History could never have predicted this. Today, the 6th April 2020, is the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath – that old, great cry for freedom – and yet here we are in Scotland less free that we’ve ever been before. Do not go out. Do not socialise. Do not go to your second home (unless you’re Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer). I may go to Sweden just so I can visit a café or a pub. Oh, for a café or a pub.

Apparently, the deal we’ve struck on all of this is that the restrictions on freedom are necessary and temporary, but I worry: steps backward are often disguised as steps forward. Governments also take opportunities like this to do what they’ve always wanted to do but never felt they could, and so almost as soon as the crisis hit, the Scottish Government diluted the freedom of information legislation, which it has never really liked anyway. When will it be restored I wonder?

As it happens, there are upsides to the restrictions: as long as we’re all stuck in the house, there can’t be any more marches for Scottish independence, so we do have that to be thankful for. The lockdown has also spared us some of the less subtle attempts to publicly celebrate the declaration’s anniversary. There are some Scottish nationalists who love to quote its famous phrase about oppression, or lordship, by the English as if that is still somehow relevant today. It isn’t.

So what relevance does the Declaration of Arbroath actually have then? Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to answer that question by speaking to historians, writers and commentators (both unionist and nationalist) and a few things have struck me. First, some people still aren’t able to put the talk of oppression by the English in its proper context – ie the 14th century. Second, there is a lot of disagreement about what it says, what it means and where it leads. And third, and most important, there are some ways in which the document is still revealing and relevant in 2020 – specifically, it can show us how to make the UK better. In the age of the lockdown, it also suggests that Scots need a new kind of freedom.

To be clear, I do not mean freedom in the traditional Mel Gibson sense, I mean freedom in the very specific way it applies in the United Kingdom. One of the commentators I spoke to about the declaration was Kevin Hague, whose organisation These Islands encourages positive debate about the constitution, and he put it best when he said this: Scotland’s part in the UK works not because of a 700-year-old declaration, but because of the lack of a declaration that tries to tie the British constitution or identity down.

What Mr Hague meant was very specific: the Scots – and the English and everyone else in the UK – enjoy the protections and security of a union while also enjoying the freedom, without limit, to express and implement a broad range of identities. “That’s an advert for why the UK works,” he told me. “Scots haven’t been oppressed and subjugated to England; it’s a union which allowed the separate national identities not just to be maintained but to flourish. Who thinks the Scots aren’t Scottish as a result of 300 years of union?”

Seven hundred years on from the Declaration of Arbroath, this is a critical point. The freedom that the declaration was talking about was freedom from military domination by the English, but the freedom that’s relevant now is the freedom to express ourselves while co-operating in a union of nations. It is not a freedom that the nobles who put their name to the declaration would recognise, but that’s the point. It is a modern freedom that cedes sovereignty rather than takes up arms to protect it. It’s freedom as shield, not sword. It’s pluralism. It’s multi-nationalism.

It does raise an obvious question though, which is whether we have enough of this kind of freedom in modern Scotland. Nationalists would obviously say "no, we want total freedom" whatever that means, but a lot of unionists would also say we need more freedom within the UK. What they mean by that is a properly federal system based on proportional representation which would give everyone in the UK the freedom to express their views but, more importantly, produce governments that accurately reflect those views.

The hope for unionists in this is that by promoting and encouraging such freedoms under a federal system, the desire for a more aggressive nationalistic freedom a la 1320 can be contained. I’m not saying this would be the case – the theory of many of those who supported devolution in the 1990s was that it would burst the bubble of nationalism and we know what happened to that. But maybe we should listen to the words of former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe when he tried to introduce a federal system in 1967. “Time and again in our constitutional history,” he said, “we have conceded in bitterness what should and could have been granted in logic.”

Hopefully, 50 years on, logic can still be an answer to bitterness, although we can’t avoid the fact that the history of 700 years ago is still emotionally and politically powerful. But take a look, logically, at the story of those seven centuries. The Scots confidently asserted their identity in 1320 and have done so ever since, within and without the union. The lesson of the centuries is that the British Isles and the UK have always been pluralistic societies with many national identities.

Will that history be as powerful as the history of 1320 in deciding the future of Scotland? I’m not sure, particularly on this anniversary day. But I think Kevin Hague’s question is still a good one: who thinks the Scots aren’t Scottish as a result of 300 years of union?

And maybe we could ponder this question as well: 700 years on from the blood and guts that produced the Declaration of Arbroath, who would dare to write a new declaration for 2020? The point, surely, is that we do not need one. We’re multi-national, we’re pluralistic, we’re a country of many identities and – no matter how powerful or potent – it is not a declaration that sums that up, it is the lack of one.