Stone of Destiny

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:07 pm on 13th December 2006.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 5:07 pm, 13th December 2006

The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-5229, in the name of Murdo Fraser, on the return of the stone of destiny to Scone Palace. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament celebrates the 700th anniversary of the inauguration of King Robert the Bruce to the Scottish throne, which took place at Scone Palace in 1306; congratulates Scone Palace for holding a series of events throughout 2006 to commemorate the 700th anniversary; notes that 30 November 2006, St Andrew's Day, is the 10th anniversary of the Stone of Destiny being returned to Scotland, and believes that it is now time for the Stone of Destiny to be brought back to Scone Palace, its rightful home.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 5:13 pm, 13th December 2006

For clarity, Presiding Officer, I should correct your pronunciation of "Scone".

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Thank you.

I thank all the members of different political parties who signed my motion, which calls for the return of the stone of destiny to Scone Palace.

St Andrew's day two weeks ago was the 10th anniversary of the return of the stone of destiny to Scotland. All students of Scottish history are aware of the stone's significance. It was the seat on which the ancient kings of Scotland were crowned in Scone, which was Scotland's ancient capital. The stone was located in Scone for hundreds of years until 1296, when it was stolen by Edward I of England and taken to Westminster abbey, where it was incorporated into the coronation chair. From then on, kings and queens of England and, after the union of the Crowns, kings and queens of the United Kingdom, were crowned on it.

Legend has it that the stone's history goes back further. It is reputed to be Jacob's pillow, from the Holy Land. According to Genesis chapter 28, Jacob used the stone as a pillow on the night when he dreamed he saw a ladder from earth to heaven on which angels ascended and descended and he heard the voice of God telling him that the land would be his and his offspring's in perpetuity.

It is worth acknowledging that there is some doubt as to whether the stone, which currently sits in Edinburgh Castle, is the real one. The legendary Jacob's pillow was reputedly a black stone covered with ancient carvings, quite unlike the piece of Perthshire sandstone that Edward I took to Westminster 710 years ago. In fact, the suspicion is that the abbot of Scone at the time pulled a fast one on King Edward and hid the real stone and substituted a block of local rock. Perhaps Edward did not see the funny side, because he returned to Scone a year later and sacked the abbey.

I do not know the truth of the matter, but it seems likely that, if the real stone had been concealed, it would have come to light after Scotland's independence was regained under Robert the Bruce. However, whether the current stone is actually the ancient stone of destiny, it is nevertheless an important historical artefact. The kings and queens of England and then Great Britain have been crowned upon it for the past 700 years, so unless or until the real stone comes to light, it will certainly remain an important symbol.

In 1996, the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Forsyth, arranged for the stone of destiny to be taken back to Scotland on the 700th anniversary of its removal. At that time, it was placed in Edinburgh Castle, where it still sits along with the honours of Scotland. I understand the reasons for the decision to put the stone in Edinburgh at that time, although I do not agree with them. There was a concern that the stone was at risk from theft and it was felt that putting it in the security of Edinburgh Castle would safeguard it.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

I recall that debate well. Murdo Fraser may remember that, at that stage, Perth and Kinross Council argued that the stone should be returned to Scone. Does the member agree that it is a pity that that did not happen as, if it had, we might not have needed to have the debate today?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I agree with Mr Crawford. As he will recall, the then Conservative member of Parliament for North Tayside, Mr Bill Walker, argued that particular case.

There is no historical, political, constitutional or economic reason why the stone of destiny should be located in Edinburgh. Indeed, I believe that the first time that the stone was ever in Edinburgh in its entire history was when it arrived there 10 years ago. Prior to its removal from Scotland by Edward I, it had been located in Scone for hundreds of years. It is now time for it to be returned to its rightful home. I understand that practical difficulties would have to be overcome: a new setting would have to be created for the stone at Scone Palace and adequate security safeguards would have to be put in place. However, none of the problems is insurmountable. I want to hear from the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport that the Executive would consider the issue seriously if a proposal were made to have the stone relocated, with its security safeguarded.

