republic. Its Declaration of Independence (1776), with its internationally renowned phrase that “all men are created equal”, is sometimes claimed to be related, even derived from Arbroath. Other people emphasise the opposite direction and say that the American declaration has led to the letter of Arbroath being called the Declaration of Arbroath. Cowan (2008, 5, 125ffd, 139) belongs to this latter group and offers two conclusions: 1) that “it could be claimed that is was the Scottish Declaration of Right which truly represented the inspiration for the American Declaration of Independence and that the Scottish document was not uninfluenced by the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320.” And 2): “The Declaration was reborn and rediscovered in the constitutional revolution of 1688–89 which drove the last Stewart king into the desert of Jacobite exile.” Cowan (2008, 123) also says something that instantly recalls Smout about the earlier century: “in all prattle about American liberty the slavery issue was wilfully ignored by the majority.” Nothing had changed at that time, and – as in many other essential respects – nothing has changed since then.

The French Revolution did not only get rid of the monarchy, it also abolished the influence of the aristocracy and the church. This did not last long, as Emperor Napoleon (1804–1815) made clear. Old concepts do have a frightening influence on powerful people. But Napoleon did introduce liberal elements into France and also foreign countries, especially in law with his Code Civil and through his educational reform. He ←26 | 27→also significantly ended serfdom (Grab 2003; severe criticism in McLynn 1998). The French Revolution abolished feudalism in 1789, and in the same year declared the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (which did not include women and did not abolish slavery, cf. Conseil Constitutionnel 1789). But women were greatly involved in this Revolution, as they had also been in the English Revolution (cf. Godineau 1998). That such good beginnings ended in the Reign of Terror shows again how hard it is to obtain freedom and keep it safe (Doyle 2001; Keitner 2007; Censer, Jack/Lynn Hunt 2001; Shusterman 2014).

5) The Twentieth Century begins with the Women’s Suffrage Movement and its result that in 1927 all adult women in the UK also had the right to take an active part in elections. Then the key characteristic of this century is that people had to endure two world wars. Every war destroys freedom, as people are forced either to defend themselves or to join the national or local army and, perhaps, fight for freedom, independence etc. The wars had two significant results in our context and generally: 1) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. It claimed that “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” is the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family”. The problem was and has been that this was a non-binding declaration. In 1950, the European Convention of Human Rights was drafted by the Council of Europe and entered into force in 1953. The creation of the European Court of Human Rights followed whose judgements the 47 nations of the Council have to obey. Article 1 binds the nations to secure the rights mentioned in the following articles. Article 5 provides the right to liberty, 6 the right to a fair trial etc.8 Again, though, these are excellent intentions, but too many states, e.g. the USA, claim that these declarations of human rights do not impose any obligations on their national law.

←27 | 28→

The second important result of two world wars was the creation of what has since 1993 been called the European Union. Its original intention was to make sure that there will never be a war again in Europe and that it’s nations should, therefore, unite. This praiseworthy intention was so successfully realised that in 2012 the “EU was awarded the [Nobel Peace] prize for its role in uniting the continent after two world wars.” (BBC News 2012) The process began in 1951 with the European Coal and Steel Community, which became the European Economic Community in 1957, and finally the EU with the Maastricht Treaty of 1993, which also created European citizenship. The UK joined in 1973, a decision confirmed by the first referendum in the UK in 1975, when 67% of the population expressed their agreement (Shetland and the Outer Hebrides were the only No areas). Essential values of the EU for people, in addition to the EU acknowledgement of human rights, certainly are free movement, the ability to work in any of the member countries, and the uniform application of EU law, supervised by the European Court. It is remarkable that the conservative UK government and then the entire Brexit movement have objected to the European Court and want to be free of it. The EU protection of workers’ rights, environmental, food, and health standards have been put forward as something Brexiters want to get rid of. This is not at all surprising, as the Tories have also repeatedly wanted to abolish Human Rights in the UK.9

I sincerely hope they will not succeed. The UK is needed for the necessary reform of the EU, where more freedom and democracy must be brought forward and made much more effective in the individual regions of the EU as well as in Brussels. The EU and all the freedom, prosperity, and peace it has given us are seriously endangered. It is urgent that we are completely aware of the threats to our freedom, sovereignty and ←28 | 29→independence. We need to preserve them actively, or they’ll be taken away from us (cf. Müller 2018a).

