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Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Man or Myth – a strange article in Radio Times this week

Radio Times carries a full page article on page 25 headed 'Man or Myth’ by Dr. Fiona Watson of Dundee University in a Q&A format, talking to James Gill of Radio Times. The rationale for commissioning this appears to be a link to ‘Bloody Tales’ screened on Monday next by National Geographic channel.

Dr. Watson’s final comment ‘Braveheart is more fiction than  fact ..’ etc. makes reference to Alex Salmond, the SNP, xenophobia, anti-English sentiment and devolution. I have emailed Dr. Watson, a respected historian - whom I am sure has no political motivation in making such comments – to point out that neither Alex Salmond, the SNP nor the independence movement is  anti-English or xenophobic and has never sought to endorse or exploit the ‘Braveheart’ film, with all its manifest Hollywood inaccuracies.

I have also observed that the SNP and the independence movement celebrates William Wallace as a great Scottish historical figure (as do most Scots) who is most certainly not a myth, and I have referred her to the words of the great English historian George Macaulay Trevelyan, the great nephew of  Macaulay and the last historian writing in the Whig traditions, and the following extract from his History of England(1937) -

“A guerrilla chief of genius, a tall man of iron strength, who suddenly appears on the page of history, as if from nowhere, defeated at Stirling Bridge an English Army under its blundering feudal chief, the Earl of Warenne, of quo Warranto fame. Thence William Wallace broke ravaging into Northumberland and Cumberland.

This unknown knight, with little but his great name to identify him in history, had lit a fire which nothing since has ever put out.

Here, in Scotland, contemporaneously with very similar doings in Switzerland, a new ideal and tradition of wonderful potency was brought into the world; it had no name then, but now we should call it democratic patriotism. It was not the outcome of theory. The unconscious qualities of a people had given it reality in a sudden fit of rage. “


  1. Well done Peter. I haven't heard the interview and disappointed that Fiona Watson seems, like many others,to have conflated the Hollywood additional rubbish with the essential truths about Wallace - even in Braveheart! And to then use it to attack Salmond and the SNP is yet more unforgiveable Scottish cringe!
    I honestly thought she was better than that!
    Hope to see you soon.

  2. It was a full-page in Radio Times (p25) based on an interview, not a broadcast, Alex, and the more I read it, the worse it get.

    This issue also features a full, hagiographic write-up on Boris Johnson, with Royal Family PR-style coverage.

    This man is a politician, touted as the saviour of the Conservative Party, and a likely future leader. What the hell is Radio Times up to? Can we look forward to a similar glowing tribute and coverage for Alex Salmond, the likely future leader of an independent Scotland? Or perhaps an article by a historian debunking Henry the Vth - Man or Myth? Or Churchill - Great Leader or opportunistic drunk?



  3. Janet Menzies has no Google account set up, so sent me the following comment by email, and I have her permission to post it here -


    I too read the Radio Times interview with Dr Watson and have been noting the growing love affair that the Radio Times has been enjoying with Conservative icons, such as Boris Johnston and David Cameron.

    I was delighted to see that you have already contacted Dr Watson but I am left wondering whether her views have indeed been unwittingly placed in a manipulated context or whether she was actually happy for her interview to be published as is? If the former, then she must be terribly naive. If the latter, I would question her objectivity as a historian and her ability to present views in a balanced way. What I did find interesting, irrespective of Dr Watson herself, was that the Radio Times chose to highlight the 'xenophobia' quote alone...

    In any case, I feel so much better about the fact that after suffering about 20 minutes of post reading personal irk, I called to cancel our RT subscription noting the reason being Dr Watson's article. I said that, to me, it was 'politically weighted'. I apologised to the innocent call handler for my annoyance who assured me that my comment would be fed back to the editor.

    Anyway, that'll be the last RT coming through our front door.

    Janet Menzies

    1. Janet, I'm delighted to say that Dr. Watson, a respected academic with a deep knowledge of Scottish history, has been in touch with me, and has given me permission to say that she was not given the opportunity to review the copy of this article after interview and was unhappy about the impression it has given that she was offering a political view as well as an historical one. I quote -

      "The SNP have done a great job in explicitly not being xenophobic. I sighed when I saw the copy, but it was too late by then."

      "I entirely agree that this will give an impression in these 'interesting times' that I said something that I didn't. I will see how National Geographic reacts. But feel free to state categorically that, while I did make a comment on anti-English sentiment generally, particularly in relation to the 2006 world cup, I most certainly did not refer to the SNP government, which came out with statements condemning the actions of those few."

      I am delighted at Dr. Watson's response - it was exactly as I had anticipated from someone of her reputation and academic objectivity.



  4. I too read the article with disappointment.

    The comment which most struck me related to Wallace's execution: "This is what happens when you go against your king."

    The word "your" is contentious, and I hope that Dr Watson did not use it in this context. As well say of Bin Laden: "This is what happens when you go against your president."

  5. See my comment above on Dr. Watson's clarification of her position.

  6. Relieved to see the clarification from Dr Watson as she has long held my admiration as being an academic of Scottish history who has almost uniquely resisted the 'subtle pressures'.

    I have always considered her unwillingness to bend under their influence an example of career bravery that many others in her chosen field should hold as a mirror to their own conscience.

    When the joke of historiography eventually backfires on our current crop of compliant chroniclers, as it surely will when examined by future historians, I hope they find her name and accord it the honour it deserves.

  7. Xenophobia - an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers

    It seems Dr Watson deems it acceptable to label Scottish people ‘Xenophobic’ for any
    feelings of resentment for the multiple centuries of brutal suppression meted
    out to the Scottish people by the English Government.
    Funny, I always associated the word ‘Xenophobia’ with that small minded
    attitude, the kind of borderline racism one experiences in some pockets of
    As a modern, open minded and culturally aware young Scot, with a
    multi ethnic social base, and an anti xenophobic philosophy, I base my
    resentments, my sorrow and my anger toward the English government
    purely on historic facts, and not on an ‘unreasonable fear or hatred’...

    1. Dr. Fiona Watson didn't do any such thing, as my correspondence with her clearly shows. Her views were distorted and misrepresented by the Radio Times.

      Read all the comments above, HF.