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National Museums Scotland accused over Buckfast censorship

National Museums Scotland (NMS) has been accused of “cowardly censorship” after withdrawing a bottle of Buckfast tonic wine from an exhibition of Scottish life after pressure from the manufacturer.

Museum directors ordered the removal of the product from inclusion in Scotland: A Changing Nation, an exhibition charting cultural developments over the past decade, which is due to open later this week.

A bottle of the tonic wine, which some politicians have blamed for a rise in drunkenness and antisocial behaviour among young people, was included alongside a can of high-strength lager, a drug resuscitation kit, a methadone leaflet and a blood-testing kit. The items were intended to highlight the growing social problems caused by drug and alcohol abuse.

Jane Carmichael, NMS’s director of collections, and Catherine Holden, its director of marketing and development, ordered the removal of the Buckfast bottle after museum staff spoke last Friday to J Chandler & Co, the firm that sells, distributes and markets the drink.

Last night, politicians and curators condemned the decision, accusing NMS of caving into commercial pressure.

“If they are going to have part of the exhibition on Scotland’s social problems, well then, yes, unfortunately Buckfast does have a place there,” said Sandra White, the nationalist MSP for Glasgow.

“To cover it up and self-censor does not give a true, factual reflection of what is happening in Scotland today, particularly in parts of Glasgow and Lanarkshire.

“Anyone who is out and about on the streets will know it’s not a bottle of Black & White whisky that is left after a fight, it’s a bottle of Buckfast.

“I think it was cowardly of the museum to bow to pressure from the distributors.”

Mark O’Neill, head of arts and museums at Glasgow city council, said it has resisted demands from J Chandler & Co to remove a bottle of Buckfast from the People’s Palace on Glasgow Green.

“Buckfast did object, but we decided it was appropriate for it to stay on display. We believe it is symbolic of the west of Scotland’s alcohol problem.”

• Full story at the Sunday Times.

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