Dick Bequest: Scotland is squandering an opportunity to begin to atone for its involvement in the slave trade
With the Dick Bequest, Scotland has a very clear and obvious opportunity to lead the way in beginning to atone for its prominent role in the horrors of slavery.
It is unfortunate, therefore, that those who could help seize this chance – the trustees of the £1.6 million fund and the Scotland Government – appear to lack the courage and conviction required.
To be clear, the Dick Bequest is not like the countless other links to the slave trade that are all around us. It is not a building, a plaque or a statue, but money. The same money, albeit with a fair amount of interest added on over the past two centuries, which was left by the slave trader James Dick when he died.
Many have called for it to be returned to Jamaica, where Dick made his fortune. Others have suggested it be used to educate Scots on their country’s involvement in the slave trade.
Other worthwhile ideas might emerge if there was some kind of public discussion in the north-east about its future.
That has not been possible, however, because the trustees who oversee the money have refused to engage at all in any kind of public statement or debate about the £1.6m, or explain what they plan to do with it, since the revelations about its origins emerged in 2021.
Perhaps the governors have considered the matter and opted to continue to use it in the way Dick intended. There might be sound arguments for this course of action, but there is no way to know, because they will not say.
In the face of such secrecy and apparent intransigence, the Government could surely be doing more. Ministers may not be able to tell the charity what to do, but they could be making it clear what they would like to see happen.
The Government has no powers over UK immigration or the nuclear deterrent, but regularly expresses its view on such matters, and many others.
Academics and journalists in Jamaica have been watching the debate over the future of the Dick Bequest from afar.
The ongoing impasse does not reflect well on Scotland, or its oft-made claim to be an “outward looking nation”.
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