by Rab Bruce’s Spider

So it turns out that Robert the Bruce might have been born in England. To which I can only respond, "so what?" If this was supposed to diminish his status in the eyes of supporters of Scottish independence, those who wish to spread this message have sadly misjudged what drives us.

Of course, the news is interesting historically. If anything, it shows that Bruce was a man of his times, descendant of a family from Flanders who rose within the Norman aristocracy in the centuries following the Norman Conquest of England, an event which led to the ever-acquisitive Normans extending their rule over most of the British Isles in their typically brutal fashion.

Bruce was a part of the elite who were just as concerned with power, privilege and status as today’s elite. He fought for King Edward of England and he fought against him, his loyalties generally determined by what was best for Bruce and his family, although a certain well known story suggests that he decided to continue the fight when it would have been easier to surrender. Of course, we don’t know the precise details behind what drove that decision, but it was an important one for both Bruce and Scotland.

It would perhaps be reading too much into his actions to suggest that he was a man of the people in the manner of William Wallace, but whatever drove him to fight for the crown of Scotland left an indelible mark on the nation and ensured that it was not absorbed into England in the way that Wales was.

So, wherever he was born, whatever his motivations, whether he was a decent human being or a power-hungry megalomaniac; none of these things really matter except in the sense that we gain some understanding of historical events. What matters is that Robert the Bruce preserved Scotland as an independent nation at a time when its existence was very much in doubt.

Nor should we forget the Declaration of Arbroath which was written several years after Bruce’s greatest victory at Bannockburn. In this momentous document, the lords and senior clergy of Scotland declared that the people (by which they probably meant themselves) had the right to remove a king who did not act in the best interests of the nation. It wasn’t what we would recognise as democracy, but it showed that the relationship between ruler and ruled in Scotland was very different to the manner in which Norman kings ruled England. We must assume that Bruce knew and understood this, even if the likelihood of the people exercising that power in the face of a monarch who commanded an army was remote in practice.

But the main thing is that, whatever the historical facts, when it boils down to it, we should regard Bruce in the same way as we should regard all our present-day Scots. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what matters is that you want to help us go where the nation wants to go.