Scots open new chapter in fight to reclaim past

Home and away: A new tartan calms ex-pats worried about expulsion while nationalists demand more than just the Stone back
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The Independent Online
The stone has gone home. And now the leader of the Scottish National Party wants the rest of the alleged Celtic booty stolen from Scotland by the English to be returned.

With the Stone of Destiny, stolen as a war trophy by Edward I at the end of the 13th century now being prepared for its St Andrew's Day unveiling in Edinburgh Castle after 700 years of residence in Westminster Abbey, Alex Salmond wants two other ancient artefacts to be brought back to their "rightful homeland".

The SNP leader said he would table questions in the Commons for the return of the ninth century Book of Deer, an illuminated manuscript at Cambridge University. He is also claiming the return of the 1,000-year-old Uig chessmen, currently in the British Museum.

Threatening to turn the "stolen" artefacts into Scotland's own version of the Elgin Marbles (still under dispute by the Greek government), Mr Salmond claims the Book of Deer was "pinched" by the English, probably in 1296, the year the Stone of Destiny was removed from Scone and taken south.

The Book of Deer was written mostly in Latin, probably in the ninth century, at a monastery founded by St Columba at Deer in Buchan. The area is Mr Salmond's parliamentary constituency. The work contains 12th century additions, in Latin and Gaelic. The manuscript is mostly gospel texts and there is also an early version of the Apostles' Creed. It also contains a charter given to the monks by David I of Scotland.

The illuminations alongside the gospel texts of St John and three other apostles include capitals, borders and pictures of the Evangelists, resembling in details the earlier version of the Irish Gospels.

Its historical importance is greatly increased by its memorandums, the earliest extant Gaelic written in Scotland. These give details of clan organisation, land divisions, monastic land tenure and other monastic matters.

Mr Salmond described the book as a land register, similar to the Domesday Book, covering the Old Deer and New Deer areas of north-east Scotland. "It is a unique document ... and should be restored to its rightful homeland, where it would be a focal point of cultural, historic and tourist interest," he said. Of the chessmen, made of walrus ivory and found in a cave at Uig Sands in 1831, Mr Salmond said they were also "pinched" by the English

It is likely that they might have been hidden for centuries by nuns from the Benedictine house once in the area.

Mr Salmond said: "Just as the Elgin Marbles should be restored to Greece, and a Sioux burial coat, now housed in Glasgow, should be returned to America, so should these two ancient artefacts come home to Scotland. There is no justification whatsoever for them to be retained in England."