The Stane

Tom Harris’s mock video has Alex Salmond preparing for the coronation, and they say “the stone of Scone will be widened and strengthened” for the event, since AS will have to sit on it and he is famously chubby due to all the curry and similar swanky food he eats. I find the video quite amusing in a dire kind of way, but it’s really not that good, and Harris should have been scolded for his lack of aesthetic integrity. As it is, he resigned and is now a footnote in the history books. But I thought it a good idea to bring in the Stone of Scone, particularly since it has become (I think) something of an icon in Nationalist history. I was a late teenager when the stunning news came out that some rabid fanatics had stolen the sacred stone from its cherished place in St Edward’s cherished chair in cherished Westminster Abbey. As I remember my feelings at the time were a mixture of elation and anxiety, the latter for the miscreants who were the subjects of a massive manhunt. [For the record, their names were Kay Matheson, Ian Hamilton, Gavin Vernon and Alan Stuart. Hats off, gentlemen!] As it was, my worry didn’t last long, they were never arrested, and the Stone was hurriedly taken back under the protection of the Establishment. That “theft” was on Christmas Day 1950, and it can still evoke a good deal of chauvinist glee at the discomfiture of the high heid yins in London, including poor King George, who said he was “most distressed” by the whole business. I’m reminded by that that in some comment about the case someone claimed it was recovered (by divine grace no doubt) in time for the Coronation of Elizabeth. Anyway, at the time there was an explosion of comment, and as is the custom songs were written to express the feelings of nationalists (of all stripes). A collection appeared from the Scottish National Congress in a little pamphlet called Sangs o’ the Stane, contributed to by many poets of distinction, including my own favourite Sydney Goodsir Smith, who contributed :a “Ballad o the Reivin o the Stane” to the tune of the obscene classic The Ball o Kirriemuir. Note that all these songs (14 in all) were to be sung to specified or recognisable tunes, in the manner of the ballads of old. There was also a bit of intro by Hugh Macdiarmid, “On the Asportation of the Scone Stone”, which happens to be in English. They were all anonymous, deliberately, and the compiler, Morris Blythman (“Thurso Berwick”), never claimed copyright.
It appeared on the 13th April, 1951, the same month the Stone (or a similar sort of rock) was left in Arbroath Abbey. It’s a mean little thing, I suppose, but I treasure my copy, and from time to time leaf through it and shake my head at the enthusiasm that produced some very marginal poetry. It’s rather like many songs in James Hogg’s Jacobite Relics, which are interesting historically but scarcely memorable or worth singing more than just a few times. Still, one song has survived, “The Wee Magic Stane”, by Johnny McEvoy, a regular at the Bo’ness Rebel Ceilidhs of the time, who later emigrated to Canada and finally retired to Scotland in 1989. It goes to the tune of the Cockney song “Villikins and his Dinah”, or (as the original tells us), “The Ould Orange Flute”.

The Dean o’ Westminster was a powerful man
He held a’ the strings o’ the State in his hand
But wi’ a’ his great business it flustered him nane
Till some rogues ran awa wi his wee magic stane.
Wi’ a too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-oo-ra-li-ay

Noo the Stane had great pow’rs that could dae sic a thing
And withoot it, it seemed, we’d be wantin’ a king
So he called in the polis and gave this decree–
Go an hunt oot the Stane and return it tae me
Wi’ a etc.

So the polis went beetlin’ up tae the North
They huntit the Clyde and they huntit the Forth
But the wild folk up yonder just kiddit them a’
Fur they didnae believe it was magic at a’
Wi’ a etc.

Noo the Provost o’ Glesca, Sir Victor by name
Wis awfy pit oot whan he heard o’ the Stane
So he offered the statues that staun in the Square
That the High Church’s masons might mak a few mair.
Wi’ a etc.

When the Dean o Westminster wi this was acquaint
He sent fur Sir Victor and made him a saint,
“Noo it’s nae good you sending your statues doon here”
Said the Dean, “but you’ve gied me a right good idea.”
Wi’ a etc.

So he quarried a stane o the very same stuff
An he dressed it a’ up till it looked like enough
Then he sent for the press and announced that the Stane
Had been found and returned tae Westminster again.
Wi’ a etc.

When the reivers found oot what Westminster had done,
They went aboot diggin up stanes by the ton,
And fur each wan they feenished they entered the claim
That this was the true and original stane.
Wi’ a etc.

Noo the cream o the joke still remains tae be telt,
Fur the bloke that wis turnin’ them aff on the belt,
At the peak o production was so sorely pressed
That the real yin got bunged in alang wi the rest
Wi’ a etc

So if ever ye cam’ on a stane wi a ring,
Just sit yersel doon and appoint yersel King,
Fut there’s nane wud be able tae challenge yir claim
That you’d croont yersel King on the Destiny Stane
Wi’ a too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-oo-ra-li-ay.

The Lord Provost at the time was Sir Victor Warren (Progressive, which roughly meant Conservative), who held the post from 1949-1952. He was an implacable foe of the Scottish Nationalists, and some fanatics daubed the front of his house with the words, “in very large letters, LONDON’S OFFICE BOY, SCOTLAND’S QUISLING, and in even larger letters underneath the word TRAITOR.” (- Harry Diamond’s fascinating memoirs.) You see today’s invective I mentioned last time has a long history.
The Attorney General, Sir Hartley Shawcross, made a statement in the Commons on April 1, 1951 – a significant date, surely, for the reivers had made fools of the authorities – saying that no action would be taken against them, his reason being that he did not think it was in the public interest that he should direct criminal proceedings to be taken:”I have no desire to provide these individuals with the opportunity either of being regarded by their followers as martyrs if convicted or as heroes if they are not convicted.”

The Dean was Alan Campbell Don, KCVO, D.D. (1885–1966), ironically a Scot, born in Dundee, where he served from 1921 to 1931 as Provost of St Paul’s Cathedral. He broadcast an appeal for the return of the Stone, and I’m sure there were many who believed that had some effect. The Square is George Square, home to the Council Chambers and many statues, including an 80-foot-high column in the centre featuring Sir Walter Scott, which was erected in 1837. Others (Wiki tells us) include the only known equestrian statues of a young Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert, poets Robert Burns and Thomas Campbell, inventor James Watt, chemist Thomas Graham, generals Sir John Moore, Lord Clyde and politicians William Ewart Gladstone, Robert Peel and James Oswald (1779-1853). That should have kept the masons busy for a good while.

1 Comment

Filed under Folksongs, Music, Politics

One response to “The Stane

  1. Some say they never got the ‘right’ stane back. I like that idea; sitting on a dud from some quarry somewhere helps make a mockery of pomp and circumstance, usually just a smokescreen for something else less palatable.

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