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Call for our politicians to unite on Scottish studies

LEADING academics, artists, writers and poets have united to fight "depressing" attempts to politicise the teaching of Scottish studies in secondary schools.

CALL: Arts Professor Murray Pittock of Glasgow University. life FIGURES: Scottish studies supporters Sandy Stoddart, taking a breather from sculpting, top; Liz Lochhead, in full flow,  left; and author James Robertson. Main picture: Jamie Simpson
CALL: Arts Professor Murray Pittock of Glasgow University. life FIGURES: Scottish studies supporters Sandy Stoddart, taking a breather from sculpting, top; Liz Lochhead, in full flow, left; and author James Robertson. Main picture: Jamie Simpson

The group – which includes novelist James Robertson, sculptor Sandy Stoddart and National Makar Liz Lochhead – wants to see cross-party support for Scottish studies.

In recent weeks, the Scottish Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Conservatives have both questioned the motives of the SNP in promoting the subject.

However, Professor Murray Pittock, head of the College of Arts at Glasgow University and convener of the new group, urged politicians to take a united approach.

"Members of our group have differing political views, but they share the idea that studying Scotland is normal and [studying one's own history] is what every country should do," he said.

"It is vital to understand the country we live in and its wonderful – and sometimes questionable – achievements and to combat damaging myths of inferiority.

"It is depressing when a crucial development of this nature is used in a political way."

Mr Pittock said politicians had failed to appreciate the strength of public support for Scottish studies and the way it had grown over time.

And he pointed out that former Tory Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Forsyth had even suggested a free-standing Scottish history Standard Grade.

He said: "The public at large want to see this happening and the political parties are behind the curve on this.

"There has been a lot of demand from the 1990s onwards from across the political spectrum and we are late in trying to establish a cross-party consensus.

"One of the things that is disappointing is that politicians seem to regard studying Scotland as some kind of political plot when it so much more important than that."

Last night, the Scottish Government welcomed the support. A spokeswoman said: "It should not be left to chance whether young people have the opportunity to learn about Scotland's rich heritage.

"The Scottish Government has been clear for the past year that strengthening learning about Scotland should be integral to the curriculum and, indeed, a survey last year showed that 90% of the public are on board with this approach."

Last year, The Herald revealed that all pupils will be expected to learn about their heritage through the new subject of Scottish studies, which explores the country's history, literature, language and culture.

However, the Tory's Scottish education spokeswoman Liz Smith insisted Scottish history was already adequately taught in schools and voiced fears about the "pseudo-nationalist undertones" of the subject.

And the Scottish Liberal Democrats said that, while it was important that Scottish children learned about their cultural, linguistic and historical heritage there would be "a suspicion with this administration that ministers could be tempted to hijack the curriculum for their own political purposes".

The new body, which is non-political and non-partisan, also includes Dauvit Broun, Professor of Scottish History at Glasgow University, Robert Crawford, Professor of Modern Scottish Literature at St Andrews University and Rob Dunbar, research professor of Gaelic at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Also involved are Matthew Fitt, Scots language education consultant, Gerry Hassan, author and political commentator, Margaret Kelleher, president of the International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures and Fiona Stafford, Professor of English Literature at Oxford University.

This week marks the formal launch of a new national online resource called Studying Scotland.

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