ONE COLD day last December the author Alexander McCall Smith, creator of the world famous No?1 Ladies Detective Agency, took a stroll down to Edinburgh's Dovecot, a tapestry studio in the heart of the city.
There, he stumbled upon artist Andrew Crummy's Battle of Prestopans Tapestry, which commemorates the famous skirmish and at 104-metres (341ft) in length, is the longest tapestry in the world. It was, says, McCall Smith, "an extraordinary moment".
"I was watching the expressions on the faces of people looking at it and they were just bowled over. It's a wonderful way of telling a story and Andrew has got this marvellous ability to encapsulate a narrative. It's a beautiful art form. So I said to him, 'how about doing the whole history of Scotland?' and he happened to say yes."
Six months on and the Great Tapestry of Scotland project is gathering steam. Yesterday at the Borders Book Festival, McCall Smith, along with Crummy and writer and historian Alistair Moffat, officially launched their list of 107 historical events that will tell the story of Scotland. They will be illustrated in separate tapestry panels, each a metre in length, and will be stitched by volunteers from across the country. On completion - in about two years' time - it will be gifted to the nation, and put on public display. There are also plans to tour it round the country. It will be something, McCall Smith hopes, that is "going to give an awful lot of people an awful lot of pleasure".
But it might not be quite so easy as that. For this is Scotland, where all discussions about history and identity seem destined for controversy and lengthy, late-night arguments fuelled by whisky. Moffat, who took on the task of compiling the 107 events, admits that when it comes to what he's chosen - and left out - "it's bound to be the case that people won't agree".
"I fully expect it," he says cheerfully. "By its nature it must be controversial because it is selective. And if people are critical then I think that's great. It shows they care."
The events - which start at the prehistoric glaciers over Ben Lomond and move through history all the way to the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 with nods to everything from Bannockburn to the Black Death to Dolly the Sheep - are already raising eyebrows. Historian Michael Fry describes the list as "a bit parochial", and points to a number of major events which are missing.
"I see there's a reference to 'Scotland and the drive for empire', but I would have thought you could be more graphic than that," he says.
"Major medical achievements are also missing, such as Sir James Young Simpson and anaesthesia, Sir Alexander Fleming and penicillin. Two religious events also strike me as gaps: the martydrom of St Magnus on Orkney and the Disruption of the Kirk in 1843. There is also no mention of David Livingstone exploring Africa. A big black mark for missing that."
Historian Tom Devine, author of The Scottish Nation: 1700-2007, is kinder. "Scotland is an argumentative nation, sometimes verging on the truculent," he says. "My main impression is that they've done a good job. I like that a quarter of the panels deal with the early, often forgotten history of Scotland, and there is a good mix of varied historical events and elements of popular culture like Scottish comedy."
Devine acknowledges compiling such a list is difficult. "It's an impossible task, particularly in Scotland, where there are so many people with diversity of view. I'm certain elements on this list will create controversy. I also suspect that this is no bad thing because it gets people talking."
Some of the panels seem almost designed to court controversy, such as the one that will depict "Cumbernauld new town" - one-time winner of the infamous "Carbuncle" award for the most dismal urban space in Scotland. Devine however, says he can see the point of that entry - as well as its wry humour.
He says: "There is a strength in the fact that it can't be an entirely positive story. The past is chequered, there's a lot of blackness as well as light, and I think that's a nice wee cheeky reference there in including something like that."
Moffat too, agrees that any comprehensive history of a nation must include the bad as well as the good.
"There are plenty of disastrous things in there - the Black Death, the Glencoe Massacre, the Darien scheme. It is a mixed story and we haven't shirked that because I think we're big enough to take it."
Devine does have concerns over some of the panels, however. He says the date - 1780s - for the Highland and Lowland Clearances is wrong, and also takes issue with the panel depicting the invention of the modern kilt in 1723 in Lochaber. Although the theory that the kilt was invented by an Englishman in that year - perpetuated by the historian Sir Hugh Trevor Roper - has found favour, many Scots historians believe it to be a false and almost defamatory statement.
"I don't think many serious historians believe the Scottish kilt was invented then," Devine says drily.
Devine also worries about the implications of lumping the Irish famine and immigration into the same panel as the creation of the Old Firm football clubs.
"The two football clubs were founded almost half a century after the famine and are obviously not directly related to that. I think that's a bit iffy, not least because Irish immigration to Scotland was actually well advanced before the famine. I think a panel on Irish immigration would have been sufficient, or put Rangers and Celtic elsewhere."
He would also have liked to see more reference to what he calls 'greater Scotland'. "Scotland's impact on the globe is extraordinary. Going abroad puts a Scottish stamp on parts of the world and the longevity of that huge migration is amazing. It also had an amazing effect on Scotland itself."
But these are, in some ways, minor quibbles. Perhaps what is of greater significance is that the tapestry will get Scots talking about their history.
McCall Smith for one, feels passionately that Scotland's history is of huge importance to its people.
"We need to remind ourselves of our history, because of what history teaches us about ourselves. If one is not aware of one's history, one is not aware of who one is, really."
And what of the tapestry's future? Will its story be added to by the next generation? Moffat says: "If Scotland wins the World Cup, we'll definitely add a panel."
