Gary Stewart, vice convenor of the society of William Wallace, describes his experience of the Holyrood petititions system.

The Society of William Wallace has been at the helm of a campaign to secure the return to Scotland of a 700-year-old letter written by the King of France, to help Wallace secure safe passage and an introduction to the Pope.

Demands for the letter to come back to Scotland from London received widespread support, and after a petition was lodged, the Scottish Government made a request, which has now been agreed to, for the document's return.

What made you decide to start a petition?
We do not have a lot of tangible links with Wallace as most of the documentation has been destroyed, so to have something that Wallace actually touched, we felt would be a massive boost for Scotland and for the tourist industry, following on the success of the movie Braveheart. We also felt that for the people of Scotland to see this document with their own eyes and feel a connection to Wallace is something you could never get by seeing a copy of the letter on a computer screen. This is not just for us but our kids and their kids who now will be able to see this letter.

A petition was started in 2005 and nothing really came of it, but after a meeting with Christine Grahame MSP, David R Ross and myself it was decided to get another petition up and running to enable us to get a front bench MSP on board - we thought that would help our cause ten-fold.

How did you go about setting it up?
The petition was written and submitted by Nick Brand. We tried to raise awareness and get signatures via the internet, with Facebook being the main focus, and we used a fundraising evening for David R Ross, who died in January 2010, to launch the petition with Christine Grahame. We also helped launch a Society of William Wallace USA branch, and they really helped us to push the petition in America. We had people in Greece, Canada and Australia really pushing this for us as well.

What happened once your petition had closed?
We were well on our way to getting the letter back by this point and had people involved including Fiona Hyslop, the Culture Secretary. That's why the petition was started - to get someone like her on board to help our case.

Did the Scottish Parliament deal with your petition effectively?
Yes. Everyone in the Parliament involved in the petition was very helpful and even helped us fill some parts in, and Mark Hirst, who was Christine Grahame's researcher, was a massive help in our cause.

Did your campaign involve other activities?
We sent e-mails to MSPs, to the First Minister, the Culture Secretary and to newspapers. We got historians like Professor Geoffrey Barrow (who is considered the main authority on this period of Scottish history ) involved. I even did an interview on Greek radio regarding the letter and was also involved with the National Archives of Scotland.

We were lucky with the people we got involved, like Fiona Hyslop, who has been a great help, and Dr. Fiona Watson, Nick Brand, Alan Reid who launched the Facebook campaign and Mark Hirst, who was sensational with the work he has put in. Without David R Ross bringing this up, this would never have been done.
We are grateful for all the help and support every single person has given us regarding this. The Society of William Wallace has backed us all the way even in times when we felt we had lost in our cause.

Are you satisfied that you have achieved what you set out to? How important was the petition in that?
I'm totally satisfied, as the letter is coming home in January and will be put on display. We believe that without the petition, many people may not have got involved. It enabled us to achieve the goal that the late David R Ross set, and that means so much for all of us involved in this campaign.

We see a massive tourist chance here for the people of Scotland and for the nation as a whole. When the National Museum of Scotland first opened, it was criticised for not having much on display relating to Wallace. Their reply was that they didn't have anything. Now they do.

Do you have any advice for someone who is considering submitting a petition to the Scottish Parliament?
The best advice I can give is never give up - it took us nearly six years to achieve what we set out to do.

Get an MSP on board who is on your side and keep the pressure up, whether by phone calls or e-mail. As soon as you take the pressure off, so will they, so it is important to keep the momentum going.

For more information on parliamentary petitions, go to

The story of the William Wallace letter