SCOTLAND’S oldest surviving manuscript, which has been housed at Cambridge University for hundreds of years, should be brought back across the Border to “right a historical wrong”, an Aberdeenshire councillor has insisted.

Councillor Glen Reid is leading efforts to bring The Book of Deer back to Scotland permanently after it was loaned to Aberdeen Art Gallery and put on temporary display over the summer before being returned to Cambridge.

The 10th century text – a rare example of a pocket gospel - is written in Latin but also contains the earliest surviving written Gaelic in the margins added by people in the north-east from the 1100s.

It is said to have originated in the village of Deer in Aberdeenshire and used to be housed in the monastery there.

Reid tried to put foundations in place to bring the book back home during the summer when he put a motion to Aberdeenshire Council asking elected members to agree to write to Cambridge University “expressing our desire for the Book of Deer to be returned to its rightful home in Aberdeenshire and begin the process of repatriation”.

However, the Tories and Lib Dems – who run the administration with independents – clubbed together to shoot down the proposal, suggesting the council should simply thank Cambridge University for the loan.

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"A cultural duty"

But Reid said he has not given up and is now looking at a variety of routes to try and ensure the book is returned to its rightful place.

He told the National: “We’ve got a cultural duty to make this happen. There are children growing up here and even adults who don’t know about this.

“This is a hugely significant book that tells the story of our ancestors' lives. It’s the oldest surviving manuscript from Scotland, it’s the oldest surviving Gaelic writing full stop, and it’s not here.

The National: Councillor Glen Reid Councillor Glen Reid (Image: Glen Reid)

“We need to bring it back and educate people. There are lots of people in the north-east that think Gaelic was never spoken here.

“People associate Gaelic purely with the Western Isles and the Highlands when it was actually the common language.

“It’s a historical wrong that needs to be righted. This isn’t an anti-English thing, this is just more about educating our people and righting a historical wrong.”

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Reid has spoken with the SNP Group at Aberdeen Council to see if they have any better luck in taking a proposal forward, while he also plans to speak to his local MSP to see if anything can be done at Holyrood.

There is also a possibility Reid could take a resolution on the issue to next year’s SNP conference after failing to secure one this year.

Although no one knows when it was taken from Scotland for certain, the manuscript is thought to have been taken during the Wars of Scottish Independence and has been housed in the Cambridge University Library since 1715.

Reid said: "One analogy is that King Edward took it because he knew of the power it held over the local people. It's like the Stone of Destiny."

When the book was returned to the north-east for the first time in more than 1000 years, it would’ve been a rare chance for Scots to see it, given it is only possible to see it in Cambridge by appointment and is not on public display.

Community-led heritage group the Book of Deer Project, set up in 1997, managed to secure nearly £130,000 to bring the manuscript back to Scotland and has done a lot of work to digitise the text so people can read it online.

"An economic draw"

But Reid said it is such a significant piece of Aberdeenshire history that it should be on people’s doorsteps, not to mention the significant economic benefits it could also bring.

He added: “It would be a huge economic draw if it was done correctly. We need to have lots of things to make Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire attractive.

“We’ve shown we’ve got the expertise. The University of Aberdeen has got a special collections department. They look after 230,000 rare books, so it’s not in dispute we can’t look after it.”

“Kids do not know about this vital bit of history and it should be on their doorstep.”