Defining our destiny

GAVIN Vernon will be remembered for the great event of his youth: on Christmas Day, 1950, he was one of four young Scots who broke into Westminster Abbey and removed the Stone of Destiny. It was to reappear months later on the high altar of the ruined abbey of Arbroath.

Coming as it did out of the political blue, and in a world still wreathed in post-war bleakness and austerity, the act was all the more audacious and was to have enormous resonance. It gave to the cause of Scottish nationalism not only a massive (if then short-lived) prominence, but also a romantic bravura.

It was treated at the time as little more than an undergraduate prank. Indeed, the authorities wisely decided not to charge the four for fear that a court case would have sparked a political row. As it was, King George VI sent a personal reprimand to the Dean of Westminster and the border between England and Scotland was closed for what was said to be the first time in 400 years.

But "the repossession", as it came to be known, could well claim to have lit a fuse. At the time, it certainly awoke in many young Scots a sense of an injustice put right. As important, it encouraged a belief in action and change: throwing open to challenge and exposure that which had seemed permanent and immutable. The returning of the stone could thus fairly rank as a defining, inspirational event, both for Vernon’s generation and that which followed. Long before the stone formally returned to Scotland, the events of that night began the journey.