Although there may be good historical and even romantic reasons for having the stone returned to its rightful home, there are good economic reasons, too. I do not believe that there is any economic benefit to Edinburgh from having the stone in its current location in Edinburgh Castle. Last week, I went to see the stone there, where it sits rather incongruously in a glass case alongside the honours of Scotland. I do not believe that anyone makes a special trip to Edinburgh Castle just to see it, as so many other attractions are available on site. However, there is an opportunity for economic benefit for Scone and Perthshire through the creation of a new visitor attraction based around the stone at Scone. That would also allow the stone to be presented in its appropriate historical context rather than mixed in with the crown, sceptre and sword of state, which date from much more recent times.

Scone Palace is certainly keen to have the stone back. Viscount Stormont told me today that he accepts that there is an understandable objection to the stone being handed over to a private individual. He believes that it should be housed in a specially designed chapel, which would be appropriate, as the stone is a religious relic that is mentioned in the Bible and which was regarded in ancient times as holy. The chapel could be on the site of the stables at Scone Palace or perhaps beside them, with a design to be selected by committee, which would of course include the Mansfield family.

An important point is that, under such a scheme, it is envisaged that there would be free admission for those who wish to view the stone, which would be an improvement on the current situation, whereby those who wish to see it have to pay the admission charge at Edinburgh Castle, which currently is £10.30 for an adult. The Mansfield family is keen for the stone to be returned and would work with others to create a suitable home for it, which I am sure would be a major tourist attraction.

For the economic and historical reasons that I have outlined, I believe that it is time for the stone of destiny to be returned to Scone. I hope that the Scottish Executive will be prepared to set the wheels in motion this evening.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I apologise for my pronunciation of Scone Palace. My only excuse is that it has been a very long day.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 5:20 pm, 13th December 2006

I congratulate Murdo Fraser on securing this debate on the stone of destiny and its potential relocation to Scone Palace.

I suspect that the importance of returning the stone of destiny to Scone Palace is the only issue on which Bill Walker and I could be agreed and reconciled. In 1996 Mr Walker and I were involved in efforts, to which Mr Crawford referred, to persuade the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Forsyth, to bring the stone of destiny to Scone Palace. We even created a paper-mâché replica of the stone, to be used as a visual prop in some of the photo calls that substantiated our attempts to persuade the secretary of state of the merits of relocating it. I am sorry that Michael Forsyth decided at the time that Edinburgh Castle was a more appropriate location for the stone.

Earlier this year I lodged a motion that encouraged the First Minister to give sympathetic consideration to the relocation of the stone of destiny to Scone Palace on a temporary basis for the events commemorating the 700th anniversary of the coronation of King Robert the Bruce at Scone. I was very sorry that the First Minister, following the example of Michael Forsyth, did not agree to that temporary relocation. I attended the commemorative events at Scone Palace that weekend. Although the stone's absence was regretted, it did not dampen the excellent celebrations that were laid on by the palace and other interested parties, with some support from the Scottish Executive. I am sorry that the Government did not take the opportunity earlier this year to accede to my request that the stone be returned to Scone for those celebrations.

The stone of destiny has an immensely significant part in the story of Scotland, because of its role in the coronation ceremony of the kings of Scotland. It is also an important symbol of Scotland's determination to have more control over her affairs. That was established in a very significant way by Ian Hamilton, Gavin Vernon, Kay Matheson and Alan Stuart, who succeeded in repatriating the stone in 1950 to make a point about its importance to Scotland.

I hope that the Government will take this opportunity to respond to the consistent pressure that was applied to the Scottish Office in the old days and has been applied to the Scottish Executive in more recent times on the importance of returning the stone of destiny to Scone Palace. It is an iconic symbol and is part of the great and distinguished history of our country. It would add to the enormous range of reasons for individuals to decide to visit Perthshire and part of the constituency that I have the privilege to represent in the Parliament. I hope that the minister will have something positive to say to us to right the historical wrongs on the issue, including the historical wrong that, when we had the opportunity in 1996 to deal with the matter properly and to return the stone to Scone Palace, the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Forsyth, decided not to take it. I look forward to hearing what she has to say.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 5:24 pm, 13th December 2006

I am happy to be debating this issue. Murdo Fraser set out the facts and arguments very well.

