Cities around the globe following Edinburgh's lead reviewing statues with slavery links

Cities throughout the world are getting in touch with looking to copy Edinburgh City Council’s statues review group and examine their own links to slavery and colonialism.

Thursday, 29th April 2021, 5:00 pm

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In the wake of the Black Lives Matters protests, and subsequent debate around colonial and racist figures being immortalised in public spaces, the council launched the Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group.

The group, chaired by Sir Geoff Palmer, Scotland’s first black professor, is examining the street names, monuments and buildings of the capital, and according to Sir Geoff, will provide educational resources to ‘provide people with information about their city’, rather than removing statues and changing place names.

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Slavery links: Controversial statue of Sir Henry Dundas

The group first met in March, and at a full meeting of Edinburgh City Council on Thursday April 29, SNP council leader Adam McVey praised the group’s work so far and said it is providing an example for other cities to follow.

Leith councillor McVey said: “At the next iteration of the policy and sustainability committee in June, I think we’re going to have an update which will set out some of the progress that has been made by that group.

“It’s worth saying that I appreciate some of the people in the city are still criticising the approach that Edinburgh is going down and looking at those historical and cultural issues which are still affecting us right now.

“One of the things that has come out of the meeting with Sir Geoff is the number of cities right across the world that are contacting Edinburgh, contacting us and asking for the details of our approach because they’re looking to carbon-copy it.

Sir Geoff Palmer is leading Edinburgh's review

“That’s a huge benefit, and a huge testament, to the work being done in Edinburgh, and a huge benefit to the rest of the world that they’re seeing what we’re doing and trying to emulate it in their cities, within their regions, within their communities.

“So in June there will be an update, and in the autumn there will be a thorough update, with some more information about the work being done.

“This is something that all councillors, hopefully, eventually, will come to take pride in because Edinburgh is leading the way in addressing these issues, and addressing them sensibly, and sensitively, to make sure the issues which have dogged our cities past - and present - no longer dog our future, and all our citizens, based on a culture of inclusion, are part of Edinburgh as citizens on equal terms.”

Recently, Edinburgh City Council approved the installation of a plaque on the Melville Monument – denouncing Henry Dundas’ role in deferring abolition of the slave trade and his role in expanding the British Empire.

The Category A-listed monument in St Andrew Square, in the heart of New Town, is one of the most prominent landmarks in the capital.

The monument pays tribute to Henry Dundas, the 1st Viscount Melville, the trusted right hand man of Prime Minister William Pitt and at one time the most powerful politician in Scotland.

He was instrumental in the Scottish Enlightenment, the prosecution of the French Revolutionary Wars and British colonial expansion in India.

However, Dundas is a controversial figure in Scottish history, due to his role in subjugating indigenous populations in the British Empire and for his part in delaying the abolition of the slave trade.

As first lord of the admiralty, Dundas deliberately prolonged slavery to protect the elite in the 1800s – forcing about 630,000 slaves to wait more than a decade for their freedom.

In June 2020, during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in the city, the monument was vandalised.

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