Edinburgh Castle reviewing name of Redcoat Cafe after nationalist backlash

The Battle of Culloden - Edinburgh Castle reviewing name of Redcoats cafe after nationalist backlash
The British Army's role at the Battle of Culloden is one reason why some think the Redcoat Cafe should change its name - GETTY IMAGES/ANN RONAN

Edinburgh Castle is to review the name of a cafe named after British redcoat soldiers after nationalists claimed it was offensive to Scots.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES), which runs the castle, said it was open to renaming its Redcoat Cafe after 32 years, following attacks from hundreds of independence supporters, including SNP politicians.

An online petition, which has attracted more than 1,000 signatures since Sunday, said the name celebrated an “occupying force” and “perpetuates a painful legacy associated with the oppression of our nation”.

Those criticising the name pointed to the British Army’s role in the Highland Clearances and the Battle of Culloden.

HES said it was reviewing the name, as well as its Jacobite function room, following the backlash as “the way we interpret history is constantly evolving”.

The Redcoat Cafe
A spot to grab a bite to eat or an offence to all Scots? There is a furore about the name of the Redcoat Cafe - ISTOCK

The furore had begun on social media after the castle advertised that its Redcoat Cafe, which serves hot food, soup and sandwiches, had reopened following a refurbishment, and invited people to “pop in for a warm beverage or even a tasty slice of cake”.

Douglas Chapman, the Fife SNP MP, and Kevin Stewart, an SNP MSP and former Scottish Government minister, were among those to express their outrage over the name.

Among other nationalists to criticise the name of the cafe were Tricia Marwick, a former Holyrood presiding officer, who responded to the castle’s cafe advertisement by saying “tell me this isn’t for real”.

Mr Chapman, MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, said: “I don’t think many will be “popping in” for anything. How about a swift rebrand? Redcoat, really?”

Mr Stewart, an Aberdeen MSP and former transport minister, added: “This can’t be for real, surely? If so, this is a huge misjudgement.”

‘This reflects historical illiteracy’

Sir Tom Devine, Professor emeritus of Scottish history at the University of Edinburgh, however, dismissed the argument that the name was offensive as nonsensical, as Scots had played a major role in the British Army since the 18th century.

“The view that the name of the cafe is offensive to Scots is simply ludicrous and reflects historical illiteracy,” Sir Tom, widely seen as Scotland’s top historian, told The Telegraph.

“Scottish officers, soldiers and kilted Highland regiments have had a high profile in the British Army from the Seven Years War (1756-1763), especially during the famous battles for Empire, and like the rest of the infantry wore red or scarlet tunics until the later 19th century.

“See for example the famous painting of The Thin Red Line by Robert Gibb of the 93rd Highlanders confronting Russian cavalry at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War.”

He added: “Critics are probably fixated about the Jacobite period when the Highland clans fought English Redcoats but that is only one part of a long story.”

Christopher Whatley, Professor of Scottish history at the University of Dundee, said he “despaired” at the backlash.

“Yes, British regiments wore red tunics,” he said. “But many thousands of Scots joined these regiments.

“And, in large numbers gave their lives as a result. At Culloden, in 1746, there were red-jacketed Scots in the British Army who fought against the Jacobites.

“Those concerned seem to know little of Scotland’s history, impervious to the awkward fact that Scots too could be ‘redcoats’, and died wearing uniforms in which red was the dominant colour.

“They fought in the British Army on behalf of the British state, and did so proudly, at times accompanied by the sound of bagpipes, without any sense of Scottish inferiority.”

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
The military has long been associated with Edinburgh Castle as seen by the annual Military Tattoo held there - Getty Images/Jeff J Mitchell

A spokesman for Historic Environment Scotland, said: “We are aware of the comments on social media on both sides of the debate about the name of the café at Edinburgh Castle.

“The name has been in place since 1992 and reflects the military history which is told throughout the castle, however, the way we interpret history is constantly evolving.

“As part of our future plans for Edinburgh Castle, the names of both the Redcoat Café and Jacobite function room will now be reviewed.”

‘An orgy of idiotic anger’

Edinburgh Castle has been a garrison for troops for more than 700 years. Red coats were widely worn by infantry units in the British military up to the 19th century and continue to be used as ceremonial uniforms.

Blair McDougall, who was head strategist in the Better Together campaign in the 2014 referendum, described the responses to Edinburgh Castle as “an orgy of idiotic anger”.

Now a Labour general election candidate, he added: “Nationalists pace around on the cultural battlefield, dressed in ahistorical costume, presumably, but there’s nobody on the other side.

“That is why they have to spend so much time creating imaginary enemies.”

In the petition calling for a rebrand, it is claimed that the Red Coat Cafe name “glorifies and honours the Redcoats, the British soldiers who played a significant role in subjugating Scotland and suppressing its people during periods of history marked by conflict and strife”.

It adds: “By maintaining the name Redcoat Cafe, Edinburgh Castle inadvertently celebrates and legitimises the actions of an occupying force that inflicted suffering and hardship upon the Scottish people.

“It sends a message that their contributions to history are valued above those of the Scots who fought and died for their freedom and independence.

“As proud Scots, we refuse to accept such denigration of our heritage and demand that our voices be heard.

“Renaming the cafe is not merely a symbolic gesture but a necessary step towards acknowledging and rectifying the injustices of the past.”

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.