EDINBURGH University has come under a blistering attack by Professor Sir Tom Devine over the “utter shambles” of the controversial renaming of the David Hume Tower.

Now known as 40 George Square, the building was named after one of the greatest philosophers in history who was born, lived and died in the capital.

At the height of the Black Lives Matter controversy last year, a student petition to rename the building branded Hume a “racist” for a 1750s essay footnote, in which he opined that other races were “naturally inferior to the whites”.

Speaking yesterday at a virtual panel discussing the issue, Devine said: “Unless senior managers rapidly begin to see reason and sense they will soon have to deal with a bigger mess.

“Yesterday the author of the original student petition which has been widely cited and discussed in the press, revealed to me in correspondence, frankly and honestly: ‘I am not representative of black students at the university and therefore feel unable to adequately express or even understand the meaning of the tower name change’.

“What, pray, does the principal and his advisors now make of this?”

Devine challenged the University over defining Hume as racist: “ How can such a charge be taken seriously? Hume was born in 1711 and died in 1776.The very pejorative terms which form the basis of the accusations were not recorded in any authoritative English dictionary until 1902 and only three decades later did they come into more common usage.How then can an individual be condemned for an offence which did not exist until nearly 150 years after he died?

“Hence, to accuse Hume for being a ‘racist’ is not only unjust but patently absurd. Even more so, it beggars belief that it is still being taken seriously by the authorities of a university which has long taken enormous pride in hailing Hume is as its greatest ever alumnus.

“In my career as a university teacher I have from time to come come across in undergraduate essays examples of the error of anachronism or the folly of judging societies of centuries ago by the standards and values of today. Who would have ever thought that the leadership of Edinburgh University would be guilty of such howlers.”

He said the University’s decision was “a public relations disaster” and accused the University of conducting an utter shambles.

Other members of the panel disagreed with Devine. Edinburgh University refused to comment.