Scouting for recruits with new swear words

Pledge to God and the monarchy faces radical rewrite in search for Nineties image, writes Glenda Cooper
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The Independent Online
The Scouts, dogged by an image of good eggs and woggles, are hoping to appeal to Nineties children by considering changing their promise into catchy, contemporary language.

Reformation could lead to God being referred to as a "friend" and more emphasis being given to care for the community and the natural world - a sort of Clause 4 meets the woodcraft folk.

Research last year among cubs and scouts discovered that few understood the concepts, and even fewer attached importance to the promise which must be taken by all 650,000 members in Britain.

The current version, written in 1966, reads: "On my honour I promise I will do my best to do my duty to God and to the Queen, to help other people and to keep the Scout law."

The UK Chief Scout, Garth Morrison, said that they were looking at emphasising more strongly the values of "integrity, loyalty, honesty and trustworthiness" and that a "values group" had been set up to look at how the promise could be phrased in relevant language.

The Scout Association, founded 88 years ago by Baden-Powell, has already tried to revise its image in the 1990s by updating campfire favourites such as Ging Gang Gooli with raps such as their 1992 hit The Promise, which starts "Gotta get down to the real nitty gritty/gotta turn things round in the inner city", and their slogan "Be a Scout, not a lout".

Derek Capper, chairman of the group, was eager to make clear that no rewrite had been settled, but added: "Words such as 'duty to God' have a implication of having to do something. We'd like to see something that implies a closer personal relationship with God."

Scout officials were quick to dismiss the idea that duty to the monarchy could be changed because of the Prince of Wales's public admission of adultery.

But the Scout Association spokesman, John Fogg, said it indicated that scouting concepts had to be made clearer: "Prince Charles is an example of how young people feel they are receiving very mixed messages. When you look at the behaviour of pop stars, footballers, some members of the Royal family or whoever, young people can be confused."

Distinguished ex-scouts, who include John Major, Bryan Ferry and the late Harold Wilson, were in general opposed to any sudden change in wording.

Lord Archer, a former "senior sixer", said regretfully: "I realise one has to move with the times otherwise one becomes nothing more than a fuddy duddy, but I'm sorry that the words duty and honour could disappear from the code. Once you get rid of something it's very hard to get it back."

Harry Greenway, vice-chairman of the Parliamentary Scout Association, agreed that the behaviour of the prince should not be taken into account: "You can't make an enormous change on the basis of the behaviour of one individual. The promise has always been to the monarch as a monarch rather than a particular person."

Two people who were eager for change, however, were the Hartles, of Darley Abbey, Derbyshire, who were kicked out of the Scout Association after they refused as humanists to take an oath of allegiance to God.

"The existing system is totally hypocritical," said Roy Hartle. "Most people have no interest in religion but still take the oath. I think they should change it to 'duty to my God', and I'd be happy to say that."

It is unlikely any change will take place before October and scouts should be wary of quick change. In the last major overhaul in 1966, when floppy hats and short trousers were abolished, 50,000 members quit and 10,000 broke away.

Scouts' promises down the years

1908: On my honour I promise that - one, I will do my duty to God and the King. Two, I will do my best to help others whatever it costs me. Three I know the Scout law and will obey it.

1912: On my honour I promise that I will do my best to do my duty to God and the King, to help other people at all times, to obey the Scout law.

1966: On my honour I promise that I will do my best to do my duty to God and the Queen, to help other people and to keep the Scout law.