Fury at BBC's English history of Scotland

IT WAS hailed by BBC Scotland as one of its most ambitious projects ever. But already the ten-part series A History of Scotland has run into controversy, with a second senior Scottish historian publicly attacking the programme.

Professor Allan Macinnes told The Scotsman that he had resigned from the series' advisory board after its first meeting in November.

"I thought the whole production was dreadful," he said.

"The first provisional script I got was so Anglo-centric I couldn't believe it," Prof Macinnes said. "It was written on the basis as if Scotland was a divided country until the Union (with England] came along and civilised it. I felt it was just nonsense."

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A History of Scotland's advisory board, which includes leading historians, agencies such as Historic Scotland and a history teachers' representative, meets for a second time this week.

But last week Professor Tom Devine, perhaps Scotland's best-known historian, revealed he had turned down the offer of a place on the board. While saying he "warmly welcomed" the show, he complained of an "old-fashioned" approach to Scottish history and the choice of archeologist Neil Oliver as presenter.

The programme is due on screen next November, with the first five parts ending with the Act of Union in 1707. It is the keystone of a "multi-platform" project from BBC Scotland, called Scotland's History. It includes linked live concerts from historic locations, and radio and website programming aimed at "bringing the country's history to life".

But the first script, Prof Macinnes said, was "very traditionalist", full of kings and queens. "Everything was written from the point of view of England and Scotland, as if Scotland didn't have any relations with any other country."

Mr Macinnes is a professor of early modern history at Strathclyde University, a published author and expert on the period up to and including the Union of the Crowns. He said another reason he resigned was the programme makers expected his time for free. "They seem to regard working for the BBC as an unpaid honour."

He conceded that the programme's second script might have changed,

but complained of an "awful phrase": "Scotland was a divided nation". He said: "At the time, England was divided, France was divided, Germany didn't even exist. I would like to see it put Scotland in its wider European context. You don't need to look at England all the time."

BBC Scotland said: "The whole point of the advisory group is to look at the bigger picture, and we have been very much working with them and taking on board their suggestions.

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"No scripts as such have been issued. Early drafts are always open to discussion and differing interpretations."

Another top Scottish historian, Jenny Wormald, remains on the panel. She said: "I had my own worries: for example, I didn't want too much made of Robert the Bruce, because I wanted Scottish history to be made of more than our great heroes. I didn't win on that one."


PROFESSOR Allan Macinnes worked at the universities of Glasgow and Aberdeen before his appointment as professor of early modern history at Strathclyde University.

He has written on the history of the Highlands, including Scottish Jacobitism and the Highland clans. His book, Union and Empire: the Making of the United Kingdom in 1707, was published last year by Cambridge University Press, which called it a "major new interpretation" of the Act of Union in a "broad European and colonial context". Professor Macinnes was among a group of historians who lobbied the Scottish Parliament to commemorate officially the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union last January. He argues that Scottish politicians who negotiated the Treaty of Union were not "a parcel of rogues bought for English gold", but politically inept negotiators.