Letter: what links Rule Britannia and Scotland’s slave trade involvement?

Picture: AP
Picture: AP
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Scotland’s involvement in the slave trade and non-involvement in the traditional finale to the BBC Proms season have received much attention recently. I wonder how many people are aware of the link?

The words of Rule Britannia were actually written by a Scotsman, James Thomson (his name is on the Scott Monument). In the 18th century Great Britain (by now including Scotland, of course ) really did rule the waves. This was not due solely to naval might but also to the fact that the eternal problem of accurate longitude determination had at last been solved by the Englishman John Harrison.

British navigators, or at least those that could afford the means to possess an accurate chronometer, now really did know where they were. Captain James Cook (Scottish father, English mother) was one. Amongst many achievements, it was largely Cook’s survey of Canadian waters, including the St Lawrence river, which enabled the acquisition of Quebec from France.

Navigation was also the key to Scotland’s large share of trade with the American tobacco-producing (by slave labour) colonies.

It enabled ships to take the quickest transatlantic route (which happened to be from the Clyde), protected, of course, by the predominance of the British navy, and it was this which produced the remarkable upturn in Scotland’s prosperity, particularly for Glasgow, which became one of the richest cities in the world and architecturally the second city after London, of the British Empire. The Mitchell Library, for example, was built and stocked entirely from tobacco money.

(Dr) A McCormick

Kirkland Road, Terregles