Speech to the Descendants of the Signers of the (US) Declaration of Independence
Independence Hall, Philadelphia PA
Ladies and Gentlemen – boys and girls, let me begin by thanking John Glynn and the Board of the DSDI for the very kind invitation to join you today as we commemorate the 237th anniversary of the signing of your Declaration of Independence. I can think of nowhere better to celebrate 4th July than here in Philadelphia, the birth place of both the Declaration and the United States Constitution.
It’s a great privilege to have the opportunity to speak to you, here in Independence Hall, which has such historic significance for you and your families, as well as for America as a nation. 4th July also has special significance for me and my family as it marks the birthday of our youngest son, Paul who’s nine years old today. So we feel especially excited to be celebrating this particular birthday here with all of you.
It was a real treat to witness the pride with which you are keeping alive the traditions that have such significance for you, your families and for America as the next generation of Descendants tapped the Liberty Bell earlier today. Congratulations to all of this year’s bell tappers. I feel confident you will uphold the best traditions of the DSDI with pride and patriotism.
As Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs I’m delighted that so many Americans take pride in their Scottish ancestry. And I know that John Glynn is among them. Just how many of your fellow citizens can claim to be Scots is however a little ambiguous. About 10 years ago the official US census recorded nearly 10 million people across the USA of Scots or Scots-Irish descent. However, a survey, published around the same time, which asked how people identified themselves, found that some 30 million people claimed to be of Scots or Scots-Irish. Ladies and Gentlemen, what greater compliment could be paid to any nation, than that some 20 million people across these United States want to be Scottish? And if you’re among them let me just add that you’re very welcome and I extend warm invitation to visit Scotland in 2014 our Year of Homecoming.
The bonds of kinship and friendship between Scotland and the USA are deep and strong. They stem not just from that common heritage but from shared history and shared values. Scotland’s history is, in part, your history. And nowhere is that shared history better exemplified than in the US Declaration of Independence.
More than 450 years before your ancestors signed that Declaration here in Philadelphia, Scotland’s noblemen signed a declaration of their own which asserted the sovereignty of the Scottish people. Whilst across Europe kings, queens and princes held sovereignty, in Scotland, we took a different path and asserted the right of the people to decide their form of government.
Many scholars, here and elsewhere, recognise that the Declaration of Arbroath, signed in Scotland on 6th April 1320, influenced the Founding Fathers who crafted the US Declaration. These two documents share common sentiments, values and aspirations for our two nations. Whereas the Declaration of Arbroath talked of ‘life and liberty’ it wasn’t until 1776 that your Founding Fathers thought to add ‘the pursuit of happiness’. Thank you for that welcome addition.
In 1998, the US Senate passed a Resolution declaring April 6th to be Tartan Day in honour of the indelible contribution that Scotland and Scots made to the establishment and development of the USA. Senate Resolution 155 states [and I quote] that “April 6 has a special significance for all Americans, and especially those Americans of Scottish descent, because the Declaration of Arbroath, the Scottish Declaration of Independence, was signed on April 6, 1320 and the American Declaration of Independence was modelled on that inspirational document.”
So does that mean that your 4th July is our 6th April? Well not quite, because in 1707 Scotland entered into a Union with England which established the United Kingdom. It’s worth noting however that despite that political union, Scotland retained its own church, its own legal system, and its own education system. Indeed, Scotland retained its own distinctive approach to many, but not all, of the elements of society that most influence peoples’ daily lives.
And just as America pursued its own particular journey towards independence in 1776, for its own reasons, so Scotland is continuing on its journey. Some 300 years after the Act of Union of 1707, Scotland is engaged in a national conversation about our constitutional future. On September 18th 2014, the people of Scotland will be asked, in a referendum, to answer a straightforward question – the most important that we’ve had to decide in over 300 years: “should Scotland be an independent country?”
The Scottish Government’s case for independence is a simple one. We believe fundamentally that the people best placed to represent Scotland’s interests, and to make decisions about Scotland’s future, are the people who choose to live and work in Scotland. Independence is not a departure from, but the logical continuation of the devolution journey that Scotland began in 1997. And if Scotland votes Yes next September, independence will be accepted, as the normal state of affairs for our country just as quickly as our devolved Scottish Parliament established in 1999 has become an established part of life in Scotland.
