Page last updated at 12:42 GMT, Friday, 24 April 2009 13:42 UK

'Feeble country' jibe sparks row


Dr Starkey calls Scots a 'feeble little country'

MPs are demanding an apology over remarks made by the outspoken historian Dr David Starkey.

Dr Starkey described Scotland as a "feeble little country" and said Robert Burns was a "deeply boring provincial poet."

He made the comments on the BBC's Question Time programme after he was asked if he supported a public holiday for St George's Day.

Dr Starkey has refused to apologise and says he stands by his comments.

To boos from the audience, Dr Starkey said: "If we decide to go down this route of having an English national day, that means we become a feeble little country, just like the Scots and the Welsh and the Irish.

His attitude and flippancy insults Scots and he should apologise
Brian Donohoe
MP for Central Ayrshire

"Once upon a time England was a great country. Remember we're distinguished by the fact that we don't have national dress.

"We don't make a great fuss about Shakespeare like the Scots do about that deeply boring provincial poet Burns."

He said England did not have national music "like the awful bagpipes".

"What the Scots and Welsh are, are typical small nations with a romantic 19th Century-style nationalism," he said.

After Thursday's broadcast, some viewers rang the BBC switchboard to complain, with one describing his remarks as "racist and hurtful to the Scottish people."

Another said the comments were offensive and derogatory.

'Nothing to add'

Russell Brown, Labour MP for Dumfries and Galloway, said: "This is a silly remark but one that many people will find offensive.

"Mr Starkey's apparent willingness to write off the entire nation of Scotland as 'feeble' shows that a knowledge of history doesn't make you understand the reality of modern life in different parts of the UK.

"Scots don't spend their days walking around in kilts playing the bagpipes and reciting Tam o'Shanter, but that doesn't make us any less proud of that part of our history and culture."

Brian Donohoe, Labour MP for Central Ayrshire, said: "Some people don't like Burns' poems, and there is no requirement that they should.

"But to describe Burns' vibrantly engaging work as 'boring' suggests that Dr Starkey doesn't know what he's talking about.

"His attitude and flippancy insults Scots and he should apologise. "

For the Scottish Government, Culture Minister Michael Russell said: "These are unfortunate and silly comments from someone who has a proven track record in courting controversy.

"I would be delighted to welcome Dr Starkey to Scotland so that he can discover the truth about our country and find out for himself about our rich culture and history.

"Sadly, I fear that there may be no point in extending such an invitation, as Dr Starkey seems to relish being ill-informed and does not appear to have an open mind when it comes to Scotland and what we have to offer as a nation."

A spokesman for the historian said he made the comments in an open debate and had "nothing more to add."

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