Scottish environmental activists with the group This is Rigged smashed the glass case of the sword of William Wallace, a knight who fought for Scottish independence, in an act of protest Thursday morning.
In a video shared to Twitter, two young activists, who go by Kat and Xander, used chisels, hammers, and a rock to break the glass case that protects the sword, demanding that the Scottish government do more to support a just transition to a green economy and refrain from approving new gas and oil licenses.
A spokesperson that works with Sterling Council, which stewards the monument, called the act “shameful”.
“We are currently assessing whether there is any damage to the historic Wallace Sword and the cost of repairs,” the spokesperson shared in an email. The sword will likely not be on view for at least several weeks, the spokesperson added.
Though the action brings to mind the protests that groups like Just Stop Oil and Letzte Generation began enacting at museums last year, sometimes splashing covered paintings with paint or glueing themselves to the pedestals of statues, the protest is actually inspired by a different history, according to the activists.
Held at the National Wallace Monument, the Wallace sword was a key site for feminist protest during the suffragette movement. In 1912, suffragettes smashed the case that held Wallace’s sword. Written on the rock used to smash the case —or, in other tellings, a note that was left behind— the suffragettes wrote: “Your liberties were won by the sword, release the women who are fighting for their liberties” and demanded that suffragettes that were being force-fed in Irish prisons be released.
This is Rigged protestors inscribed a rock with a similar message: “Your liberties were won by the sword. Your rights were won by the suffragettes. We must once again fight for what is right. No new oil and gas. Fair transition now.”
“Our histories are full of stories of resistance, and every right and every liberty that we have is something that people have fought for,” Hannah Torrance, an activist with This is Rigged, told ARTnews.
“We love Scotland deeply and we care about our culture, and we really want to preserve it. The only way that we can preserve it is by taking this sort of action, because 70% of Scotland’s main heritage sites are at massive risk of flooding because of climate change.”
Scottish land is a huge producer of oil, but because it is not independent from the United Kingdom, Scotland receives little direct economic benefit. Oil has served as a rallying point for Scottish independence since the discovery of the North Sea oilfields in the 1970s.
Activists with This is Rigged hope that they can pressure the government into preventing further licenses for oil and gas production and invest, instead, in their booming renewable energy sector by retraining oil workers in the green energy sector.
In January, the Scottish government announced that it was opposed to all new oil and gas exploration and that it no longer supported “maximizing economic recovery” of its fossil fuel reserves. Yet, this is just a draft, and licenses going through the approval process currently wouldn’t be effected by this proposal.
But they need to do it as soon as possible, according to Torrance. The existing and proposed oil fields in Scotland have the potential to tip the world into 2.5 degrees celsius of warming should all of their reserves be used, a catastrophic scenario, the activist said.