As I write, Scotland's answer to the Bayeux Tapestry is taking shape, stitch by stitch.
Thanks to the flying needles of 200 embroiderers, The Great Tapestry of Scotland will be ready for public view next August. A glorious idea, and an extraordinary feat of artistry and skill, the tapestry will gallop across our history, from ice-age to digital-era and all points in between.
By comparison, the Bayeux project was childishly easy, covering a couple of years in the run-up to the Battle of Hastings. Nothing so simple for Scotland. Originally conceived by Alexander McCall Smith, the highs and lows of the nation's past have been selected by historian Alistair Moffat and entrusted to Andrew Crummy, the artist behind the Prestonpans Tapestry, which inspired McCall Smith's vision.
Choosing the key events in Scotland's story is an unenviable task. Even if this was not already a fractious country, it would surely turn that way as the wrangling begins over those included and excluded.
Last weekend I got a glimpse of the kind of argument the tapestry will raise. The final panel is the only one to depict the living as well as the dead, and nominations for inclusion were put to public vote at Holyrood, as part of the Festival of Politics. Under the guiding hand of the Parliament's Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick, Alistair Moffat and historian Tom Devine proposed 50 "unarguable" names from the past, and I was allowed 25 slots for the living. Once we'd made our pitches, the audience added its own suggestions, before voting on the eight figures at the centre of this last frame of 129 names.
It was quickly obvious which of us had the hardest task. As more than one of the audience pointed out, it's almost impossible to assess the influence of the living. Even some of the finest athletes we've ever seen, such as Sir Chris Hoy, or the sharpest brains, like Professor Peter Higgs, are hard to gauge close up. As a result, no breathing person made the final cut.
I've rarely encountered such an enlightened and impassioned audience, whose suggestions often trumped those from the platform, as did their ruminations. Even the security guards were keen to make a contribution, namely Hamish Henderson, whose Freedom Come-All-Ye- many would prefer as our national anthem.
There was little of the flyting you might have expected, despite Tom Devine's best efforts, but when I proposed journalist Andrew Neil, it sounded as if a gas pipe had burst as the room filled with hissing. Indeed, one former editor of The Scotsman told us that if Neil was included, he would personally scissor him out. Since clearly there was no appetite to allocate space to those who are either controversial, or black sheep, it didn't seem the right time to suggest Fred Goodwin.
The eight top names thus comprised William Wallace, David Hume, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, Henry Raeburn, James Clerk Maxwell, Elsie Inglis and Eric Liddell. No-one could argue with these, except to note the paucity of women, a complaint that was frequently raised.
But something troubled me as historic figures such as Calgacus or Malcolm Canmore or James IV were mooted. Judging from the audience, who nominated scientists, inventors, protesters and writers rather than establishment figures, maybe we need to re-evaluate those who have shaped Scotland.
A historical commission could be set up to take a fresh look at the figures to whom we owe most, for good or ill. Royalty and aristocrats, like all those with authority and wealth, have always been given a place in the pantheon of greats.
Yet you could argue that the likes of James Simpson with chloroform, or Edinburgh-born Marie Stopes with birth control, had far greater lasting impact than Macbeth, or Mary, Queen of Scots, as indeed have many whose names barely register on the conventional Richter scale of power. Maybe it's time to unpick the patrician and male view of history, and look instead at the other side of the cloth where you'll find those too often under-rated or, in the case of women, as near as dammit invisible.
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