Scots get the Scone, but Major wants the jam

The Stone of Destiny goes home 700 years after the English stole it

The ancient Stone of Destiny was returned to Scotland yesterday amid a mixture of optimistic nationalism, the skirl of bagpipes and the whine of hard-nosed Celtic sceptics.

After 700 years, the coronation stone crossed the River Tweed on its way home, a return engineered by Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State for Scotland, and John Major, the Prime Minister, in what was seen as either a grand gesture of reconciliation or a pre- election sop.

At 11am - one hour late because of a bomb scare - the stone, taken from the Scots in 1296 by a triumphant Edward I, stopped in an Army Land Rover at the centre of the bridge at Coldstream, between Berwick and Kelso, which divides Scotland and England. There it was passed from No 7 Company the Coldstream Guards to an escort from the 1st Battalion the Kings Own Scottish Borderers, who edged it gingerly into Scotland.

It was a moving moment witnessed by around 500 flag- waving patriots and schoolchildren. The Pipes and Drums of the 1st Battalion the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the Lowland Band of the Scottish Division struck up "The Return of the Stone", a piece of music that had been written especially for the occasion by Capt Gavin Stoddart, the director of Army bagpipe music at Edinburgh Castle.

For many, it was a moment of intense pride. Edward I took the stone - also known as the Stone of Scone - to further demoralise the Scots after he had crushed them. It had served as the seat on which all Scottish kings had been crowned since 839. According to myth, it had been used by Jacob as his pillow while in Bethel and had found its way to Scotland via Egypt and Spain. Its return, therefore, represents the antithesis of that demoralisation.

"It's a wonderful thing for us," said Eleanor Moffat, owner of the nearest Scottish newsagent shop to England. "It's ours and it belongs to us. It is part of our heritage. Besides, it will be good for tourism and that's good for all of us."

Alastair Brown-Scott, 63, chairman of the Coldstream Historical Society, was equally pleased. "It means that, after 700 years, something precious to us that was taken as a spoil of war is being given back," he said. "That will make all true Scots proud."

Mr Forsyth, and his opposite number on the Labour front benches, George Robertson, welcomed the return of the stone - although each was careful not to rouse Scots passions too much.

Mr Forsyth spoke of closer ties with the English over 700 years, while Mr Robertson said the homecoming represented the start of a new era.

The return, however, has not pleased everyone. The sense of loss at Westminster Abbey - from where the stone was taken and to where it will be returned for future coronations - is palpable.

And among many Scots, the handing back of the stone is seen as patronising. "It's a nice gimmick to get Michael Forsyth re-elected, but it isn't enough," said Allan Petrie, a member of Dundee Scottish National Party, one of a number whose attempt to demonstrate against the return was quickly snuffed out.

"There are people going hungry and people without jobs and yet they spend thousands on this silly ceremony. We won't be happy until we get full independence, not the return of a piece of sandstone."

The condition of the stone is being assessed by specialists before being put on display at Edinburgh Castle at the end of the month.

And more than one canny Scot was quick to point out yesterday that the fee to view the stone will be pounds 5.50. While it was in England, the stone could be seen for free.

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