ACCORDING to Professor Tom Devine of Aberdeen University, the problem with the late John Prebble [pictured] was that he ''wrote a sort of faction. It was difficult to divine what was based on reasonable research and what was the product of the imagination'' (Jan 31). I expect this is the same Professor Tom Devine who informed an astonished nation, in his magnum opus, The Scottish Nation, that Robert Burns was a Unionist because one song (''Does Haughty Gaul Invasion Threat?'') out of more than 600 works seemed to support the Union.

Given that Professor Devine apparently either ignored or was unaware of the existence of the bulk of the Bard's work, which tends to support the opposite opinion, I am unsurprised he should evince such difficulty in divining the difference between reasonable research and imagination.

Your former columnist Michael Fry is little more gracious. He tells us he thinks John Prebble ''was an inferior historian who did not have the proper respect for evidence. He seemed to come to his subjects with his mind made up''.

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I would remind your readers that this is that very Michael Fry who managed to write (and have serialised in The Herald) a Millennium History of Scotland in which the first six centuries were missing. Mr Fry attempted to justify this lacuna on the somewhat startling grounds that all Scots before 1603 (including Wallace, Dunbar, Henryson, Lindsay, et al) were not Scots at all - at least, not as Michael Fry understood the term. I know of no finer demonstration of the fatuity of the no-true-Scotsman move than this absurdity.

Fortunately, not all Scottish historians display a similar vacuity. Glasgow University, partly at the urging of Professor Ted Cowan, recently bestowed an honorary doctorate on Mr Prebble for his services to Scottish history. Few honorary doctorates have been so richly deserved.

Brian D Finch,

20 Whitelaw Street, Glasgow.