DOZENS of people have quit their membership of Scotland’s heritage organisation over the appointment of “divisive” pro-Union broadcaster Neil Oliver as president.

The historian, archaeologist, author and TV presenter, who was appointed by the National Trust for Scotland in October, angered some nationalists after describing the uncertainty caused by the prospect of a second referendum as a “cancerous presence”. He was also criticised for branding Alex Salmond as a “round, wrecking ball of a man, shaped only to do damage”.

Oliver, who was described as “divisive” by senior SNP members, was chosen to replace Lord Lindsay at the helm of the conservation charity at the Trust’s AGM in Dundee’s Caird Hall last year.

Chairman Sir Moir Lockhead said Oliver was someone who had “spent much of his adult life championing Scotland and its heritage”.

But it has now emerged that 170 people – out of a membership of 380,000 – have quit the NTS, citing his appointment as the reason.

The Trust received between 350 and 400 complaints in the days after the appointment of the 50-year-old but said about 95 per cent were from non-members or people with no connection to the charity.

A spokesman for the organisation said: “The National Trust for Scotland is an apolitical charity and has no interest in an individual’s political views.

“Its members have all political views, and none. Neil Oliver has done a fantastic job in promoting the heritage, history and archaeology of Scotland and that clearly chimes with our objectives as a charity. And those are the skills we are interested in.”

A petition opposing Oliver’s appointment because “he does not have the Scottish people and Scotland’s interests at heart” has been signed by more than 8,300 so far.

Health care worker Catherine Jamieson, from Largs, said the National Trust should pay heed to the protests against Oliver’s appointment.

Ms Jamieson, who is an Scottish independence supporter but says she is not affiliated to any political party, started her first ever petition because she felt strongly that he should not be leading the charity.

“The petition gathered momentum quite quickly, which shocked me, because I didn’t realise that so many other people felt so strongly," she said. "I don’t think he represents Scotland in a Scottish manner.

“If it is the National Trust for Scotland, I think they should pay attention to the protests. The feeling runs much deeper than a lot of people think."

A separate petition on which called for his removal was disabled due to "inappropriate content" after nearly 1,000 signatures.

The Renfrewshire-born broadcaster previously said that criticism of his appointment was “water off a duck’s back” and “only coming from anonymous commentators”.

And he insisted the National Trust for Scotland had not asked him to steer clear of controversy or refrain from commenting on Scottish politics during his tenure in the role.

Last year the TV presenter revealed he quit using social media after being subjected to “vicious” abuse from pro-independence supporters.

The star of BBC show Coast deleted his Twitter account after being being bombarded with hate-filled messages after he spoke out in favour of the Union.

The historian and archaeologist had more than 40,000 followers on the social networking site but has closed it down saying he had grown tired of the abuse.

Mr Oliver’s appointment marked a departure for the charity, which has previously mainly been headed by members of Scotland’s aristocracy including two Dukes of Atholl, the Earl of Wemyss and March, the Marquess of Bute, the Earl of Airlie, the Duke of Buccleuch and most recently Jamie, Earl of Lindsay.

NTS said an overwhelming majority of delegates at the AGM approved the motion to appoint Mr Oliver as president through a show of hands.

Chairman Sir Moir Lockhead explained the rationale of the appointment to the AGM, saying it came after the nomination committee carried out a “lengthy trawl” of people who might fill the gap left by Lord Lindsay.

“In looking for a new president, we decided wanted someone with enormous enthusiasm for Scotland, who knew its nooks and crannies, whose face was well kent, who could help us celebrate and share with more people the work we do and the places we protect.

“The nominations committee, I think, has risen to the challenge. Their selection is bold, inspiring and clearly shows the change that is underway within our Trust.

“The places we care for are for all Scots. So in choosing our new president, the committee has selected someone who has spent much of his adult life championing Scotland and its heritage, unearthing new insights into its stories, sharing our stunning scenery and fascinating audiences all over the world. A global reach, no less.

“Having considered all criteria the person unanimously recommended by the noms committee and approved by our board is Neil Oliver.”

On his election Mr Oliver told the NTS annual general meeting that when the idea of becoming president was suggested to him he thought there had been “some kind of mistake”.

Lord Lindsay told him: “You bring a great skill set to a great role within a great organisation and I think there are exciting times ahead. You certainly have my continued support and very best wishes.”

His Salmond comments came in an article he wrote in May, last year in which he also said: “He [Salmond] and his sort - Sturgeon and the rest - fail even to comprehend what it is they behold and despise. So lacking in imagination are they, their vision of a post-Union future (or, at least, the one they have been inclined to share with us so far) is all but indistinguishable from the present and past that so galls them.

And he concluded by saying: “Vote SNP -- they want to shoot the dog but it’s OK: after it’s dead you can still keep it in your bedroom and stroke it just like always. Maybe give it a new name. Call it Independence.”