Michael Forsyth deserves due credit. He might have ended up with the stone in the wrong place, but bringing it to Scotland was an imaginative act. One can speculate as to his motives—politics enters into it—but he still deserves great credit.

I agree with Murdo Fraser. I go around Edinburgh Castle quite often. The stone of Scone does not stand out, but is rather huddled in with the honours of Scotland and so on. I am sure that, professionally speaking, it is well displayed, but the circumstances do not allow it to be at the centre of things in the way that Rembrandt's "Night Watch" painting and the Glasgow crucifixion painting are—the whole gallery is focused on them.

Having the stone somewhere else would be quite sensible. There is always an argument about whether important cultural artefacts—such as the Lewis chessmen and some of the splendid Pictish inscribed stones—should be somewhere in Edinburgh or Glasgow where lots of people will see them. If more people see them, that is a good thing. If fewer people see them, but in the right place, that is a better thing.

I support repatriating the stone of Scone to its correct place. It could be an attraction that would help the local economy, but it would also be in the right place historically.

It is a few years since I visited Scone Palace. When I went, I was disappointed by the lack of attention paid to the mound at Scone where coronations took place: I felt that much more could be made of it. The stone could not be displayed on the mound, but if it were adjacent to it, it could be part of an exhibition to push the coronation place at Scone as a major Scottish centre. We could also go further back. In Argyll, there is a footprint in a hilltop fort that goes back another stage to when the Scots/Irish were defeating the Picts. We could make a good centre of the coronation place at Scone.

The arguments favour having the stone in Scone. If what Murdo Fraser said is correct, a good deal could be made with the Mansfield family, whereby the national treasure would be displayed in a public place that just happened to be surrounded by Mansfield land. If there were free access to the stone, displayed in a public centre, it could be a boon for Perthshire.

We could consider spreading famous artefacts to their own localities, where people would enjoy them even more, and we could all go round and visit them. I am happy to support the motion.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green 5:28 pm, 13th December 2006

I thank Murdo Fraser for securing this interesting debate, which perhaps offers the opportunity to link issues of symbolism and history to some of the issues and concerns of people in the modern age in Scone.

The VisitScotland website declares that the stone is

"arguably the greatest symbol and touchstone of Scottish nationhood and as such, has been a very potent icon for more than a thousand years."

That is a good description.

It is clear that the economy of whichever community goes on to host and display the stone will benefit greatly from the increased tourism potential that the draw of the stone will offer.

There are of course many legends concerning the stone, some of which Murdo Fraser has told us about. One theory grants it biblical origins, while others have it produced in various parts of Ireland and Scotland. Insofar as any of its early history is clear, it seems that the stone was used at Iona, Dunadd, Dunstaffnage and Scone for enthroning a succession of both Dalriadic and subsequent Scottish monarchs. It sits in our earlier Celtic mythology as an elemental symbol alongside such mythical symbols as the cauldron of the Dagda and the sword of Nuada.

Geological evidence connected with the stone shows that it has origins close to Scone. While it might be correct to name the stone the stone of Scone, it cannot be the original stone of destiny that was used at Iona, Dunadd and Dunstaffnage. Indeed, it if were, any one of those places might have a better claim to it than Scone does. However, I favour the removal of the current incarnation of this icon from Edinburgh to its geological origins in Perthshire. I am sure that many small businesses and accommodation providers in Strathmore would wish me to endorse Murdo Fraser's motion, which I am happy to do.

The issue is where in Scone the stone should be housed and displayed, and in what manner. I agree that, in the absence of Scone abbey, the palace would be a suitable venue for the stone to be displayed to good advantage. However, housing the stone in Scone Palace would be of little value to the local economy if plans that are being promoted by Perth and Kinross Council to construct a new road bridge over the Tay at Scone are allowed to proceed. That scheme would carve up the iconic, designed landscape of Scone Palace to accommodate the ever increasing traffic that such a bridge would generate. Further, the machinations of the council with regard to housing in Scone and supermarket development plans, which are not unconnected to the case for a new bridge, are of great concern to local people.

