En garde: Battle re-enactment saved by knife law changes


By Neil Pooran

A LAST minute change to laws tackling knife crime has saved Scotland’s largest historical re-enactment festival from the scrapheap or a forced move into England.

The future of Scotland’s Festival of History, which takes place in Lanark in August, was put in jeopardy by laws tackling knife crime introduced last year.

The legislation was aimed at tightening up the sale of blades.

But the way wording of the new law meant organisers feared they would have to cancel their historical battle re-enactments.

Children’s wooden swords and the knives and swords used by people taking part in the festival’s battle re-enactments may have been included.

The festival, which last year attracted 5,500 visitors, draws in historical battle re-enactment groups from across Europe.

The new law meant that many of the specialists travelling to Scotland from other parts of the UK and Europe to take part in the colourful, two-day event would have needed a knife dealer’s licence.

Faced with individual bills of up to 300, which would have left them out of pocket or wiped out any money they made from the event, many were set to turn their back on the festival, putting its future under serious threat.

Organisers even considered moving Scotland’s Festival of History south of the border into England.

But now, thanks to a campaign started by Karen Gillon, former Clydesdale MSP, the law is being changed by a Scottish Statutory Instrument (SSI) this summer just in time for the festival on August 20 and 21.

Festival director George Topp said:

“In less than 10 years this event has gone from being a one day local medieval fair to the country’s national history festival and one of the top such events in the UK, with 500 specialists from across Europe re-telling 2,000 years of history.

“But the new legislation had put its future very much in jeopardy. A proposed amendment to it didn’t specify what was meant by bladed, and we had contradictory advice on what was covered, even to the extent of including pencil sharpeners and lawn mowers. “

“The festival is run by volunteers and has no commercial sponsorship, so we could not afford to take this to court for a definitive ruling.

“Losing the people who make this festival so unique meant we faced having to either cancel it, or do something radical like moving Scotland’s national history festival over the border into England.

“We did actually start along that path, but Lanark’s then local MSP Karen Gillon stepped in and began lobbying Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill.

“Thanks to her support we eventually met with the government’s lawmakers, who emphasised that the act was never meant to include historical re-enactment.

“They were as anxious as us to see the festival continue and prosper.

“We now have a further amendment which takes Scottish re-enactment events, such as Lanark, out of the legal requirements. This is due to become law just before August’s festival. “

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “This well-managed event is important to the local economy and as such we acted to enable it to go ahead by ensuring our tough licensing laws did not penalise responsible dealers on the festival site.

“We will monitor the implementation of these changes and we have reserved the right to rescind the exemption should any problems arise.”

This year’s event has also received the backing of Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond.

He said:

“This is a fantastic event that highlights just how important Scotland’s heritage is and the role the nation has played in events that have shaped the world. “

Mrs Gillon said:

“I stay very close to where the festival. Me and my family go every year, and my children are really looking forward to it. It’s also great because it brings a lot of money into the local economy. “