Descendant of Henry Dundas slams Edinburgh Council plaque as ‘biased’, ‘defamatory’ and ‘historically inaccurate’
The tenth Viscount Melville, a descendant of Henry Dundas, has demanded the removal of “defamatory” temporary plaques in St Andrew Square.
Temporary hoardings were put up following mass Black Lives Matter protests across the world, the UK, and in Edinburgh and follow years of pressure on Edinburgh City Council to install a more historically accurate description of Dundas.
The wording describes the former Lord Advocate as being “influential” in prolonging the Atlantic slave trade.
However, descendant of Dundas, Bobby Melville, has delivered a package of documents to each of Edinburgh’s councillors demanding the plaque is removed and accusing the council of defaming his ancestor, while expressing support for the “important” Black Lives Matter movement.
Included in the pack are opinions from Sir Tom Devine, professor of Scottish history who argues blaming just Dundas for slavery is “not only anachronistic but in conflict with the evidence” and historians Michael Fry and Dr Brian Young.
A letter, also sent to the council, accuses it of “fake news”, of misrepresenting the facts, and argues that councillors who voted for the temporary plaque have “done a disservice” to the Black Lives Matter Movement.
It reads: “Certain members of the City of Edinburgh Council have allowed biased, historically inaccurate and defamatory information to be placed on the temporary plaques that commemorate the legacy of Henry Dundas.
“We have attached a review of evidence that sets out Henry Dundas's record on abolition, supported by citations to records of debates and authoritative commentary from historians, Sir Tom Devine, Professor Brian Young and Michael Fry. We ask that you review this information, as it will demonstrate the degree to which the current message on the plaques misrepresents the facts.
"The current message on the plaques is the equivalent of fake news.”
It adds: “We also believe members of the council who voted ‘aye’...have done a disservice to the movement, and the residents of this city as a whole, by failing to arrive at a statement about Henry Dundas that is fair, balanced and truthful. Black Lives Matter seeks to have the truth about black history known.
"It serves no one to allow distortions of the truth to be adopted by our elected officials and disseminated on public property.”
The letter also calls for a new panel to be formed with “no activists or non-historians” playing a part. It adds: “Lobbyists and activists should not be decision-makers on a matter of such importance.”
Edinburgh City Council said it will review the letter and respond to it in due course.
When the council unveiled the temporary wording for the plaque, council leader Adam McVey said it added to the “honest acknowledgement” of the Capital’s role in the slave trade.
The move also followed years of disagreement and paralysis from the council in dealing with Dundas’ history.
He said: “It’s right that a more accurate description was agreed for the plaque at the statue of Henry Dundas and we were keen to act quickly.
“It’s important that a more appropriate and factual description is in place so that we can all get a better understanding of Edinburgh’s history, and particularly an honest acknowledgement of our City’s role in the slave trade.
"By more accurately reflecting our past we can more accurately accept our present and lingering racism which still haunts our society which must be stamped out. The voices of ethnic minority residents are key to that progress.”
Dundas served as an MP for Edinburgh and Midlothian and was the first Lord of the Admirality as well as Scottish Lord Advocate, with the statue erected using private donations from seamen and officers from the navy in 1827.
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