CAMPAIGNERS bidding to make the golden eagle Scotland's national bird have been left shocked after the deputy leader of the Tories in Scotland said the symbol was the last thing that victims saw as they were herded into Nazi death camps.
Jackson Carlaw MSP made the remarks about the former emblem of Adolf Hitler's soldiers after campaigners took their case to the Scottish Parliament yesterday.
RSPB Scotland, which has supported from wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan who appeared at Holyrood's Public Petitions Committee, were taken aback when Mr Carlaw cited the use of the eagle as a symbol of both the Roman Empire and Nazi Germany.
The depiction of the bird will have been the last thing some people saw before being "marched to their deaths", Mr Carlaw said.
"The golden eagle is the symbol of a empire that once invaded large parts of Scotland, and more recently of another empire that tried to," he said.
"In the lifetime of many people in this country it was the last thing their relatives saw as they were marched to their deaths.
"It has been a symbol of imperial power of which Scotland is emphatically not, never has been, and hopefully never will be. Is an eagle - the symbol of imperial authority - the right national symbol for a democratic nation like Scotland?"
A "tenacious" robin would be a better symbol, he suggested.
But wildlife documentary maker Gordon Buchanan was critical of the remarks. "He's making a contentious point but I don't think if the symbol was shown to people in Scotland as the national bird, that anyone would see it as Nazi," he said.
The RSPB says there are 431 pairs of golden eagles in Scotland. Persecution of the birds means they are confined to more remote areas of the country, the body says.
Mr Buchanan hopes formal designation could improve eagle numbers. "Speaking to colleagues that I have south of the Border, people that have an appreciation for wildlife, they are absolutely astounded that this persecution, poisonings and shootings of golden eagles continues," he told the committee.
"Giving it the status of Scotland's national bird will help protect it further."
Before the meeting, Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, said: "The majestic sight of a golden eagle soaring effortlessly above the treetops, or along a dramatic cliff edge, never fails to impress, so much so that this spectacular species was recently named Scotland's favourite animal following a public vote.
"What better legacy can we provide for this initiative than to officially designate the eagle as Scotland's national bird?
"It would formally recognise the place this species has unofficially occupied in our culture for many centuries and show our commitment and desire to protect and conserve it, and our wider national heritage."
MSPs agreed to ask the Scottish Government to consider whether to hold a formal consultation on the proposed national bird.
The petition is the 1,500th lodged with MSPs on the Public Petitions Committee. A consultation has already been held in Scotland on whether to adopt a national tree, with the Scots pine a front-runner.
Around the world there is a trend for countries to have a national plant, tree, animal and bird. Countries which already have an eagle as national bird include Afghanistan and Germany (both the white tailed eagle), Mexico (the golden eagle, jointly with the Caracara), the Philippines (the Philippine eagle), the USA (the bald eagle) and South Sudan, Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe (all the African fish eagle).
While MSPs deliberate, Wikipedia has already decided that the national bird of Scotland is the golden eagle.