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SNP steps up battle for Lewis Chessmen

Western Isles MP, Angus MacNeil, hopes to hold talks with the British Museum about the possibility of reunifying all the Lewis Chessmen [1] in Scotland.

Press and Journal [2]

SNP steps up chessmen battle
Talks over moves to return historic pieces to Lewis
By Cameron Brooks
Published: 05/06/2010

THE SNP has stepped up its campaign to repatriate the historic Lewis Chessmen to Scotland.

Western Isles MP Angus Brendan MacNeil is due to hold fresh talks in the coming weeks with the British Museum, where 82 of the 93 pieces are held permanently, and the UK Government.

He is hopeful that Prime Minister David Cameron and his Cabinet colleagues will be more sympathetic to the Scottish Government’s request for the return of what is perhaps the nation’s most famous archaeological discovery.

The previous UK Government repeatedly rejected the SNP’s pleas.

In March, former culture minister Margaret Hodge said the British Museum was the right place to hold and display such important historic artefacts, but stressed its willingness to loan out exhibits.

Mr MacNeil said yesterday he was heartened that Western Isles Labour councillor Norman Macdonald, who represents Uig, where the chessmen were found in 1831, had said he thought some of the 1,000-year-old pieces should be on permanent display on Lewis.

“If the Lewis Chessmen were found tomorrow, I think there would be no question that they would stay in Lewis,” he said.

“Eventually, somebody is going to say it is a reasonable request and we will keep pushing that door until it opens.”

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for all the pieces to be returned to Scotland.

Some 15 SNP MSPs have signed it on the basis that some of the pieces should be based in Museum nan Eilean at Stornoway.

The iconic pieces, thought to have been made in Norway between 1150 and 1200, are carved out of walrus ivory and whales’ teeth.

A spokeswoman for the British Museum said the Western Isles were part of the kingdom of Norway, not Scotland, when the figures were made.