Loch Ness business leaders unmoved by education Scotland's controversial portrayal of 'Nessie' as a symbol of British control in classroom guidance for teachers
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She has surfaced, metaphorically at least, in headlines stoking controversy over alleged classroom propaganda and Scotland’s place in the Union.
Education Scotland stands accused of depicting the Loch Ness Monster as a symbol of British imperialist control within a social studies lesson plan for 11 to 14 year-olds.
Two Highland tourism business leaders, however, have played down the furore and stressed that when it comes to our mysterious, world-famous Loch Ness resident, any publicity is good publicity.
Controversy began at the weekend when a national Sunday newspaper highlighted extracts from teaching material produced by the Scottish Government’s schools agency.
Nessie was trending nationally on Twitter by Sunday afternoon as broadcasters, social media commentators and national daily newspapers swiftly picked up on the story.
The 17-page document, entitled ‘How others see us in film’, looks at three movies – Loch Ness, Brigadoon and The Da Vinci Code.
The classroom plan for teachers suggests “the very idea of a prehistoric monster in a loch affirms the stereotypical idea Scotland is a rural wilderness, perhaps one bypassed by progress” and adds: “This is a very British idea of Scotland, propagated previously by upper-class tourists in the 19th century.”
It also states that Nessie has a complex relationship to Britain that “reveals a lot about Scotland’s position within the Union,” while encouraging pupils to “construct a view of wider contemporary topics relating to Scotland, such as the independence referendum”.
Critics have lampooned those tenets of the document, while others say the reports distorted the actual intention of the lesson plan aimed at helping students recognise bias and persuasion in film-making.
Willie Cameron, a leading tourism business owner and international tourism consultant based in Drumnadrochit, was relaxed about the controversy.
“There is no such thing as bad publicity as far as Loch Ness is concerned. If it raises people’s heads and creates debate, so much the better,” Mr Cameron said.
“I’ve read the classroom plan and it is designed to encourage debate. So far as the subterfuge goes, it seems to say that the whole Loch Ness story was set up by the British class system in order to convey the Scots in a primitive light.
“I’m not overly-impressed with some of the assertions within the lesson plan but so what?
“As far as being primitive is concerned, we’ve supplied the world with some of the best academic brains and inventions there are. I’m quite proud I come from a Celtic nation, just as the Australian aborigine is or native north American is proud of their roots.
“Loch Ness and the monster is one of the greatest contributors to the economy of Scotland, drawing 1.5 million visitors and generating about £45 million for the Highlands alone every year.
“There are a lot of nations who wouldn’t mind having a Loch Ness Monster within their backyard.
“From the perspective of debate, I don’t have a great issue in Education Scotland portraying it in that way.
“It is slightly disturbing the tack they are taking but, again, if it creates debate, fair enough.
“As far as Loch Ness is concerned, we’re in a win-win situation no matter what publicity comes out of it, controversial or otherwise.”
Visit Inverness Loch Ness chairwoman Jo De Sylva gave a light-hearted response.
“I think we know that one of the nice and considerate things Nessie does is keep herself well hidden until just before the tourists arrive, then she pops her head up,” Ms De Sylva said.
“She is held in great affection by the people of Scotland and I’d say we’re delighted that Nessie, after more than 14 centuries, still manages to make the headlines on a regular basis.
“This is one of the most beautiful parts of the world and you can see why she chooses to live up here.”
Steve Feltham, Loch Ness’s best-known Nessie hunter, felt the initial story was deceptively selective in terms of the true intent of Education Scotland’s lesson plan.
“I’m disappointed because I’ve read the full 17-page lesson plan for social studies students,” Mr Feltham said.
“Children are asked to specifically look at three films and analyse Scotland’s portrayal in those three films, how it affects the image of Scotland and the motivation for that.
“It is not about the evidence for the Loch Ness Monster’s existence being biased or whatever else, but Hollywood’s take on it, specifically in the film Loch Ness.
“To shoe-horn it into this anti-independence thing is gas-lighting, really.”