Thursday, December 28, 2006

Britain's tricentenary may pass unnoted

This coming January 16th marks the Act of Union of 1707 which united Scotland and England and formed the basis for the British empire. This was arguably a watershed event which led, for better or worse, to much of the world as it is today. Yet the date will pass without fanfare.
Historians consider it one of the most important events in the nation's history, laying the foundations for imperial expansion a century later.

But beyond striking a commemorative £2 coin and staging an exhibition in the House of Lords, there are no plans for anything more celebratory south of the border. By contrast, £20m is being spent on commemorating the abolition of slavery, which will also be marked by a £2 coin.

The Scottish parliament is organising a series of events involving schools, museums and galleries.

Patricia Ferguson, the Scottish minister of culture, said the union was a pivotal moment in Scottish history, and it was important to recognise the anniversary.

But when the Earl of Caithness asked how the Government planned to mark the event, Lord Davies, a minister, replied that he was not aware of any plans beyond the commemorative coin. Philip Hollobone, the Tory MP for Kettering, received a similar reply in the Commons.

He said he could think of no other country which would so underplay what is essentially the foundation of the modern state.

"It is extraordinary that this tricentenary, which was the basis of the British Empire, should be almost ignored. Striking a coin is not enough and there should be a meeting of both Houses of Parliament and the Scottish parliament, addressed by the Queen in Westminster Hall, to mark this properly.

"We could also have services of thanksgiving in Westminster Abbey and St Giles in Edinburgh.

"It is almost as if the Government is embarrassed about our history."

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