Planners go to war against the Queen of Scots

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The Independent Online
West Lothian has a new question. Is the heart-tugging story of Mary Queen of Scots the best draw for the district's most significant historical pile, Linlithgow Palace, or should the emphasis be on its fine Renaissance architecture?

Mary Stuart's birthplace in central Scotland has stood a roofless, romantic ruin for 250 years. But a proposal to repair part of the building and create a "Mary Queen of Scots Experience" has got a rather sniffy response from council planners.

Mary's tragic story is "old hat, over-romantic, negative and too concerned with royal rather than social history", according to a report submitted to West Lothian councillors yesterday.

David Jarman, head of strategic planning and transportation, admitted the Mary saga was "undoubtedly popular in appeal" but pressed an alternative approach that could "build on the palace's cultural links with Europe". Modern architectural scholarship had recognised its outstanding status as an early and significant expression of the Renaissance in Scotland, he explained.

But while the palace may have influenced the design of other great houses in northern Europe, few outside the council think that is its most important claim to fame - or the one most likely to increase visitor numbers above the current 50,000 a year.

Mary was born at Linlithgow in Decem-ber 1542, six days before the death of her father, James V. Brought up in the French court, she married the Dauphin and was briefly Queen of France. Two husbands later, her turbulent life was brought to an end on the scaffold - executed on the orders of Elizabeth I whose throne she coveted.

Historic Scotland, custodians of the palace, Lothian and Edinburgh Enterprise, and the council are at the consultation stage of the pounds 10m to pounds 12m restoration plan. The Mary theme was put forward by a firm of consultants as a way of drawing more visitors once the roof and some of the interior of the North Range of the palace were restored.

Historic Scotland, a government quango, regards the palace as "under- perform-ing" but yesterday to emphasised that no decisions have been taken on any theme. No work will begin this side of the millennium and even then it will depend on the Heritage Lottery Fund footing half the bill.

Tam Dalyell, the town's Labour MP finds the future of Linlithgow Palace easier to tackle than his own West Lothian Question dogging devolution.

"I believe in noble ruins," Mr Dalyell said. "There are many more things deserving of spending public money on. But it is Mary Queen of Scots, and the romance around her, that would draw the visitors."

Linlithgow Academy history teacher Gordon Currie was in no doubt that Mary was the lure. "You say to the average punter 'Renaissance and Europe' and you will get queues going in the opposite direction."