Symbolic Stone Going to Scotland

LONDON -- The Stone of Scone, a symbol of power at the coronation of English and British kings for 700 years, is returning to Scotland.

Prime Minister John Major made the announcement Wednesday to the House of Commons, stoking debate over whether Scotland should gain some form of independence. The stone is a powerful symbol in the debate.

Carried away by King Edward I in 1296, the 400-pound Stone of Scone (pronounced SKOON) reputedly was the coronation seat of ancient kings of Scotland and Ireland -- and, some say, the pillow of the patriarch Jacob.

It now reposes beneath the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey, where it has been used in every coronation since 1308. Mr. Major said it would be sent back to Scotland as soon as a suitable site was chosen.

Opposition parties who advocate independence for Scotland said the return of the stone was not enough.

"The majority of people in Scotland...want not just the symbol but the substance, the substance of the return of democratic control over our internal affairs in Scotland," said Sir David Steel, a Scot with the small, centrist Liberal Democratic Party.

The Liberal Democrats and the much larger Labor Party advocate a parliament for Scotland within the United Kingdom, while the Scottish National Party wants full independence. Mr. Major's governing Conservatives want Scotland to be ruled from London, as it has been since 1707.

Labor leader Tony Blair said the return of the stone showed "how we can celebrate the unity of the United Kingdom whilst believing that we are distinct and proud nations with differing traditions, histories and cultures."

Some Labor lawmakers took a more cynical view.

"Those of us who believe in the establishment of a Scottish not believe that the return of a feudal medieval symbol of tyranny is any more than a total irrelevance," said John Maxton of Glasgow.

And then there were those who questioned whether England was really returning the stone at all.

Labor lawmaker John McAllion of Dundee said that the stone in the abbey is "a sham and a fake" contrived by the Scottish nationalists who swiped the stone in 1950.

But Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth said the government would release secret files on tests conducted when the rock was returned before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1952. "They do indeed show that the authentic stone rests in Westminster Abbey," he said.

The stone is said to have been Jacob's pillow when he had his dream of "Jacob's ladder," a story told in the book of Genesis.

When Irish kings sat on it at coronations, it was supposed to groan aloud if the claimant was royal and remain silent if he was a pretender.

-- The Dallas Morning News, Thursday, July 4, 1996.


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