Story of a nation
1. The ice dome over Ben Lomond, glacier splintering, meltwater torrents.
2. The Wildwood and its fauna c8,500BC
3. Pioneers at Barns Ness, East Lothian, and Cramond c8,000BC
4. The hall at Balbridie on Deeside and the Ring of Brodgar, Orkney, c3,000BC
5. Pytheas circumnavigates Scotland c320BC, Calanais, Lewis
6. Mon Graupius 83AD, Hadrian's Wall 117AD, Antonine Wall 142AD
7. Ninian at Whithorn c400
8. Dalriadan influx and Columba at Iona 563AD
9. Book of Kells, Lindisfarne Gospels, Cuthbert at Melrose c670AD
10. Ruthwell and Bewcastle Crosses and the Angles 670-700AD
11. Pictish stones and Dunnichen 685AD
12. Vikings drag longship over the isthmus at Tarbet in Argyll
13. The siege and fall of Dumbarton Rock to the Vikings 870AD
14. Constantine climbs the Hill of Faith at Scone, 906AD
15. Battle of Carham on the Tweed 1018
16. King MacBeth in Moray 1050s
17. St Margaret at Dunfermline c1080
18. Four Border abbeys, David I and the wool trade c1130s
19. St Andrews Cathedral c1160 onwards
20. Duns Scotus and the Schoolmen
21. Finlaggan on Islay, the Lordship of the Isles, Somerled c1160
22. Haakon's fleet at Kyleakin, Skye, and battle of Largs 1263
23. Death of Alexander III at Kinghorn, 1286
24. William Wallace and Andrew Moray c1300
25. Bannockburn 1314
26. Bruce's siege of Carlisle 1315 and beginning of Little Ice Age
27. The Black Death, deserted farms c1349
28. St Andrews University 1410
29. Orkney and Shetland ceded by Denmark to Scotland 1469
30. Chepman and Miller set up the first Scottish printing press 1507
31. Flodden 1513
32. Scottish Reformation - a school in every parish, 1560s
33. The Border Reivers, rescue of Kinmont Willie 1593
34. Robert Carey's ride from London to Edinburgh in 1603
35. The making of the King James Bible.
36. The National Covenant at Greyfriars Kirkyard 1638
37. Montrose defeated at Philiphaugh near Selkirk 1645
38. The Killing Times in 1680s, field conventicle at Irongray near Dumfries
39. Massacre at Glencoe 1692
40. Royal Bank of Scotland founded 1695
41. The Darien Scheme
42. The Act of Union, Edinburgh 1707
43. Jacobite Rising 1715, chaotic battle at Sheriffmuir near Perth
44. Modern kilt invented, Lochaber 1723
45. The Ordnance Survey begun
46. Advance of English, retreat of Gaelic
47. Jacobite Rising at Prestonpans, 1745
48. Royal and Ancient Golf Club founded in St Andrews 1754
49. First school for deaf and dumb children established in Edinburgh 1760
50. James Small and invention of the swing plough 1770
51. Enlightenment Edinburgh, Encyclopaedia Britannica at Anchor Close 1771
52. James Watt and steam engine 1771
53. Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Kirkcaldy, 1776
54. David Hume, below, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Paris
55. Highland and Lowland Clearances begin 1780s
56. James Hutton's Theory of the Earth, Siccar Point, Berwickshire, 1788
57. Scotland and the drive for empire
58. The Forth and Clyde Canal dug, Irish navvies, Burke and Hare
59. New Lanark 1783
60. Robert Burns' Tam O' Shanter 1791
61. The False Alarm, threat of Napoleonic invasion 1801
62. Walter Scott, 1810s, start of romantic Scotland and tourism
63. The Scotsman founded 1817
64. George Smith founds the Glenlivet Distillery 1824
65. The growth of Glasgow, snapshot 1825
66. First Reform Act 1832
67. Victoria at Balmoral, John Brown, 1850s/60s
68. The railway boom, the Forth Bridge
69. A Caithness school 1851, 75 per cent of children aged five-15 at school, same in Berwickshire, more than anywhere else in Britain.
70. Irish immigration after the famine, founding of Celtic and Rangers.
71. Scotland in Africa - the Buccleuch panel
72. Victorian sport mania, Scottish Rugby Union founded 1873, first international match between Scotland and England.
73. Scottish America, emigrants' impact - 19th century
74. Battle of the Braes, Skye, 1882, Napier Commission
75. John Watson Nicol composes An Ataireachd Ard (The Surge of the Sea) 1883
76. Robert Louis Stevenson, Master of Ballantrae, Treasure Island
77. Scottish Trades Union Congress formed in Glasgow 1897
78. The Discovery sails from Dundee
79. Charles Rennie Mackintosh designs the Glasgow School of Art
80. 1914-1918 War
81. The building of HMS Hood, Battle of Ypres 1917
82. The sinking of HMS Iolaire off Stornoway 1919
83. Women's suffrage
84. General Strike 1926
85. Hugh MacDiarmid writes A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle.
86. Ramsay MacDonald Prime Minister, rise of the Labour Party
87. Great Depression in 1930s, three million unemployed
88. Second World War, St Valery, 51st Highland Division captured, skirmish in the air over the Forth
89. The Clydebank Blitz
91. The first Edinburgh Festival 1947
92. National Health Service founded, Arden House revolutionised
93. Television arrives - 1950s, STV, Grampian, Border TV, BBC.
94. Cumbernauld New Town
95. North Sea Oil licenses granted 1965, Aberdeen, Nigg Bay.
96. Linwood begins production of the Hillman Imp
97. Pop music booms, Lulu, Donovan
98. Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in, Jimmy Reid, 1971
99. Stop Yer Ticklin Jock! Scottish comedy from Harry Lauder through to Chic Murray to Billy Connolly, right.
100. The rise of the SNP, 1974 elections
101. Scotland at the movies - Sean Connery, Gregory's Girl, Whisky Galore.
102. Scotland's World Cup campaign in Argentina, Ally's Army, 1978
103. Miners' strike 1982, decline of heavy industry
104. Gaelic resurgence, Runrig, announcement of TV service, 1989
105. Glasgow European City of Culture 1990
106. Dolly the Sheep cloned in Edinburgh 1997
107. The Scottish Parliament reconvenes 1999.