Angus MP Mike Weir has said he hopes UNESCO’S naming of the Declaration of Arbroath as a Memory of the World may reignite the prospect of world heritage site recognition for the Angus town’s ancient abbey.
Almost 800-years-old, the iconic letter from Scottish barons to the Pope pledging their resistance to English rule was given its first public airing for more than a decade this week when Scottish culture, tourism and external affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop welcomed the accolade afforded by the international peace body.
Ms Hyslop spoke of the privilege of standing with the fragile artefact, saying: “That message and clarion call that brings together a nation to declare something internationally is something that was important in 1320, and may well be important in the years to come.”
SNP MP Mr Weir has lodged a parliamentary motion welcoming the latest recognition of “the international importance of the document, its influence on democracy and the significant impact upon the Declaration of American Independence.”
And he has said he hopes the move may prompt UNESCO to look again at granting world heritage status to Arbroath Abbey.
Mr Weir led a Parliamentary debate on the subject during the campaign to have the distinctive red sandstone landmark added to the global register, which ultimately ended in disappointment five years ago.
The campaign team hoped inclusion would have brought major new interest and an economic spin-off to Angus, but the Abbey was overlooked at that time along with other Scottish sites including the buildings of Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow and St Andrews’ medieval burgh and links.
In 2015, the Forth Bridge joined Edinburgh old and new towns, St Kilda and New Lanark on the prestigious heritage sites listing.
There are more than 850 UNESCO sites across the world, but Abbey campaigners said the body had made no secret at the time of the 2011 announcement that natural inclusions rather than buildings were being favoured.
Mr Weir said: “It is fantastic news that the Declaration of Arbroath is to be named as a Memory of the World.
“This acknowledges the huge influence that the document has had not only on Scottish history but on the world.
“Its influence has been felt as far afield as the United States and its Declaration of Independence, as was recognised by the US Congress instituting the annual Tartan Day.”
“I hope that this decision will increase interest in the Declaration both at home and abroad and will also lead UNESCO to consider again the claim for the recognition of Arbroath Abbey as a world heritage site.”
Provost Helen Oswald said: “This is great news for Arbroath and great news for Angus – the Birthplace of Scotland.
“The Declaration of Arbroath is, without doubt, the most famous and, very likely, the most important document in Scotland’s history. It is entirely fitting that it is afforded this special status by the United Nations.
“It’s inclusion in UNESCO’s UK Memory of the World is entirely appropriate and will enhance this significant register.
“Our county boasts a very rich history, as well as an exciting present and future. We hope international recognition of this kind will encourage many more people to visit Angus to experience it for themselves.”