Readers' Letters: Britain’s ‘colonial legacy’ is removal of slavery

I am unsure why Saranel Benjamin, Head of Partnerships, Oxfam GB, is taking aim at the UK over “colonialism and present-day racial injustice”, as Oxfam's stated aim is “to end poverty”, not side with political groups like Black Lives Matter (Friends of The Scotsman, 16 August).

This endangers the relationships created by Oxfam since its inception here in Britain in the immediate post-war era and its sterling work in addressing issues of poverty, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

The slave trade about which she waxes lyrical did not “account for 11 per cent of Britain's GDP in the 19th century”. What utter nonsense. It did, however, account for much more than that of the GDP of the southern states of the USA. Who else really made money out of the Atlantic slave trade, one might ask?

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For an answer to that, we should turn to the African-American Restitution Study Group, based in New York. They have asked the UK’s Charity Commission to reject any request to transfer the Benin Bronzes, taken from Benin, now part of Nigeria, to Nigeria, which country would be “unjustly enriched by repatriation of these relics”. Ms Benjamin should note the reason for this. They continue: “Nigeria and the Kingdom of Benin have never apologised for enslaving our ancestors.”

A British naval officer overhauling an Arab dhow in Zanzibar during attempts by Great Britain to put an end to the slave trade, circa 1870. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
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Britain led the attack on slavery, making it illegal. Accusing present-day Britons of guilt for the sins of their ancestors is unjustifiable when the people of Nigeria – and add in Ghana and most other states in west Africa – are the beneficiaries of the riches gained by the enslavement of their fellow Africans. The British “colonial legacy” is the removal of endemic slavery from west Africa.

Ms Benjamin should take note and desist from her campaign and concentrate on her day job.

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Andrew H N Gray, Edinburgh

Slave to facts?

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Saranel Benjamin's article makes many contentions which are extremely biased and frankly incorrect.

The elephant in the room, of course, is Africa, as slavery was endemic in that continent and, to some extent, still is. Let us not forget that the slaves who were traded across the Atlantic were first captured and enslaved by Africans. Equally, the exchange of slaves between Africa and Europe in particular began with north African pirates attacking and enslaving hundreds of thousands of Europeans from as far north as Iceland.

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Ms Benjamin comments that “the slave trade… accounted for 11 percent of Britain's GDP in the 19th century", which is very interesting, as Britain, despite fighting a Great War against France, passed the Foreign Slave Trade Act in 1806, prohibiting British slave traders from operating in foreign countries, followed by the Slave Trade Abolition Act in 1807, abolishing the involvement of British citizens in the transatlantic slave trade thenceforth. Her figure is nonsense.

The “enslavement of 12 million Black [sic] people” she quotes is the upper end of the entire, estimated Atlantic slave trade over four centuries, not one, and they were not “enslaved” by us, but by Africans. For decades in the 19th century, moreover, the Royal Navy’s West Africa Squadron intercepted and captured slavers with great success. They lost 17,000 sailors doing so! How many African nations tried to prevent slavery? None. They profited from the trade.

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Ms Benjamin’s narrative attacks “an attempt to recreate Africa in the image of Britain” in British colonies. Perhaps she is referring to our making slavery in our colonies illegal? Guilty, as charged. And proud of it.

Peter Hopkins, Edinburgh

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Repairing the damage of our colonial legacy - Saranel Benjamin

Rhetoric of hatred

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It is gratifying to see that Nicola Sturgeon and some of her ministers have condemned the nationalist demonstrators in Perth who abused the BBC journalist, James Cook, who was covering the Conservative leadership hustings in Perth on Tuesday. Shouting “lying scum” and “traitor”, as the mob did, is not a good look when captured on national TV.

Ms Sturgeon needs to realise, however, that this is what happens when visceral hatred is stirred up by politicians, and in Scotland no-one stirs up hatred better than the SNP. The long blue banner tastefully proclaiming “Tory Scum Out”, held by the agitators in Perth, has a pedigree: it has appeared at nationalist events in recent years. In its far right hand corner it bears a runic symbol associated with Siol nan Gaidheal (Seed of the Gael), a splinter group of nationalists shunned by the SNP but nevertheless an active campaigner on the yes side in 2014. At an All Under One Banner event in 2020, at least one SNP parliamentarian processed behind that same banner.

