‘I will never stand back again’ vows Tory MSP over race attack

An MSP broke down in the Scottish Parliament as he described his shame at witnessing an acquaintance commit a racist attack as a young man, but failing to step in.

Brian Whittle MSP
Brian Whittle MSP

Conservative frontbencher Brian Whittle told Holyrood he pledged to “never stand by ever again” after the incident, and admitted: “I still find myself ashamed.”

It came as the campaign against historic statutes and monuments dedicated to those who supported and profited from the slave trade gathered pace, with the City of Edi

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nburgh Council releasing the proposed wording of a plaque detailing Henry Dundas’ involvement in slavery.

And in Bristol, where the destruction of a statute to slave trader Edward Colston on Sunday triggered a nationwide debate about monuments to figures involved in slavery, the council said the bronze would be dreged up from the harbour where it was dumped by protesters and put in a museum.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson insisted he understood the “strong and legitimate” feelings of people in the UK over the death in the US of unarmed black man George Floyd while being detained by police.

But following clashes at some Black Lives Matter demonstrations against police violence, he insisted it was essential to keep the streets safe and to “back our police”.

Challenged by the SNP’s Kirsty Blackman to condemn Mr Trump’s “horrendous” response to the death of Mr Floyd, Mr Johnson said what had happened was “absolutely appalling”.

But he added: “He is president of the United States, which is our most important ally in the world today.

“Whatever those on the left may say about it, the United States is a bastion of peace and freedom and has been for most of my lifetime.”

At Holyrood, MSPs backed calls for a suspension of licenses for the export of tear gas and rubber

bullets to the United States, and the creation of a museum dedicated to Scotland’s role in the slave trade.

Leading for the Conservatives in the debate on racism, Mr Whittle, who sprinted for Team GB at the 1988 Olympics, told the Scottish Parliament that the previous night, he spoke to some of his black former teammates about what to say. Mr Whittle then described travelling to London as a 21 athlete for a competition and being invited by a team manager to watch a football match.

“I was in the car with the manager and his two friends when we came up to a road crossing,” he said. “An elderly gentleman who I assume was a Sikh was waiting to cross the road.

“The driver indicated to the man to cross, but as that man stepped off the pavement using a walking stick, the driver revved up his engine and edged forward, and the gentleman nearly fell over to avoid the car.

“To much laughter from the three companions in the car, the gentleman once again indicated to the man to cross, and when he moved forward, repeated the revving of 
the car. The laughter in the car from the other three grew louder.

“I sat in the back in absolute shock, and I am ashamed to say, shocked into silence. I couldn’t get my head around how anyone could treat another human being like that, let alone how others could find it funny.

“From that moment on I wanted to go home. I couldn’t sleep, I ran like a drain the next day, and I just wanted to get back on the plane. I kept thinking that what I should have done was to have gotten out of that car and helped that man across the road, irrespective of the circumstances.”

Pausing to fight back tears, Mr Whittle continued: “I was ashamed of my inaction so much that I only told that story to [fellow GB sprinter] Phil Brown last week when he phoned up to discuss the idea of how we could respond.

“Thankfully Phil totally understood how a young 21 year-old inexperienced boy could freeze in that situation. I still find myself ashamed having only told the guys last night, and I told myself then that I would never stand by ever again.”

In Edinburgh, council leaders have moved swiftly in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, working with Scotland’s first Black Professor Sir Geoff Palmer to draw up the wording for a plaque to add to the Melville Monument after two years of campaigning by activists.

The proposed text states that “Dundas was a contentious figure, provoking controversies that resonate to this day”, and explains that Tory politician who served as Home Secretary and Secretary for State for War at the end of the 18th century “was instrumental in deferring the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade”.

“As a result of this delay, more than half a million enslaved Africans crossed the Atlantic,” the text reads. “Dundas also curbed democratic dissent in Scotland.

“Dundas both defended and expanded the British empire, imposing colonial rule on indigenous peoples.”

It adds that the plaque is “dedicated to the memory of the more than half a million Africans whose enslavement was a consequence of Henry Dundas’s actions.”

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