Gone but not forgotten – fight begins to bring home Scotland's 'birth certificate'

IT IS described as the "birth certificate of Scotland" and contains the earliest surviving record of the country's existence. But it is held in France.

Now a campaign has been launched to have the 1,000-year-old Chronicles of the Kings of Alba to be returned to Scotland.

The unique document is a list of the 12 kings of the House of Alpin – Scotland's first royal family. The priceless document also charts a particularly bloody decade of Scotland's history from the reign of Kenneth MacAlpin to Kenneth II, who died in 995, when coups and assassinations were almost every-day occurrences.

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Despite the little-known document's historical importance, it has been held since the 17th century in the national library of France – the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris – as part of the Poppleton Manuscript, a collection of medieval texts.

The manuscript contains the very first mention of the country Albanium – the Latinised version of the Gaelic name for Scotland. Before this, the country had been a loose collection of territories, the two major forces being the Picts and the Gaels.

The rare text explains how Scotland was unified under the Alpin family.

The chronicle is considered a vital source for the period it covers, written in Hiberno-Latin by monks during the early 11th century, shortly after the reign of Kenneth II ended.

Now independent MSP Margo MacDonald, and archaeologist and presenter of the BBC's The History of Scotland Neil Oliver, are adding their voices to demands to have the document returned to coincide with next year's Homecoming Scotland 2009.

Ms MacDonald will raise a motion in the Scottish Parliament asking for the document to be returned.

She said: "It is a hugely important document and I'd like to see it returned to Scotland. I'll be raising a motion in parliament to ask for the document to be returned as a loan, which I understand would be the first time it has been on these shores for hundreds of years."

Mr Oliver, whose BBC series The History of Scotland has sparked fresh interest in the manuscript, said: "Holding this important document in my hands was really thrilling. It's the birth certificate of Scotland and yet it is held in France. It was part of a bundle of documents taken over in the 17th century, when no-one really knew what they were worth historically.

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"It would be terrific if it could at least visit Scotland to let everyone have the chance to see it."

Translations of the text reveal a pithy and bloody account of each of the kings and their achievements, focusing on the violent struggles they faced.

Of Kenneth I it says: "He attacked Saxonia six times; and he burnt down Dunbar and captured Melrose," but that he died of a "tumour" in the palace of Forteviot. The authors also exhibit an intolerance for what was considered failure. Of King Aed, who ruled from 877 to 878, it was written: "The shortness of his rule has left nothing memorable to history; but he was killed in the town of Nrurim."

The Scottish Government welcomed the call for the return of the document.

A spokeswoman said: "We recognise the interest The History of Scotland has generated in the manuscript and its intriguing part in the narrative of our nation's history.

"We would be keen to explore with the Bibliotheque Nationale the importance of the manuscript, and how it might play a part in celebrating our culture and heritage as part of the Year of Homecoming."

The move comes after the Scottish Government tried – so far without success – to have the Lewis Chessmen returned to Scotland from the British Museum in London. The 78 chess pieces carved from walrus ivory were found in a sandbank on a beach of Uig Bay on the Isle of Lewis in 1831 and bought by the British Museum the same year.

While they have failed to have them returned, they were the centrepiece of an exhibition in Lewis in 1994.

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The Celtic League, an organisation that campaigns for the return of artefacts to Celtic nations, warned any attempts to have the manuscript returned could prove difficult.

Its general secretary, Cornishman Rhisiart Tal-e-bot, said: "It's exceedingly difficult to repatriate artefacts from one country to another. In many instances, the host institutions say the artefacts are not fit for travel or there is no place suitable to store them if they are moved."

The Bibliotheque Nationale declined to comment.

Westminster plans to allow Catholic succession hits SNP strategy

THE SNP pledge to use the Act of Settlement as a tool to gain independence has been dealt a blow after it was revealed that Gordon Brown proposes to repeal the law within the next 18 months.

Plans to amend the 1701 act, which prevents Catholics from inheriting the Crown and bars any royal who marries a Catholic from the succession, unless he or she renounces their faith, were under way earlier this year. The act also prevents eldest daughters succeeding as monarchs.

But it is now understood that ministers have informed the Queen that changes are now under "active consideration" and likely to be brought forward in the next 18 months. Prince Charles is believed to have been consulted.

The move is seen as a deliberate ploy by the Prime Minister to prevent Alex Salmond from using the issue to draw Catholic voters to the independence cause.

The First Minister had pledged to bring forward legislation into the Scottish Parliament leading to a referendum on separation in 2010.

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A senior government source said even an undefined pledge to remove the legislation could have repercussions. He said: "He only has to promise to remove the anti-Catholic discrimination embedded in the Act of Settlement to win over a large section of the community which – especially in the west of Scotland – have so far been most resistant to Scottish independence."

The Catholic Church in Scotland has been a long-standing and vocal critic of the legislation, described by Cardinal Keith O'Brien as "arcanely offensive".

The likelihood of the act's repeal was raised in September this year,

However, at the time a Downing Street spokesman had said that to amend and repeal the discriminatory parts of the Act would be a complex undertaking.

Mr Salmond welcomed the move, saying: "The Act of Settlement is an 18th-century anachronism that has no place in a modern 21st-century constitution.

"The SNP first raised the issue over a decade ago and the Scottish Parliament united in 1999 to call for this long over-due reform. I hope that the Prime Minister follows through at last and consigns it to the dustbin of history."

The legislation is one of the surviving vestiges of the Glorious Revolution introduced to secure the Protestant succession that was installed by parliamentarians and led by William of Orange following the overthrow of the Catholic monarch James II of England and VII of Scotland in 1688.