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Scotland’s problem is that it has suited first the Labour Party and now, in much more virulent form, the SNP to demonise “Tories”. In the 2019 election campaign in Glasgow, Ms Sturgeon made a speech, as follows: “The Scotland we seek is open, welcoming, diverse and inclusive, and no Tory is ever going to be allowed to change that. And down that Boris Johnson path lies a future where Boris Johnson has his strings pulled by Donald Trump. Make no mistake, if we accept for our country that future, our National Health Service, workers’ rights, environmental standards – all of that is on the line. That is not the Scotland that we want’.

Election rhetoric, some might say, but it is part of a concerted campaign by the SNP to de-legitimise a legal political party (of which I am not a member).

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As for the BBC, broadcasters will remember very well how, with Alex Salmond’s encouragement, a nationalist mob descended on BBC Scotland’s HQ at Pacific Quay in Glasgow in 2014 and raged against the BBC’s Nick Robinson for having the temerity to ask Salmond inquisitive questions. More recently, Sarah Smith, Cook’s predecessor in office, was reported as being relieved to be translated to the less toxic atmosphere of Washington DC (!) after suffering “bile, hatred and misogyny” at the hands of Scottish nationalists.

The demonstrators in Perth may or may not be SNP members, but they are activists in Ms Sturgeon’s cause. It is long past time that she toned down the rhetoric of hatred – of the UK, England, Westminster, Tories – and tried to return Scotland to civilisation.

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Jill Stephenson, Edinburgh

Union asset

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The SNP pretends to be a centre-left social democratic organisation. This claim was yet again exposed as untrue by a foul-mouthed mob of their supporters confronting people attending the Conservative leadership hustings in Perth.One individual with a microphone ranted about “the right-wing Labour Party” and the need for “a class war.” “Tory scum out” banners and eggs hurled at elderly disabled delegates sent a clear message that there should be “nae place” in Scotland for those disagreeing with their ideology.If Boris Johnson was one of the separatists’ best recruiting sergeants, then demonstrations such as this are surely one of Unionism’s greatest assets.

Martin O’Gorman, Edinburgh

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Embarrassment

The poison, bile and vitriol of Scottish Nationalism was in full view in Perth as the Tory candidates and Tory members arrived for their “hustings” to be greeted by disgusting and repulsive behaviours (spitting and egg throwing) and insulting use of language. What an utter embarrassment to our whole nation. God forbid Nicola Sturgeon gets her wish for another referendum and then what lies ahead? Our country is slipping ever further into the sewer of nationalist politics and countries around the world must wonder what is happening to our once great, diverse and accommodating nation.

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Richard Allison, Edinburgh

One-sided

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Following the unedifying scenes outside the Tory leadership hustings in Perth, here is a question for the leadership of the SNP and all Scottish nationalists: have you ever seen supporters of the Conservative party standing outside another political party’s meeting with aggressive banners and screaming abuse and vitriol at them?

Bruce Halliday, Dumfries

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Taking the VIPs?

Emails released under Freedom of Information laws reveal that officials representing “Elsie McSelfie” Nicola Sturgeon asked organisers if there were any “VVIPs she could meet” at the Open Golf Championship at St Andrews. There are hundreds of thousands of very very important people in Scotland who would love her to stop promoting herself and her selfish independence pipe dream and get on with governing this country instead of ruining it.Ian Balloch, Grangemouth, Falkirk

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Hardly divine

My thoughts go out to Sir Salman Rushdie, the victim of a cowardly assassination attempt by religious extremists (and also to J K Rowling, who has received death threats merely for expressing her concerns for a fellow author). This horrendous terrorist act will encourage political/religious gangsters like the ayatollahs and Putins of this world totarget whoever is brave enough to speak out against them.

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It shows how deluded the moral guardians of Iran are if they consider an assassination attempt on a defenceless 75-year-old man by a 20-year-old with a knife “divine retribution”. That's why human rights barely exist in Iran or Russia, whose leaders attitude to persecution of anyone in favour of freedom of speech is to blame the victims.

Stephen McCarthy, Glasgow

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Blackened name

Liz Truss speaks with pride of her formative years at primary school in Paisley, while Conservative MSPs miss no opportunity to denigrate the quality of Scottish education. So that’s the explanation for her inability to distinguish between the Black Sea and the Baltic?

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James Scott, Edinburgh

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