05 September 2001

S1M-2101 Education Curriculum (1820 Martyrs)

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 5 September 2001


[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]

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Education Curriculum (1820 Martyrs)

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): Members' business today is motion S1M-2101, in the name of Mr Gil Paterson, on James Wilson, John Baird and Andrew Hardie.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the sacrifice of the three 1820 martyrs, James Wilson from Strathaven and John Baird and Andrew Hardie from Glasgow, who were hanged and beheaded in the 1820 rising which fought for social and economic justice, workers' rights and an independent Scottish parliament and believes that the history of their struggle should be included in the education curriculum in order to mark the anniversaries, on 30 August and 3 September, of their sacrifice for Scottish rights 181 years ago.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate Gil Paterson on bringing to light a little bit of Scotland's hidden history. The congratulations are personal because he has brought to light a little of my family's hidden history. There was always a legend that somebody in my family had been hung for sheep stealing. The initial investigations led me to my great-great-grandfather John Stevenson, a mining serf who was killed in a mining accident in Fallin in 1833. No, that was not the family's hidden secret. The secret was that John Baird's sister was one of my ancestors. So, for me, the motion has a personal resonance.

Since learning the secret, I have of course read all the books and I am particularly struck—in the light of Brian Monteith's contribution—by the parallels with today. As the marchers went to Bonnymuir, Government spies were working against them in their midst. I see Brian Monteith in that role today, but today we will not let him achieve the objectives that the spies achieved in August and September 1820, when the three martyrs were despatched to meet their maker.

A little bit of contemporary evidence is still available. I say to John McAllion that I do not think that the banner is still around, but the axe that dispatched Hardie and Baird is in the museum in Stirling.

It is worth reflecting on what being hung, drawn and quartered meant. It meant that those who were to be thus dispatched were put on the gallows and gently lowered down until they lost consciousness, but before they died, they were cut down and restored to consciousness. The axe was then run from sternum to scrotum and from left to right. The bowels were then drawn while the person was still alive from within the abdominal cavity.

The agonies that our martyrs were put through are unimaginable to today's generation. I thank Gil Paterson for bringing that to our attention. I feel the emotion conveyed down the centuries from my ancestor.


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