TV historian sparks fury of a nation with 'feeble little Scotland' jibe
A LEADING historian was under pressure to apologise yesterday after he described Scotland as a "feeble little nation".
David Starkey also hit out at Robert Burns, describing him as a "boring provincial poet", and dismissed bagpipes as "awful" on BBC's Question Time.
The outburst provoked 72 complaints to the BBC and the show's website has been inundated with comments from angry viewers.
Professor Robert Crawford, of St Andrews University, a Burns expert and poet, said the attack on Scotland's Bard was typical of a recent strain of English nationalism.
He said Dr Starkey's onslaught followed similarly derogatory remarks by the Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman, who recently ridiculed Burns as "the king of doggerel".
Prof Crawford said: "It seems that Burns is a target for people who want to push forward English nationalism to express some form of anti-Scottishness.
"I don't know why this is the case, but it is clear that his poetry is not widely heard in England. Certainly, people in America, Russia, here in Scotland and around the world hear Burns differently and have great enthusiasm for him."
He added: "It is strange, because it is clear that (Starkey and Paxman] are not stupid, but their comments are."
The attack on Scotland came when Dr Starkey was answering a question on whether the English should have a holiday for St George's day – Thursday, when the programme was broadcast.
He responded: "If we decide to go down this route of an English national day, it will mean we have become a feeble little country, just like the Scots and the Welsh and the Irish."
He went on: "We do not make a great fact about Shakespeare, like the Scots do about that deeply boring, provincial poet Burns, and we do not have national music like the awful bagpipe. The Scots and the Welsh are typical small nations with a romantic 19th-century-style nationalism."
Leading Scottish historian Neal Ascherson rubbished the remarks as "stupid English prejudice".
Political opponents in Scotland joined forces to demand that Dr Starkey – who is presenting a much-criticised Channel 4 series on Henry VIII – apologise.
SNP culture minister Michael Russell branded Dr Starkey "a publicity seeker" and invited him to Scotland to learn about the country.
"He may be a very well-qualified academic but, unfortunately, when it comes to Scotland he still has an awful lot to learn," he said.
Russell Brown, the Labour MP for Dumfries and Galloway, where Burns lived for many years and is buried, described the controversial historian as "silly" and insisted he must apologise for "writing off a nation".
Liberal Democrat culture spokesman, the MSP Iain Smith, said: "David Starkey should know more about the significant contributions Scotland has made to the world, from the Edinburgh Enlightenment to the invention of the television. As a small nation, Scotland has always punched above its weight."
Viewers of the show have left angry messages on the Question Time website message board.
David McIntyre of Glasgow pleaded with BBC Scotland not to air the historian's programmes. "I refuse to contribute to this man's salary," he said.
Alistair Sey of Aberdeen added: "David Starkey is an arrogant English snob."
And Kerr Matthews, also of Aberdeen, added that Dr Starkey "did more for the cause of independence in one minute than 300 years of Westminster rule".
Jim Mullen from Haddenham asked if Dr Starkey could be reported for racist comments.
He was born in the Lake District and began his academic career at the London School of Economics.
He is a regular on Radio 4's Moral Maze debating programme. In his latest television series, on Henry VIII, he has been accused of exaggerating the importance of the Tudor monarch.
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