This is a film that reminds us that ordinary individuals can make a difference, that our Scottish heritage is something to be proud of, and how a nation’s conscience was stirred by a symbolic act that changed the lives of many.
In 1950, Ian Hamilton, an ardent member of the Scottish nationalist organisation, the Scottish Covenant Association, hopes to end what he sees as the political and economic subjugation of Scotland by England. Frustrated and saddened by the complacency of his fellow Scots who seem to accept the status quo, he looks forward to a time when Scotland is no longer merely referred to as “North Britain”. After a petition to the British Parliament for the establishment of Scottish home rule is rejected, Hamilton decides to perform a symbolic act to put heart into the movement. With his friend, Bill Craig, he creates a daring scheme to bring the Stone of Destiny back to Scotland from Westminster Abbey in London, where it has resided for 600 years following by Edward I’s military victories over the Scots.
Hamilton and Craig research the floor plans and security setup of Westminster Abbey and plan the theft, but once Craig realises the legal implications of liberating the stone and the potential impact to his personal life and career, he backs out. Undaunted, Hamilton decides to liberate the stone by himself. He turns to John MacCormick, a prominent campaigner for Scottish devolution, and asks for financial help with the project. Although he initially refuses to take seriously Hamilton’s proposal and request for a mere £50, MacCormick reconsiders and provides his support. Later at a party, MacCormick refers him to Kay Matheson, a young woman with strong nationalist ideas, to help him retrieve the stone.
After meeting Matheson, Hamilton is soon introduced to Gavin Vernon, a strong young man (another student) known mainly for his drinking ability. On the day of their departure for London, Vernon unexpectedly brings his quiet friend Alan Stuart along with him. At first Hamilton opposes bringing in a fourth member, but Vernon convinces him that Stuart and his car will be valuable assets to the group. They agree to steal the stone on Christmas Eve while all of London is distracted by the holiday celebration.
The four nationalist students arrive in London the day before Christmas Eve and decide to steal the stone that very night, instead of their original plan of the following night. They drive to Westminster Abbey, but their plans are interrupted when Hamilton is discovered by a watchman, who mistakes him for a homeless man and lets him go. Soon after, Matheson falls ill from a fever and Hamilton brings her to a bed & breakfast to recover. The landlady is suspicious of their Scottish accents and shifty behaviour, and when Hamilton comes for Matheson, she phones the police, who likewise suspect the young Scots of being up to something, but they avoid being arrested.
That night, while Matheson waits in the car, Hamilton, Vernon, and Stuart break into Westminster Abbey and steal the Stone of Scone, which breaks in two pieces in the process. Seeing that the crack was made long ago and merely patched over, the group drive to the Scottish border and hide the larger piece in a field. After returning to Glasgow and witnessing the widespread nationalist celebration over the theft of the stone, the group learn that the stone could be permanently damaged if left to the elements. They return to the field and retrieve the stone with the aid of a group of Romany people who are camped in the field.
After the two parts of the stone are reattached, the students offer to return it to the authorities at the symbolically significant Arbroath Abbey, the site of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath. The police arrive and arrest the student nationalists, who are charged, but never prosecuted. The Stone of Scone was returned to London, where it remained until 1996, when it was moved to Edinburgh Castle “on loan” with the understanding that it would be brought back to Westminster Abbey for the next Coronation.
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Genesis 28:10–22: the Stone of Jacob (Jacob’s pillow), taken by Jacob while in Bethel.
1400BC Egyptian Pharaoh’sdaughter Scota was exiled from Egypt and settled in NW Spain. Descendants conquered Ireland, and became the Scotii.
1296 The stone was captured by Edward I as spoils of war and taken to Westminster Abbey.
1320 Declaration of Arbroath.
1328 England agreed to return the captured stone to Scotland – riotous crowds in London prevented it.
1603 King James I of Scotland crowned as King James VI of England and Ireland.
1707 Scottish Parliament was prorogued sine die at the time of the Acts of Union.
1950 4 Scottish students removed the stone from Westminster Abbey and returned it to Scotland.
1951 The stone was returned to Westminster.
1979 Scottish devolution referendum 51.6% (repealed – fewer than 40% of total electorate voted Yes).
1996 The British Conservative Government decided that the stone should be kept in Scotland.
1999 The Scottish Parliament re-convened.
2014 Scottish independence referendum.
‘Scotland is on the march – no-one can put a boundary on the march of a nation”.