Historical Bathgate gala changes name to sever 'racist' ties
The annual Bathgate Procession and John Newland Festival marks the founding of the town in the 1300s and the creation of the local academy in the 19th century.
Usually held in June, celebrations feature a street procession with pipe band, costumed characters, live music and entertainment.
Crowds turn out each year to take part in the event, but some locals fear the name of the festival is actually sending out a “racist” message.
John Newland left thousands of pounds in his will to set up a school in his home town of Bathgate.
But historical records show his legacy is marred by the truth that he made his fortune as a plantation owner in Jamaica, using slave labour.
Now the pageant has dropped John Newland’s name after hundreds of people signed an online petition.
Committee members have announced that the event, which was cancelled this year due to the coronavirus crisis, will now be renamed as the Bathgate Procession and Community Festival.
In a statement, they said: “This is something the committee have discussed over the years and also considering a recent petition requesting association with John Newland is removed due to his links to slavery.
“The current modern-day procession seeks to celebrate diversity, inclusion and community spirit.
“We do not want this much-loved community event to offend or exclude anyone from celebrating the procession.
“In the coming months we will look at the best way to disassociate John Newland from the festival celebrations to ensure procession day 2021 can be enjoyed by all.
“We know this subject has sparked arguments but we would like the community to come together on this and support each other in what is already a difficult time.”
The petition was set up by Bathgate resident Allana Hoggard.
She said: “This does not erase our history or the part Bathgate and much of Scotland played in the slave trade, but sends a message that we do not celebrate those who perpetrated racist actions at any point in history.
“It is for us to do better and be better so that our children might grow up in a better world than we found it. I believe this is the right place to start.”
The move comes as people around the globe have been staging anti-racism demonstrations after the death of black security guard George Floyd at the hands of police in the US.
A peaceful BLack Lives Matter solidarity protest is due to take place in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park this Sunday, with speeches and performances from the black community.