One final significant step towards people’s freedom, sovereignty and independence in both the 20th and the 21st centuries must be mentioned: Citizens’ Movements. There are so many of them that only a few can be mentioned here and readers will know many more doing important work. Freedom is the key issue in these organisations: Freedom United (https://www.freedomunited.org/) with its slogan “Let’s end modern slavery together.” Of extreme importance is Transparency International and its national counterparts (https://www.transparency.org/country). openDemocracy demanding “free thinking for the world” (https://www.opendemocracy.net) belongs into the same context: “We seek to educate citizens to challenge power and encourage democratic debate across the world.” It was founded by Anthony Barnett who provided a fitting description of The Lure of Greatness: England’s Brexit and America’s Trump (2017). Transparency is one of the essential qualities of democracy, and it is missing everywhere. The significance of knowledge has been pointed out, and Transparency tries to make known what governments, business, important people etc. like to keep secret. Openness, better public services, improvements in local communities are also the objectives of One Team Gov “a global community, working together to radically reform the public sector through practical action. We’re driven by optimism and the desire to make things better, and united by a set of core principles.” (https://www.oneteamgov.uk/principles) The Democracy Collaborative (https://democracycollaborative.org/) “Building Community Wealth”, and many more could be mentioned.

Very relevant are movements and organisations involved with improving and fundamentally changing our economic system, which quite evidently destroys people’s freedom, independence and sovereignty. Only two can be pointed out here: the New Economics Foundation (2019, 2019a), which defines “New Rules for the Economy” in its desire to transform it, and the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), which created the Commission on Economic Justice (https://www.ippr.org/cej/about-cej/) with its final 2018 report Prosperity and Justice: a Plan for the New Economy.10 ←29 | 30→How fitting that we have a representative of IPPR in our book, Sarah Longlands, speaking about examples of how this organisation’s projects help people take back control in their lives, increase prosperity, justice, and their freedom. The economy as one of the current threats to freedom etc. will be described below.

This short description of movements and new organisations fighting for people’s autonomy must end with one of the most progressive, productive, and efficient of these organisations in Scotland, the Common Weal (https://commonweal.scot/). They have developed plans for a new Scottish economy that is fair to the people and to business, for a Scottish currency, and for a Green New Deal for Scotland, all available on their website. They organise events and are involved in direct local activities, “Do Something!” being one of their key slogans (check also their news service Common Space https://commonweal.scot/commonspace). It is, therefore, excellent that our book has a representative of this movement as a contributor, Ben Wray, who gives us much more than insights into their objectives.

2 (Current) Threats to Freedom, Sovereignty and Independence

What has been going on at all times in human history is that the people have been lied to by those in power. Everybody should by now be aware of the fact how greatly this affects freedom, sovereignty and independence. There is thus no need to recall apartheid South Africa, racist USA, or endless other examples. What one does need to be aware of, though, is the fact that this situation has not changed at all. Peter Oborne (2019) describes his experience with this truth of life today in these words:


700 years of people in Scotland, England, Europe, and the world fighting for freedom, sovereignty, independence and justice are investigated in the essential periods and cultures since the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath: the Middle Ages, the Reformation and Early Modern Age, the English Revolution, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Cultural, media, political, and social studies, history, the law, art, philosophy, and literature are used for an analysis of the evolution of human rights, democracy, freedom, individual as well as national independence and justice in connection with past and present threats to them. Threats from politics, the economy, digitalisation, artificial intelligence, people's ignorance.
With contributions by Alasdair Allan MSP, Christopher J. Berry, Neil Blain, Alexander Broadie FRSE, Dauvit Broun, Mark P. Bruce, Ewen A. Cameron, Robert Crawford, Ian Duncan, Richard J. Finlay, David Forrest, Edouard Gaudot, Marjory Harper, Sarah Longlands, Ben McConville, David McCrone, Aileen McHarg, John Morrison, Klaus Peter Müller, Hugh O’Donnell, Murray Pittock, Anthony Salamone, David R. Sorensen, Silke Stroh, Christopher A. Whatley and Ben Wray.


ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2020 (April)
independence justice people's freedom human rights English Revolution evolution of democracy media freedom national autonomy political sovereignty Scottish Enlightenment film art
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 582 pp., 7 fig. col., 1 fig. b/w, 3 tables.

Biographical notes

Klaus Peter Müller (Volume editor)

Klaus Peter Müller was the Chair of English at Mainz University (retired in 2018), focusing on British and media studies, literary and media translation, still investigating the links between these fields, narration, our understanding of reality and history, and the cognitive sciences.


Title: Scotland and Arbroath 1320 – 2020