Readers' letters: Dundas plaque presents a narrative stripped of historical context

I was astonished to learn that the City of Edinburgh Council had restored the controversial Dundas Plaque in St Andrew Square. For whatever reason, the council has chosen to ignore the opinions of leading academic historians and made the elementary mistake of taking a historical event and creating a narrative that simply is out of step with the historical context.

Those attacking Henry Dundas have to address the question as to how a slave-supporting Parliament at that time was ever going to vote for abolition. The motion proposed by William Wilberforce would have faced certain defeat. A previous attempt in 1792 to pass a motion for abolition had been very heavily defeated. Dundas knew perfectly well that Parliament was packed with members who had strong vested interests in the slave trade. It would take years for the force of the moral argument against the vile trade to have any chance of success.

There were other serious matters for Dundas to contend with. Britain was then at war with revolutionary France and was faced with the real prospect of invasion. Furthermore, the British establishment was terrified that the success of the French Revolution might inspire similar uprisings in the UK. The country was in turmoil and it fell to Dundas to try to restore order at home and to meet the French threat.

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During the debate in 1792 Dundas, determined to keep the issue on the statute book, proposed a gradual path to abolition stating: “My opinion has been always against the slave trade.” Indeed it was Dundas who had taken on the case of the West Indian slave Joseph Knight in 1777 which successfully established that there was no slavery in Scotland.

The replacement plaque installed at the Melville Monument in Edinburgh's St Andrew Square (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)The replacement plaque installed at the Melville Monument in Edinburgh's St Andrew Square (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
The replacement plaque installed at the Melville Monument in Edinburgh's St Andrew Square (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

So it is quite wrong to state that Dundas was fighting a rear-guard action against abolition and that he alone was responsible for condemning some 420,000 Africans to the horrors of slavery.

Eric Melvin, Edinburgh

Wrong track

With reference to James Duncan’s letter (25 March), the future of the “Jacobite” steam train is technically a matter between the Rail Regulator and the operator, namely West Coast Railway Company.

That said, there is clearly huge public interest in the matter being resolved, as evidenced by the recent local petition. Bearing in mind also that the “Jacobite” is a mainstay of Scottish tourism, there has been a deafening silence from Holyrood, particularly from Kate Forbes with her Highland connection. I can’t help things would be different if the “Jacobite” ran in the Central Belt.

David Edgar, Symington, South, Lanarkshire

Age of steam

As Ian McNicholas says in his letter about slam doors on trains (26 March), stationmasters or the guard would check that all doors were firmly shut.

During the war my mother and I travelled regularly by steam train from a dimly gaslit Glasgow Central Station to Euston, as we headed south on the overnight sleeper to catch up with my dad who was in the RAF.

My mum would tell me to “go to sleep this minute,” but how could I as we passed the marshalling yards at Crewe? I’d never seen so many fire-breathing dragons. But sooner or later the “tickety tu tickety ta" and the “tickety tickety tu” as we went over points sent me to sleep.

I loved these journeys during blackout, tiny blue lightbulbs in the compartment; the corridors, crowded with soldiers, sailors and a few airmen, with their kitbags, standing the whole way from Glasgow to London, an eight-hour journey. As we neared our destination, the guard would knock, bringing cups of tea and tea biscuits.

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This must be when I came to love the ambrosiac smell of steam, which has stayed with me to this day.

I live near a heritage railway. As I wait in my car at the closed level crossing gates I always wind the window down for another steam “fix”.

Doug Morrison, Cranbrook, Kent

Lack of courtesy

I’m appalled that having written to the Police Scotland Chief Constable in December, Murdo Fraser MSP did not get the courtesy of a reply from her at all, far less promptly, but instead over three months later, got a reply from the local police commander (Scotsman, 26 March).

It is not that Murdo Fraser should get special treatment, but if as an MSP he raises an issue with the Chief Constable, it is only right that he gets a very prompt acknowledgement and reply. He could well have been writing on behalf of a constituent.

