Edinburgh 'should apologise for role in slavery and colonialism'

Sir Geoff was commissioned by the council to chair the review following the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in 2020.

Edinburgh should apologise for role in slavery and colonialism, says academic PA Media

Edinburgh council should issue an apology for the city’s historic links to slavery and colonialism, a report commissioned in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests has said.

Sir Geoff Palmer’s report has made 10 recommendations for how the city can address the legacy of slavery and colonialism, including ordering a “significant” new public artwork.

It says statues, street names and buildings associated with those who profited from the practices should be retained but “re-presented” in a way that gives a fuller explanation of their consequences.

Sir Geoff was commissioned by the council to chair the review following the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in 2020.

The review group has published its report after working for 18 months.

Next week, councillors will consider how to take forward his recommendations at a meeting of the council’s Policy and Sustainability Committee.

According to an action plan drawn up by council officers, from next year Edinburgh will begin observing the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition every August 23.

The work of re-presenting statues, buildings and street names associated with slavery and colonialism is set to take several years, starting from 2023.

However, the issuing of an apology for Edinburgh’s past role in the practices should take place within a year, according to the action plan.

Sir Geoff’s report also recommends establishing “friendship agreements” with cities and countries most impacted by slavery and colonialism.

In his foreword to the report, the Heriot-Watt University emeritus professor said: “I was born in Jamaica.

“I am descended from slaves and Scots who enslaved them, and there are Scottish names in my family such as Gladstone, Mowatt and Wood.

“The baptisms list of chattel slaves ‘belonging to Lord Balcarres’ in Jamaica 1819, includes the name of my great grandfather.

“His name was Henry Larmond. One of my names is Henry.

“With so intimate a bond to this legacy, it was a great honour to be invited by the City of Edinburgh Council to chair this independent review and oversee the creation of a set of recommendations addressing Edinburgh’s slavery and colonialism legacy in the public realm.”

Sir Geoff stressed the importance of education in tackling historic racial injustices.

His report said the slave trade had shaped the city but its history had “largely been hidden” from the public.

It said: “Slavery contributed to the flow of wealth into Edinburgh that manifested itself in the elegant construction of the New Town.

“Compensation to slave owners was often reinvested in the railway boom.

“Statues were erected to honour people whose deeds linked them to perpetuation of slavery or notions of racial superiority.”

It noted a number of prominent locations and buildings with links to the slave trade, noting that 74 slave-owning New Town residents received compensation for the loss of their “property” upon abolition in 1833.

Sir Geoff’s report mentions that Bute House, which is now the First Minister’s official residence, was historically owned by people who benefitted from the slave trade.

The total cost of the review, which included a community consultation, was £18,500.

Edinburgh council leader Cammy Day said: “We commissioned this independent review because we felt it was an important and useful starting point for a wide-ranging public discussion about the modern-day impact of this legacy, and to acknowledge that race-based discrimination has deep roots in our capital.

“It still shapes the life experiences of black and minority ethnic residents today, and that is unacceptable.

“Racism must be talked about, and action to end it must be supported if it is to be stamped out and we are to be the inclusive and welcoming city that the vast majority of its residents wants and expects it to be.”

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