Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review's remarkable omissions mean debate could go on for years – John McLellan

For such a highly charged matter, the Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review turned out to be something of an anti-climax, much of its contents already subject to considerable discussion.

Victorian explorer David Livingstone is described as 'a Christian missionary whose memory was used to justify Britain’s colonial expansion in Africa' (Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Victorian explorer David Livingstone is described as 'a Christian missionary whose memory was used to justify Britain’s colonial expansion in Africa' (Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Henry Dundas, David Hume, George Watson and most of the other historic names highlighted have had their records extensively examined, and the hard part is how the subjects identified will be “re-presented”, as the report accepted this week requires.

It will be hard because far from a work of scholarship, such an important document barely rises above the level of a Ladybird history book.

For example, the career of the great Victorian explorer David Livingstone is summed up simply as “a Christian missionary whose memory was used to justify Britain’s colonial expansion in Africa”. Or India Street, named as a “celebration of empire”, with the explanation that “profits from Britain’s colonial relationship with India contributed to the funding of the New Town’s expansion.” Who knew?

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The examples are just meant to be “representative”, but some of the omissions are remarkable, such as no mention of Portobello, an entire district named after the Caribbean port captured by the British in 1739 in a war fought specifically to protect the right of British traders to sell slaves into Spanish colonies.

Nor is there room for the Gladstone statue on Shandwick Place, commemorating the Liberal Prime Minister who opposed abolition in his maiden Commons speech because his father owned slaves.

After the bitter arguments which raged about the Dundas column alone, this could go on for years.