THE daring heist by four Glasgow University students to bring the Stone of Destiny back has become famous in Scotland’s history.

Now a new documentary has revealed how earlier plots to retrieve the ancient symbol of Scotland’s monarchy – including using the disguise of an elderly woman in a wheelchair – were doomed.

However, the plans hatched by key nationalist figures in the years before did eventually inspire the successful seizing of the Stone of Scone by a group of four Glasgow University students, who broke into Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1950.

The BBC Radio 4 documentary, Stone of Destiny, highlights how plans were discussed at a secret society set up in 1928 by Sir Compton Mackenzie, famous for the novel Whisky Galore, and poet Hugh MacDiarmid.

Novelist James Robertson told the programme: “In totally open public spaces, they would consume food and lots of drink, which of course meant that the volume got turned up, so they would be discussing their plans, whatever it might entail.

“And in this particular instance, they’d be discussing their plans to remove the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey at the tops of their voices, so that anybody who happened to be lugging into this would be quite clear what their intentions were.

“The newspaper world very rapidly got to know this was happening and going on and newspapers love a story like this because it can run and run.”

The plans generated headlines and stories which portrayed the members of the group as “hotheads” and never got off the ground.

A few years later, MacDiarmid was still keen on the idea and even lined up someone to be able to drive a “fast car” which he believed was a key part of the plan to whisk the Stone back to Scotland.

However, by the time he wanted to ahead with it, the money set aside to rent the car had been “spent in the pub”, the documentary said.

In another plot, some other Glasgow students had a replica of the stone made with the intention of one of them dressing up as an old lady in a wheelchair.

The plan was to hide the replica stone under the seat, then swap it as a distraction was made.

But in the documentary, a recording from the archives, said to be made by James Wood of Elgin, outlines how this went wrong.

“The sad thing was that one of the conspirators was a student at the time, but unfortunately he had a liking for alcohol,” he said.

“One day he went down, about three days before we were due to leave for London, to a little pub called the Blythswood Cottage, and there under the influence of the malignant drink he splashed out the story to a young keen journalist of the Glasgow Evening News.

“He told exactly what we were going to do, how we were going to take the Stone, when and so on, so the whole scheme was completely blasted sky-high.”

The idea was not entirely wasted, however, as Mackenzie used it for a subplot in one of his novels.

The programme, which is presented by Scots poet Len Pennie, will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 tomorrow at 8pm.

The Stone returned to England last week under tight security to be used in the coronation, with a welcome ceremony held last night.