Independence is not an end in itself but a means to make Scotland more successful and to improve the lives of those living in Scotland. Only independence can redress the deep democratic deficit that Scotland endures under the present Westminster system, impacting on job prospects, wellbeing and life chances. Independence will open the door to strong, new relationships with our neighbours and trading partners. The people of Scotland have benefited from being citizens of the EU for almost forty years and are set to continue to do so. Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the UK will shift from a political union to a social one; a partnership of equals.
We recognise of course that in the modern world, independence must inevitably go hand-in-hand with interdependence. That’s why an independent Scotland would seek to participate as a full and equal partner in international organisations such as the United Nations, the EU and NATO.
Where we are taking a different path from your forefathers is that Scotland’s right to become independent has been recognised by the UK Government. Last October, the UK Prime Minister – David Cameron – and Scotland’s First Minister – Alex Salmond – signed the Edinburgh Agreement.
The historic Agreement outlines the terms of the 2014 referendum. It confirms that the independence referendum will be Made in Scotland. This demonstrates something incredibly important; although the UK Government and the Scottish Government disagree fundamentally about the merits of independence – just as King George III disagreed with the merits of America’s independence – the referendum itself will take place with the shared consent and co-operation of both governments. This distinguishes Scotland’s referendum from many other debates and discussions about sovereignty taking place around the world; despite contradicting agendas, our governments can and will work together for everyone’s best interest.
So, what’s happening today in Scotland is a wholly democratic, civil and orderly debate about the future of our country. The only battle we will see in Scotland is one of ideas over the two futures facing our nation, a battle that will be decided through dialogue and discussion across the country. And as former President Clinton remarked when he visited Scotland last month, “you will come out of this better, regardless, if you go about it in the right way”. Those sentiments are echoed by our own First Minister, who is fond of saying, in the course of the last 70 years no-one has sustained so much as a nose bleed in the cause of Scottish independence. Indeed, the great debates and exchanges of letters that formed your constitution may find a modern echo in the discussions on Scotland’s future as we decide what kind of nation we want to be.
Anyone who questions Scotland’s capacity for independence should be aware that Scotland is already a successful nation. Each year the accountancy firm Ernst & Young publishes a comprehensive survey which ranks the different parts of the United Kingdom and their success in attracting inward investment. The most recent survey shows that Scotland is easily the most successful part of the UK at attracting investment and jobs outside of London, ahead of all other regions of the UK.
America can claim some credit for Scotland’s success. The USA is our single largest overseas investor largest and our biggest overseas export market. Americans account for the largest number of overseas students studying at Scotland’s universities and more Americans visit Scotland than from any other overseas nation. It goes without saying therefore that and independent Scotland would be keen to maintain and strengthen our strong and enduring relations with the United States.
The Ernst & Young survey also found that Scotland is, by some distance, the most productive location in the UK for attracting research and development jobs in particular. Three of our Universities, are amongst the top 100 in the world, and we have a global reputation for innovation. After all, the Scots invented the first effective steam engine, gas lighting, the bicycle and the pneumatic tyre, the telephone and the television, anaesthetics and hypodermic syringes, penicillin and beta-blockers, MRI and ultrasound scanners, ATMs, Dolly the Sheep, James Bond – and of course, Sean Connery. And yes, even Harry Potter was conceived in Scotland! Just earlier this year Scottish innovation showed that it is continuing to lead the way in inventing the future when scientists at St Andrews University created a Star Trek style tractor-beam for moving microscopic particles, which it is hoped will revolutionise medical treatment.
Ladies and Gentlemen, on this day of national celebration, let me conclude by suggesting that just as Scotland and the Scots were influential in helping your ancestors achieve what you value most today – your independence – you may understand why I share the same aspiration for the people of Scotland. To borrow the words of one of your most distinguished Forefathers, Thomas Jefferson, “We are a people capable of self-government, and worthy of it.”
Thank you again for allowing me and my family to share this important day with you. I hope that, in the not too distant future, I will be able to reciprocate by inviting you to Scotland to mark our very own independence celebrations. In the meantime, Happy Birthday America [and Paul]!