Braveheart Commandos were on full moral superiority alert yesterday in celebration of the drafting of the Declaration of Arbroath; a 1320 documented appeal to a European superpower which allegedly did more for the cause of freedom in the Western world than Mel Gibson’s Braveheart did for SNP membership figures.
But is the Declaration as significant as Braveheart Commandos claim it to be? Opposing it we have the Magna Carta; a 1215 charter drafted by a cabal of Barons aimed at limiting the power of the King to do what he wanted to whom he wanted when he wanted to. So, which is the most important to today’s increasingly sophisticated voters? There’s only one way to find out – FIGHT!!
In the Declaration of Arbroath corner: You’ve heard of Alastair Campbell’s dodgy sourced dossiers, their conclusions and methods of assimilation, and their final outcomes. The Declaration of Arbroath was a similar dodgy dossier intended to pull the wool over the eyes of the European Superpower of the day – Pope John XXII. Ultimately it failed because no matter how it was spun, it couldn’t hide Bruce’s turncoat treachery to the people he purported to be supporting, the Scots, and the murder of John Comyn – a supporter of the true Scottish king whom Bruce had illegally usurped. As a stirring polemic of defiance and patriotic remonstrance, it is a beacon of spin doctordem: “for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule.” Never has the phrase ‘get it up ye’s’ been so elegantly and eloquently articulated, but that’s all it really was, the ultimate spin doctor appeal to a higher power for help and forgiveness for being a naughty boy.
In the Magna Carta corner: Another dodgy dossier in the Declaration of Arbroath vein, this time cobbled together by a cabal of disaffected Barons who wished to consolidate power against the King’s ultimate power. King John’s signing, for the first time in British history, legally shackled the regent on tax matters and common law prosecutions. As in most of these symbolic gestures, John had no intention of being beholden to any of it, merely stalling for time until he could muster a large enough force to subject the Barons to his will. With a potentially ravaging civil war on the horizon, John did the right thing and died, passing his kingly and Magna Carta legacy to his son Henry. His death helped enshrine certain ‘constitutional’ rights and limitations on the King’s power. The most important, and one which still stands today, being “NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land.”
The Choice: Unless you’re a Braveheart Commando wearing saltire tinted glasses, the choice is easy: Choose between being expected to die for the freedom of defending a traitorous murderer king against the English or having the right to a fair trial before being imprisoned for an accusation raised against you.
The Verdict: No contest. Magna Carta wins. While it can’t match the stirringly partisan rhetoric, it more than delivered in day to day rights and civil liberties. It’s legacy resounds in common law today. It had more affect with the American constitution than the Declaration. The Declaration of Arbroath in contrast is more akin to the chants you hear at football grounds today.