There are few more cherished American ideals than independence. As we prepare to celebrate Tartan Day, established as April 6 by a U.S. Senate resolution in 1998 to commemorate one of the inspirations for the Declaration of Independence -- Scotland’s Declaration of Arbroath -- it is as good a time as any to tell the uniquely Scottish story of independence.
In 1320, Scots penned the Declaration of Arbroath. In lines that would echo through the ages, they wrote, “It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honors that we are fighting, but for freedom -- for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”
Many Americans are familiar with that part of the story -- of the patriot William Wallace and the Scots who stood up for independence. What is understandably less familiar is that in 1707, a group of Scottish noblemen sold Scotland’s independence and joined with England to become the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
It wasn’t a popular move. In fact, Daniel Defoe wrote that “for every Scot in favor, 99 is against.”
So it is not surprising that some people have been working ever since to change it.
More interesting than the past, though, is the national conversation going on in Scotland now. What is so special about it is that the world has an example of a completely democratic process in which the people are considering their future, and in which their voice will be the final word.
In 1997, Scots spoke loudly when they voted to reinstate their Parliament. When Scottish National Party President Winifred Ewing was able to say, “The Scots Parliament, adjourned on 25th March 1707, is hereby reconvened,” she touched hearts across the country.
The Scottish Parliament has authority for health, education, courts and the environment. The British Parliament retains control over most taxes and foreign affairs.
The question now is, what next? The current Scottish government is the first one in modern times that wants to see Scotland reclaim its independence.
The best part of this debate is that it is based on ideas, not ethnicity. Conversations about the best future for the country are happening in the Scottish Parliament and in homes and workplaces across the country.
The Scottish government wants Scotland and England to become independent and equal nations, with the queen and her successors continuing as the common head of state of both -- similar to what happened in Canada and Australia in the 20th century. In other words, we would move toward becoming united kingdoms, rather than the United Kingdom.
Debating their constitutional future does not stop Scots from contributing to today’s important international issues. This week, the Scottish government, with the support of the National Geographic Society, announced the Saltire Prize -- a $20-million award for innovation in renewable energy -- as a challenge to the world’s scientists. The message that Scotland is open for business came across clearly this week as Scotland dropped its business taxes to be even more internationally competitive. And you might not think Scotland when you think football, but today, the New York Giants’ own Greenock-born Lawrence Tynes will be leading the Tartan Day parade down 6th Avenue.
Independence is something Americans inherently understand. My whole adult life, I have waited and worked for the day that Scots are able to decide democratically if they wish to rejoin the community of nations as an independent and equal member. A recent poll showed that two-thirds of Scots would welcome that opportunity under certain circumstances.
I believe that day -- Scotland’s independence day -- is closer than ever.