300 years on, and where is the big party to celebrate Union?

'BONJOURNO," she said, in a perfect Dublin accent. "Would you like a table?" The waitress was standing at almost the very spot where, apparently, the Act of Union had been signed exactly 300 years before - but you would never have known it.

The town house on the corner of North Bridge and the Royal Mile in Edinburgh which is said to have hosted the most significant moment in Scottish history is now a cheap and cheerful pasta restaurant, part of the Bella Italia chain.

It was thought for many years that the Act of Union had been signed in a summer house just off Holyrood Road, but a new myth has sprung up identifying the ladies' toilets in the Bella Italia cellar as the historic spot.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Whichever venue is the right one, it was clear nothing had been done yesterday to draw attention to the event.

At Bella Italia, there was no plaque on the wall, no sign, no notice - nothing, in fact to commemorate such an important event 300 years on. "The toilets are not such an exciting place to see," admitted Manuel Biondi, 31, the deputy manager.

Mr Biondi, from Brescia, near Milan, said no-one had asked to see the spot where the Act of Union had been signed and there were no plans to do anything to celebrate it.

Down at the Moray House summer house, the stone-built lean-to which was long thought to have been the venue for the signing, things were even more bleak. The odd little hut was locked and boarded up. Debris from the bins alongside had been blown over the arched doors and windows: there was no-one there and it looked neglected and run down.

The truth is no-one really knows where the act was signed. Some historians believe the Scottish lords took shelter in the summer house to sign it, away from the baying mob, while others believe it was signed in the cellar of a Royal Mile townhouse, roughly where Bella Italia is now.

But if nothing had been organised to mark the 300th anniversary of the Union at the venue, what about the act itself? That, it seemed, had fared a little better, but not much.

Annabel Goldie, the Scottish Tory leader, went to see the real act at the National Archive at General Register House for a photocall. It was a good job she went to see the 15ft scroll yesterday, because it is showing its age through wear and tear and will soon be taken away for repairs - a metaphor, some might think, for the act itself.

At the Scottish Parliament, the only sign of the Union's tercentenary was a placard with the words "300 years cap in hand" scrawled on it, propped up outside the main gates - hardly what the founding fathers of the Union would have expected all those years ago.

In London, the government marked the day with the launch of a new 2 coin with a Union inscription. It was supposed to have been hosted by Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, the senior politician who has done more than any other to galvanise support for the Union in the past few months. But even he was too busy to be there, away on an official visit to India, leaving it to Jack Straw, now Leader of the Commons, and Douglas Alexander, the Scottish Secretary, to launch the coin.

That seemed to be that. The sum total of the government's celebrations to mark the day was a new coin and a couple of speeches.

There will be other events throughout the year. Mr Alexander will name a train "The Treaty of Union" in June, while both the English and Scottish copies of the treaty will be brought together for the first time for an exhibition at Holyrood in September. But this lack of effort is clearly disappointing for many unionists.

Miss Goldie said: "I would have expected Westminster, as sovereign government of the UK, would have a bit more imagination and clarity as to what might be an appropriate celebration."

She went on: "I would have been happier if there had been more of an effort from the Scottish Executive to mark this day because, after all, it is made up of two unionist parties."

As if to make Miss Goldie's point, Jack McConnell, the First Minister, went about his normal ministerial business.

In the morning, he went to the Kelvin Hall sports arena in Glasgow to announce the sports which would be included in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, if the city wins the bid.

He was asked about the lack of public events to commemorate the act but he refused to accept that the government had failed to put in enough effort.

"There is an appropriate event today in London and it is right, given that it is the Union that is being celebrated, that the United Kingdom government is celebrating that anniversary today," he said.

He added: "There will be other events in Scotland during the course of this year that will give us a chance to celebrate the many developments in Scotland over those 300 years."

Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party, chose to spend the day concentrating on the Union - but from a more destructive perspective.

Wearing a saltire tie, Mr Salmond pulled back the cover on a new SNP advertisement calling for an end to the Union.

Speaking after the unveiling outside Dynamic Earth in Edinbugh, he said he was not surprised there had been almost nothing organised to celebrate the Union.

He said: "There's no popular celebrations, there's no street parties, no fireworks parties. I think they realised that very few people would turn up - and it's unwise to hold a party no-one would come to."

Perhaps a clue to the Executive's reticence comes in its decision to commission a debate by the National Library of Scotland on the Act of Union in May - after the election.

The signing of the act was a politically contentious move and, clearly, it remains controversial.

So controversial, it seems, that ministers on both sides of the Border are scared to be seen indulging in anything that might be interpreted as celebration.

Join the debate and tell us what you think of the state of Scotland

THE Scotsman is seeking to use the 300th anniversary of the vote for the Treaty of Union to open up a new and vigorous debate on Scottish nationhood.

Three centuries after a momentous political vote, we want to examine the country's past, present and future. How has the treaty shaped the relationship between Scotland and England for three centuries? Does it serve Scotland's interests well?

It is a timely debate as we move towards arguably the most fascinating Scottish election of modern times, one which poses profound questions about Scotland, its relationships and its future.

Every day until the election campaign kicks off, The Scotsman will be at the heart of what we have called 'Scotland 300: The Nationhood Debate'. We are hosting eight debates across Scotland, culminating in Edinburgh in mid-March.

In addition to the set-piece debates, our reporters will be touring the country in a Scotsman van, asking people what Scotland means to them in 2007 - and how it could be improved. What are the issues that matter in Dumfries, Penicuik, Oban and Cumbernauld? Are Scots happy with their government - or are they itching for change?

'Scotland 300: The Nationhood Debate' is a genuine attempt to ask readers what THEY really care about.

See the panel on the right to find out how you can get involved. Debate venues and dates are: 30 Jan - Winter Gardens, Glasgow; 6 Feb - Albert Halls, Stirling; 8 Feb - Ramada Hotel, Inverness; 13 Feb - Village Hall, Ballater; 22 Feb - Corn Exchange, Cupar; 28 Feb - North Berwick High School; 13 Mar - Volunteer Hall, Galashiels.

• Details of the final debate, in Edinburgh, will be confirmed soon. Events start at around 7:15pm. For details, keep an eye on the paper and our nationhood web pages - swts.oldsite.jpimedia.uk/nationhood


THE Scotsman's nationhood tour begins tomorrow when two of our reporters arrive in the centre of Dumfries.

Emma Cowing and Eben Harrell, accompanied by photographer Neil Hanna, will head for south-west Scotland to see what people in the town think about their country in 2007. What are the issues that matter to them - and what would they do to improve things?

Are they concerned by the state of health services in the area, by law and order problems - or do they think the transport system or schools need attention?

How would such problems best be tackled? Do people think that the Scottish Parliament has sufficient powers or do they crave independence?

The figures suggest the former is more ingrained; the SNP polled only 12 per cent in the last Westminster and Holyrood elections. The area now has a Labour MP and MSP, but there is a strong bedrock of Conservative support .

Our reporters - and The Scotsman tour van - will be in the High Street opposite the Clydesdale Bank and Boots on one side and Marks & Spencer, Bank of Scotland and Clarks on the other. They will ask locals what they think and invite them to sign our visitors' book.

So, if you are out in Dumfries tomorrow between noon and 3:30pm, please give us your views. Next Monday, we will be in Troon - see the paper and website for more details.