Sword ban is unkindest cut for Highland dancers

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FOR almost a thousand years, it has been a demonstration of courage and dexterity, the successful completion of which heralded victory in battle.

But the Ghillie Callum, or sword dance as it is better known, has now been defeated by red tape, according to dance judges who have cancelled its performance at a Highland games, claiming a licence is now required to "transport a dangerous weapon".

Organisers of the Balquhidder and Lochearnhead Highland games have been forced to strike the sword dance off their Highland dance competition after the judges, who in previous years brought their own swords, said this was no longer possible for fear of breaching new legislation designed to control the carrying of knives.

Kenny McCallam, a member of the organising committee of the Balquhidder, Lochearnhead and Strathyre Highland Games, said yesterday that the sword dance had been cut after the two judges refused to transport their official weapons to the games.

In the past, competitors danced around two hand-made "swords", made from blunt steel with an improvised hilt. But the organisers were informed a few years ago that "official" swords should be used and these would be provided by the judges – until now.

"I think it's a terrible shame," said Mr McCallam. "The sword dance has been on the go at the games for decades, but given the events that have taken place and the problems of terrorism, people are clamping down on all sides. The judges said they had been advised not to carry them, that a licence may now be required and we don't have time to apply for one."

However, it would appear that the judges, who did not wish to be named, or quoted, are mistaken. The Scottish Government, under the Custodial Sentences and Weapons (Scotland) Act 2007, plans to establish a scheme for the licensing of knife-dealers with a view to restricting the sale, hire, lending or giving of swords and bladed weapons.

But the act is not yet in force and will have specific caveats to protect the use of swords for religious or cultural reasons. A Scottish Government spokesman said: "When we do bring forward restrictions on swords, the legislation allows defences for religious, cultural and sporting purposes among others."

Documentation with the bill added: "In addition, the bill allows defences for other purposes to be specified by Order, and ministers will use this power to provide exceptions to the ban on sale for specified purposes… including Highland games."

Last night, Helen Ford, the director of administration at the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing, insisted there was no restriction on the transportation of swords for dancing. "The scheme is not yet in force and we have been told we will not be affected and the dance will continue."

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