Public asked should the capital apologise for its historical links to slavery?

Edinburgh is steeped in historical links to slavery and colonialism. Now the public is being asked, should the capital apologise for its role in slavery?
The new plaque on Melville monument denounces Henry Dundas' role in deferring abolition slaveryThe new plaque on Melville monument denounces Henry Dundas' role in deferring abolition slavery
The new plaque on Melville monument denounces Henry Dundas' role in deferring abolition slavery

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People in Edinburgh can have a say in what action is taken to shape the legacy of controversial sites across the capital, as part of a consultation launched this week.

The council is asking how the city should "publicly acknowledge and actively atone for its part in supporting and benefiting from Atlantic slavery” by responding to forty one selected monuments, buildings and streets.

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It comes days after a permanent new plaque was installed on the Melville monument denouncing Henry Dundas’ role in deferring the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade and expanding the British Empire.

Sir Geoff Palmer, chair of the Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review group, said it demonstrated the power of “people’s voices being heard” and has urged people to get involved in the shake-up, which could see features in the city with links to slavery reinterpreted or removed.

On whether the city should apologise, Sir Geoff told the Evening News he would prefer the city takes “positive steps to reduce racism and improve equality”.

Under the consultation it’s revealed that George Watson’s and James Gillespie’s were among several prominent educational foundations that received funding from individuals who were either slave owners, or who profited directly from the profits of slavery.

It also brings to light several sites in the the New Town with slavery links, where many early residents owned enslaved people and plantations. Profits from colonialism, specifically from the activities of the East India Company, were invested in the city’s expansion.

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Council bosses said there are a “significant number" of monuments, buildings, street names and other features in the public spaces of the Capital today which could be considered to have shaped legacy.

But the consultation focuses on a ten different themes relating to a particular aspect of history including international trade and the role of the military in sustaining slavery.

It sets out a number of options for redress including an apology, research and study programmes and creating permanent artwork to memorialise links with the slave trade and the Caribbean.

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Sir Geoff Palmer said: “I want to hear the voice of the people on all the complexities of the city’s history. I really think people might not be aware of some of the links in the city and will be interested in learning about it. And I want to see positive steps to reduce racism and improve equality.”

"The Melville plaque is significant – it has taken more than 200 years to get here. But the voice of the people has been heard. It shows the power of community and how critical this public consultation is.

"We cannot change the past but we can change consequences of the past such as racism for the better using education and greater public awareness.”

Council Depute Leader Cammy Day, said: “We want to make sure that commemorations, monuments, statues as well as names of streets and buildings are representative of a modern and inclusive Capital city.

“Hearing from people through this consultation about what’s important to them will help us achieve this and I would encourage our diverse communities to take part.”

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