It seems that the police, ludicrously, can refuse to attend break-ins, refuse to attend incidents of shoplifting, ignore emails from our elected representatives, yet speedily investigate alleged hate incidents.

Little wonder criminals and political activists laugh all the way to the bank. A bank we fund for that pays the Chief Constable almost a quarter of a million pounds a year. It really is time for the Scottish Police Authority to hold the Chief Constable to account, but I suspect as usual, we will be deafened by silence.

Brian Barbour, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland

Independent police

MSP Murdo Fraser is right to consider taking legal action against Police Scotland in relation to his personal information being held on police records without his knowledge in response to a "non-crime hate incident” in which he criticised the Scottish Government's transgender policy.

No-one should condone “hate” language or conduct which breaches the law of the land but in a democracy it's imperative that legitimate comment and criticism are allowed.

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The actions of Police Scotland are subject to the legal constraints we all live under and if it’s concluded that the law has not been broken in any particular case, why does Police Scotland still need to maintain the personal details of the individual complained against? It’s open to complainers to pursue civil actions if they feel particularly aggrieved.

It was felt by some that the creation of Police Scotland could erode the independence of chief constables and subject the force to greater government influence and the current Chief Constable needs to demonstrate that this is not the case by reviewing the information retention policy.

The Hate Act is a mess and there is every indication that the police response will be equally inconsistent. Perhaps the courts are the best places to sort it out!

Bob MacDougall, Kippen, Stirling

The ‘be nice’ law

Having read the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act in its entirety I wish to point out a glaring hole in the proposed legislation and will be informing my MSP in the hope that even at this late stage a clause can be added to fill this glaring omission; namely, the fact that those who witness, hear or read a hate crime and do not report it to the police should also be charged with aiding and abetting hate crime.

Let’s work together to stamp out this epidemic of hate crime that is sweeping the country, permeating every corner from nursery to care home. Hate crime should be the focus of us all until we can safely declare that Scotland is hate-free and our police can return to apprehending perpetrators of other criminal acts.

A Lewis, Coylton, South Ayrshire

Ol’ Blue Passports

The current furore about Nike mucking about with the St George's Cross on the English team's football kit is something their supporters want no more than Ni Holmes (Letters, 26 March) would want a red Saltire on the Scotland kit, I assume.

In a true spirit of divisiveness, Ni Holmes tells us that he doesn't believe that he is British, just Scottish. That is a very difficult position to put yourself in and rather a curious one, as it is a denial of fact, pure and simple. I am sure that all separatists wish that they were just Scottish, or maybe Scottish and European as the narrative goes, but the world has a way of making us acknowledge reality, when it bites our bum.

Unless he holidays exclusively in sunny Scotland, which I doubt, when Mr Holmes goes on holiday, he must find it difficult trying to get on a flight from Edinburgh, a train out of St Pancras, or even a ferry out of Dover without the requisite paperwork. Unless he is a different nationality, which is unlikely, given his protestations (“I will still remain forever Scottish, never British/English”), then he will hold a British passport which identifies him as a British citizen.

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It says “British Passport” on the cover! It is difficult to be British without being either Scottish, English, Welsh, or Northern Irish. He may not like it any more than I like Scotland being run by a party of adherents to a failed nationalist cause but, to quote Frank Sinatra, “That's life”.

Peter Hopkins, Edinburgh

Not so bright

So our new Education Minister, Jenny Gilruth, says higher education will be free to all after independance (Scotsman, 26 March).

Firstly it proves it is not now, as the SNP claim, But more importantly, will it be any good?

One third of the school age population is skipping school. another third is so badly behaved their learning achievements will be minimal. And the last third... well education standards have fallen under SNP so today’s failed pupils will be the pool of people to become the teachers and lecturers of tomorrow.

So those who wish to go to higher education, if they are “bright”, may look outside Scotland – but will our pass level here mean they are fit to study elsewhere?

Elizabeth Hands, Armadale, West Lothian

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