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Why Scotland can't Handel the BBC's new World Cup anthem

THE BBC was accused of "insensitivity and tactlessness" last night after choosing to mark the World Cup this summer with a piece of music that celebrates the man responsible for perhaps the most infamous military massacre in Scottish history - the battle of Culloden.

See the Conquering Hero Comes, by Handel, will accompany the national broadcaster's coverage of the football tournament from Germany. While the music frequently and innocently accompanied victorious football teams across the UK in the first half of the 20th century, for some Scots it has much darker connotations.

Handel composed the score as a tribute to the Duke of Cumberland, more vividly remembered as Butcher Cumberland, who led government forces to victory over the heavily outnumbered Jacobites at Culloden.

Last night, politicians and historians criticised the choice of a song which celebrated the massacre. Rob Gibson, the SNP's Highland and Islands MSP, said: "How can they possibly encourage people to support the England team when we are exposed to symbols of oppression like this?

"As far as I'm concerned the BBC often causes offence with its insensitivity to Scottish history. At a time when multiculturalism is being celebrated, I can't understand how they can be so insensitive. It's an anglocentric view they have of the world and of music."

The MSP, who has written a number of books on Scottish history, including a recent one on the clearances, said the BBC should be making more programmes on history and how these events shaped the world.

Ted Cowan, Professor of Scottish history at Glasgow University, described the choice of song as tactless, but said it was typical of the outdated sentiments that often surface in football. "I think it's pretty tactless to revive something like that," he said.

Prof Cowan said Culloden had been misrepresented in history as a battle of nations. He added: "Culloden was not actually a battle between Scotland and England, there were Scots and English on both sides. But the authorities in London hijacked the victory and portrayed it as beating the rebellious Scots."

About 1,000 of the 5,000 troops loyal to Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, were slaughtered by the 9,000-strong troops of William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland at Culloden, in just 40 minutes, on 16 April, 1746. The battle, which took place on moorland near Inverness, forever shattered the Jacobite dream of installing a Stuart on the British throne. A further 1,000 Highlanders who fled the battlefield died in the subsequent weeks.

Angus MacNeil, the SNP's culture spokesman at Westminster and Western Isles MP, said he regretted the fact that the BBC's move could give "posthumous publicity" to Cumberland, "a man who should be forgotten in a way Bonnie Prince Charlie will never be".

While Culloden is still regarded as an infamous event by many in Scotland, it was celebrated extensively at the time, by both the English and some lowland, Protestant Scots happy at the defeat of the Jacobites, who were mainly Catholics and Episcopalians.

The London government encouraged those celebrations, and Handel, a German who lived most of his life in England, composed See the Conquering Hero Comes as his contribution.

His classical anthem has now been adapted by Andrew Davis, and the modern rendition, performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra and BBC Singers, has been entitled Sports Prepare.

 
 
 

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