The return of the stone to Scone would be a good thing, but we need to ensure that the setting in which it is placed remains iconic and worthy of its status in Scottish culture. If the grounds of Scone Palace are trashed by road building and the ancient community of Scone is turned into yet another faceless dormitory suburb by excessive and inappropriate housing development, the value of housing the stone of Scone in its rightful place will be severely diminished.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour 5:31 pm, 13th December 2006

I thank Murdo Fraser for lodging the motion and colleagues around the chamber for contributing to this interesting and informative debate, which has raised some fascinating issues.

It is worth being clear at the outset about the fact that I have been asked to respond to the debate on behalf of the First Minister in his role as the keeper of the great seal, which is one of the four commissioners of the regalia. The First Minister regrets that he cannot attend the debate in person. He and his fellow commissioners have responsibility for the care of the stone of destiny, on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen, under the terms of the royal warrant that was issued in 1996.

As we would all agree, the stone has been a royal symbol of Scottish nationhood for many centuries and is held by the Crown on our behalf.

I am particularly pleased to have this opportunity to join colleagues in marking the 700th anniversary of Robert I at Scone abbey in 1306. I would also like to join Mr Swinney in congratulating everyone at Scone Palace who is involved in the commemoration of the event. I am sure that that has been a welcome additional attraction for visitors to Perthshire this year.

However, the celebration of the event is a poignant reminder that Robert the Bruce was the first king of Scotland to be crowned at Scone after the stone of destiny was seized in 1296, by Edward I of England. Perhaps Mr Swinney will understand why it was deemed to be inappropriate to move the stone to Scone for that anniversary.

As Murdo Fraser rightly said, this year also marks the 10th anniversary of the return of the stone of destiny to Scotland. I have listened with interest to and have carefully noted the views that have been expressed this afternoon. I remember when the then Prime Minister, John Major, made his unexpected announcement in July 1996 to the House of Commons that the stone of destiny was to return to Scotland. Recognising that the stone was close to the hearts of many Scots, Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State for Scotland at the time, decided to invite the public's views on where the stone should be displayed. I am sure that many of us will remember the fascinating and wide-ranging debate that followed.

There were more than 100 responses to the consultation from individuals and institutions with an interest in where the stone should be housed. The locations that were suggested by the consultation ranged across Scotland. They included the abbeys of Iona, Dunfermline and Arbroath, Scone Palace, Stirling Castle, the Museum of Scotland, St Giles cathedral, the Isle of Skye and a public house in Glasgow. It was also suggested that the stone should feature in a constantly touring exhibition. However, the outcome of the public consultation was clear. The overwhelming preference was for the stone of destiny to come to the capital city, and within Edinburgh the castle was the most popular location.

I recognise that, during the public consultation, an impressive case was made for the stone to go to Scone Palace, and there is no doubt that Scottish kings were inaugurated at the medieval abbey at Scone for many generations. However, there is little left of the medieval abbey today and the other principal symbols of Scottish monarchy are in Edinburgh. Above all, as I said, Scone was not the public's choice.

The criteria for the choice of location were set out at the time of the consultation. They sought to balance the importance of the stone's future security and conservation needs with a desire to ensure the widest possible public access to this internationally renowned ancient Scottish symbol. In addition, the commissioners were charged with the responsibility to ensure that the stone is available immediately when it is required to be returned temporarily to Westminster abbey for any future coronation. The commissioners decided that Edinburgh Castle was best able to meet all those criteria.

Ease of public access to the stone of destiny is important. Edinburgh Castle was open for 363 days last year and some 1.2 million people visited it. To ensure that everyone has an opportunity to visit the castle, Historic Scotland provides free entry on a number of days in the year, including St Andrew's day. That tradition started in 1996 to mark the return of the stone. During this year's free weekend in April, some 39,000 people visited the castle.

I draw members' attention to the fact that educational visits to all Historic Scotland properties are free. More than 70,000 pupils and students took advantage of that last year. At Edinburgh Castle, some 14,000 pupils took part in free educational visits and a further 8,000 attended pre-arranged educational activities.

I hope that members agree that the return of the stone of destiny came at a turning point in Scottish history. Members' views on whether there is a need to review the location of the stone of destiny will be of great interest to the commissioners of the regalia and I will ensure that they receive a copy of the Official Report of this debate. In closing, I am sure that the First Minister would wish me, on behalf of the commissioners, to thank everyone who participated in the debate.

Meeting closed at 17:37