Before last week’s jaunt to Germany, I’d been zooming out from the origin and reinvention stories of stroke survivors. Instead, I was focusing on the origin stories, anthems, and mottoes of countries: (1, 2)
In The State of Origins, Pts. 1 and 2, I observed that
…origin stories, national values, and national mottoes are not easy to pin down.
And this jogged something. In 2015, I couldn’t fathom why British media outlets were making such a big deal about the eighth centenary of the Magna Carta. But I put this down to my own ignorance.
So I revisited Paul Sinha’s Sinha Carta, a comedic summary of what one needs to know about the Great Charter. A couple of weeks later, I can’t remember a damn thing. And it turns out I’m in… company.
Favourite of the blog, Davey Cameron, was embarrassed on David Letterman’s Late Show in 2012, when he couldn’t tell the host what the words Magna Carta meant (clue above). But to be fair, it’s not like he had the advantage of a fancy education where Latin tutelage was readily available.
In the aftermath of this, MC Wee Davey C (guess what the MC stands for) placed himself at the forefront of a campaign to increase awareness of Magna Carta. Here’s his article from the Mail on Sunday on Magna Carta and, god help us, British values.
It’s classic Cameron, an example of governance driven by a need to swat the latest fly – without going through the boring bit of amassing any knowledge about what you’re doing (a particularly egregious example here)
Oops, it’s a spider.
So, yeah. Magna Carta was all over the shop for a bit, a shining example of democracy and British values.
Except, not really. Because Magna Carta is primarily an agreement of truce among King John and his barons – and most notably, the financial arrangements among them. There’s some unfortunately sexist and antisemitic stuff in there, too. And something about removing fishing traps from the Thames and the Medway.
You see, Britain isn’t the U.S. Ironically, because certain snippets of Magna Carta were eventually used to build the argument for American independence and the resounding founding documents. No taxation without representation. No imprisonment without due process. That sort of thing.
So now, the U.S. has an an origin story so gripping and filled with theorising that Nerd Bait obsession, Hamilton, is packing 20,000 words into a musical. And audiences into the Richard Rogers Theater through 2017.
Magna Carta was everywhere in 2015, because Britain and its constituent nations don’t have an origin story they can talk about in polite company. Cecil Rhodes and the expansion of empire? The 1707 Act of Union? And up here in Scotland, we’re in a kind of limbo three hundred years later that leaves us in the narrative clutches of seven-hundred year-old wars of independence that eventually came to naught.
No wonder it’s so hard to find a national anthem for England, Scotland, and the United Kingdom. I wouldn’t presume to wonder how Wales ended up with something as awesome as Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land of My Fathers).
Maybe, as The Prof suggested in his comment to Part 2, we’ve passed the time for national anthems. Our populations are so segmented. Heck, families don’t even consume the same entertainment products of an evening. What chance coming together around one song?
Maybe Billy Connolly (here) and Radiohead (here) have the right answer – a national anthem without words. Of course, Scotland tried that by collectively not learning the words to Scotland the Brave, then we dumped that so we’d have something to sing at sporting events. Now it’s Flower of Scotland that’s on the pedestal, getting a kicking from Pat Kane and others for being to sentimental, too dirge-like.
But maybe there’s an answer. A new song, free of baggage, easy to remember, that even gives us a chance to replace patron Saint Andrew with the much more apt Saint Columba referenced therein.