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UNION JACK; McConnell plans Braveheart celebrations for Scotland but Nats claim it's too shameful.

Byline: Dave King

PLANS to celebrate three key events in Scottish history were unveiled by First Minister Jack McConnell yesterday.

But his bid to mark the anniversaries of the Union of the Crowns, the death of William Wallace and the Union of Parliaments quickly led to a battle royal with the SNP.

The First Minister wants Braveheart star Mel Gibson to play a key role in the Wallace celebration - with the cast of the hit movie reuniting in Scotland.

He hoped the country would get behind the plans, bringing a major tourism boost.

Instead, the Nats accused him of celebrating "the loss of our monarch, the loss of Parliament and the shameful murder of our national hero."

And yesterday, "Union Jack" McConnell and John "Saltire" Swinney squared up to each other.

McConnell told Holyrood he wanted to see a five-year programme of events.

The first will be the 400th anniversary of the Union of the Crowns, in March next year.

That will be followed by the 700th anniversary of the death of Braveheart hero Wallace, in 2005.

And 2007 will see the 300th anniversary of the Union of the Parliaments.

As well as Mel Gibson's involvement, he wants a major exhibition next year on the Union of the Crowns.

But a spokesman for the Nats said: "If he wanted to celebrate Wallace, he should be celebrating his life and birth."

SNP leader John Swinney claimed the timing of the Union of the Crowns event would be "hijacked" by Labour for party political reasons - it coincides with next year's Scottish Parliament elections.

At First Minister's Questions yesterday, McConnell hit back: "To see the kind of derisory response to an open invitation to join together and make sure we celebrate in an international way a variety of events from our past, then I think that was a tragic error.

"I hope, in future, the SNP may be led by somebody who is a bit more able to recognise the importance of Scotland's history in selling our country at home and abroad."

McConnell outlined his plans in a letter to VisitScotland chairman Peter Lederer.

He said: "The events of 1603 led to the best-known royal family in the world today and 1707 led, in time, to Britain being a model of Parliamentary democracy the world over.

"And of course, William Wallace became known the world over following the international success of the Braveheart movie."

The First Minister wants to set up a steering group to draw up plans.

Pubs and clubs could get longer opening hours to mark the occasions.

He also claimed that there could be an education bonus, with teachers linking lessons to the events.

McConnell said: "It sends a positive message about our national identity at home and abroad.

"I see it as an indication that we are proud of our history, willing to celebrate significant moments in our past and commemorate our heroes."

But Swinney claimed: "What we need is a First Minister who uses his energies to promote Scotland and our tourism industry, not one that uses Scots tourism to promote his own political agenda.

"Jack McConnell has made a fool of himself today."

Nats MSP Alex Neil added: "Instead of presenting himself as Union Jack, he should fly the Saltire and do what is best for Scotland. That means breaking the union, not celebrating it."

Unsurprisingly, the celebrations were welcomed by unionist Tories.

Their culture spokesman Brian Monteith said: "I have been pushing for an official celebration of the Union of the Crowns for over a year now."

But he warned: "It would be seriously disappointing if the celebration lacked sufficient pomp and splendour, as that is what will attract tourists."

Last night, the most vital question for ordinary Scots remained unanswered - will workers get days off to join the celebrations?

THE DATES

UNION OF THE CROWNS In 1603, James VI of Scotland inherited the throne of England, following the death of Elizabeth I.

THE DEATH OF WALLACE Scotland's most prominent freedom fighter was drawn-and- quartered by the English in London in 1305.

UNION OF PARLIAMENTS In 1707, Scottish MPs voted for the Act of Union by 110 votes to 67. It was hated by ordinary Scots, most of whom couldn't vote.
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUS
Date:Nov 8, 2002
Words:705
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