... but historians can teach him a lesson

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The Independent Online
Baffled academics yesterday questioned the Prime Minister's grasp of Britain's past after he suggested devolution would destroy "a 1,000 years of British history".

"It's a totally incomprehensible remark," said Dr Paul Addison of Edinburgh University yesterday.

Wales was united with England only in the 16th century and, for most of the 1,000 years, Scotland was an independent country and Scotland and England were fighting each other. "It's very hard to understand what he means, unless he means English history. Britain is less than 300 years old as a country, since the Act of Union in 1707."

Arguably the Tories had already come close to leaving British history behind when they signed up to the Common Market, Dr Addison argued. "They put an end to it by abandoning most of British sovereignty."

Spending any time in Scotland made one immediately conscious of how ignorant English politicians could be. "But surely he can't be that ignorant? He'll just have to go back and sit his O-levels again," Dr Addison said.

Dr John Roberts, formerly Warden of Merton College, Oxford, whose most recent work is A History of Europe, said the Prime Minister's comments did not square with the facts. "Even the conquest of Wales hadn't begun 1,000 years ago," he said.

And when it came to "playing party politics" with the nation, Dr Roberts said there was nothing new in that. The union between the separate nations of the United Kingdom had always been a matter of expediency. "It has always been in response to emergencies that the whole thing was put together," he said.

The invoking of historical argument in politics was always alarming, he added. "I guess there are a lot of people in the Tory party who do have very crude views of British history and they like this sort of thing."

Bernard Crick, professor in political theory and biographer of George Orwell, said it was an "idiotic" reading of events.

"It shows they don't know any real history. They haven't a clue about what has happened in Ireland or Scotland. It's conjuring with a popular and wholly English distortion of history."

Even since the Act of Union, Scotland had continued to have a different clerical, legal, educational and local government system, the professor said.