MPs and peers have called on the Scotland Office to take a leading role in the First World War centenary commemorations next year amid fears that they will be sidelined by the Scottish Government in favour of the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn.
Scotland on Sunday has learned that a meeting was held last week during which peers and MPs from across the parties raised concerns that the SNP Government is lagging behind the rest of the UK in meeting grassroots demands for events to mark the centenary of the start of the conflict.
The accusations that the First World War centenary is not being taken as seriously as Bannockburn has been denied by the Scottish Government and there was anger from SNP MPs that they were not invited to the cross-party meeting attended by more than 20 Scottish MPs and peers.
During the meeting Scottish Secretary Michael Moore was called on to “fill the gap” left by the Scottish Government and get his department to start facilitating events north of the Border.
With 2014 also being the year of the independence referendum, concerns were raised that SNP ministers are more interested in marking the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn, which has seen more than £5 million of investment so far.
Labour peer Lord George Foulkes said: “The First World War was very much about the Union and different parts of the UK standing together whereas Bannockburn was, of course, about fighting the English.
“Quite a number of peers and MPs were worried that the Scottish Government wants to play down the First World War commemorations because of this. This is why we wanted the Scotland Office, on behalf of the UK Government, to fill the gap and take the lead in Scotland.”
Labour Glasgow North MP Ann McKechin said: “There has been a lot of emphasis from the Scottish Government on Bannockburn for political reasons but these events should not be a political football.”
There was anger from the SNP’s chief whip in Westminster, Pete Wishart, that his party had been excluded from the meeting. He said: “We have made it clear we want to play a full part in the First World War commemorations. This issue should not be politicised and it is extremely disappointing that we were not invited.
“I hope that there was not a political motive to our exclusion.”
Last October, Prime Minister David Cameron, announced more than £50m had been allocated for a “historic” commemoration of the centenary of the start of the First World War. An advisory board was set up to oversee the events including Culture Secretary Maria Miller, former Nato Secretary-General George Robertson, former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, former chief of the defence staff Jock Stirrup and former chief of the general staff Richard Dannatt.
Among the projects announced by the Prime Minister were a “massive” transformation of the Imperial War Museum, a major programme of national commemorative events “properly funded and given the proper status they deserve” and an educational programme “to create an enduring legacy for generations to come”.
So far in Scotland £1m has been allocated by the Scottish Government to renovate war memorials and a panel of experts, led by former army chaplain Norman Drummond, has been tasked with coming up with a programme of events to mark the anniversary.
Meanwhile, SNP ministers have allocated £5m towards the National Trust for Scotland’s new Bannockburn visitor centre and £250,000 towards the Battle of Bannockburn re-enactment event.
The Scottish Government last night insisted that the First World War events and Bannockburn commemoration should not be compared.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government will take forward a programme of events to mark the commemoration of the Great War.
“A large amount of local activity is planned across Scotland already and the national programme of events for Scotland will be confirmed in due course. It will receive appropriate financial backing.”
She went on: “The commemoration of the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn is an entirely separate issue.”
A Scotland Office spokesman confirmed that the Secretary of State for Scotland had met a number of MPs and peers last week to discuss the plans to commemorate the First World War next year.
“We are planning a range of events, including those to remember, among others, the Scots who fell in the Great War and we will work closely with a range of partners, including the Scottish Government, to ensure they are a fitting tribute to those who fought and died for their country,” he said.
Scotland’s sacrifice: share of sorrow
More Scots enlisted for the British Army during the Great War, in terms of per head of population, than any other part of the UK.
Government records from the time show that from 1914 to 1918, 557,618 Scots signed up to fight, compared with 4,006,158 from England, 272,924 Welsh and 134,202 Irish.
Inspired by patriotism and a sense of camaraderie, this elevated figure meant that Scotland’s sacrifice was destined to be proportionately greater than the rest of the country.
Of the estimated 745,000 British casualties recorded, it is believed that 130,000 were Scots.
The Royal Scots Regiment alone fielded 15 out of its 35 battalions in active duty during the First World War. More than 100,000 men passed through their ranks, of whom 11,162 were killed and more than 40,000 wounded.
The regiment received 71 battle honours, and six Victoria Crosses were awarded to members of its ranks, as well as innumerable individual medals.
The names of those Scots who gave their lives are commemorated in a memorial in Edinburgh Castle, designed by architect Robert Lorimer with the help of some 200 artists and craftsmen.