Scottish national museum in massive development

EDINBURGH (Reuters Life!) - Scotland’s National Museum has opened a major new gallery covering the dramatic changes the country has undergone over the past 100 years as part of a 60 million pound refurbishment and development of the museum complex in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town.

The gallery runs the gamut through industrial poverty of a century ago, weaving tweed cloth on the Hebridean island of Harris, extracting North Sea oil, the glory years and decline of shipbuilding on the Clyde river and inventions by Scots ranging from penicillin to television.

Sight, sound and film are integral in bringing out the personal stories on which history is built.

“I think the most important thing about the gallery is that it’s got the voices of the people of Scotland, past and present, in it, so it’s not dry and dusty,” Gordon Rintoul, director of National Museums Scotland, told Reuters ahead of the public opening on Friday.

“It’s really brought to life with the personalities and experiences of people, all sorts of people, famous people and people you’ve never heard of, and I think it’s the voices of the people that really make it very special.”

There is currently a thriving debate over the constitutional future of Scotland within the United Kingdom, particularly since the independence-minded Scottish National Party won elections last year to bring it to power in Scotland’s devolved parliament at Holyrood.

The new gallery notes that Scottish nationalism and the debate over a break with England only came to the fore in the 1970s.

“For most people, constitutional debate seemed less important than more pressing problems or ordinary life such as recession and unemployment,” one display says. “Unionism, the Anglo-Scottish Union of 1707, was largely unchallenged till the 1970s.”

The gallery opening comes as Edinburgh gears up for the mass of visitors who come every year for the city’s International Festival, the world’s largest annual celebration of the arts through August.

Rintoul said the major museum project is the renovation of the Victorian-era Royal Museum, opened in 1861, which will include 16 new galleries when it is completed in mid-2011 at a cost of around 46 million pounds ($90.92 million).

Full-scale work starts on the project next month.

The Royal Museum was merged with the 10-year-old adjoining Museum of Scotland last year to create the National Museum of Scotland.

The director said the overall cost of the renovation together with other plans and projects was expected to rise to around 60 million pounds in overall terms.

Editing by Paul Casciato