Scottish Government urged to consider national memorial for those persecuted under Witchcraft Act

A Scottish Parliament committee has agreed to write to the Scottish Government asking them to consider setting up a national memorial for those persecuted under the Witchcraft Act of 1563.

Wednesday, 18th May 2022, 4:23 pm
Updated Wednesday, 18th May 2022, 10:50 pm

A petition to pardon and memorialise those convicted under the Witchcraft Act of 1563, lodged by Claire Mitchell QC of the Witches of Scotland campaign, was considered by the citizen participation and public petitions committee on Wednesday.

The committee agreed to write to the Scottish Government requesting they give “some consideration” to the petition’s request for a national memorial.

On International Women’s Day, Nicola Sturgeon issued a formal apology on behalf of the Scottish Government to those people, mostly women, convicted under the Witchcraft Act.

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In Scotland, an estimated 3,837 people – around 84 per cent of whom were women – were tried as witches under the Act, according to the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft.

About 2,500 of those accused were executed and burned. It is thought about 85 per cent of those who were victims to this miscarriage of justice were women.

The first memorial in the Borders to honour people executed under the Witchcraft Act is being planned for Peebles.

A public consultation supported a headstone-style memorial on parkland in the town and a cairn on Venlaw Hill where executions took place.

The Witches' Well in Edinburgh which identifies "many witches were burnt at the stake" instead of memorialising the thousands killed in the miscarriage of justice.

Permission is currently being sought for the cairn to be erected.

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Peebles memorial planned for those persecuted under Scottish Witchcraft Act

During Wednesday’s committee, MSP David Torrance said the committee should ask what public body would be involved in the setting up of a national monument so they could “go to them direct”.

Agreeing on the action, convener of the committee Jackson Carlaw MSP said: “It would be helpful if the Scottish Government indicated if there was a body they thought might be appropriate, assuming they respond positively to the idea, to try and advance this.”

The committee confirmed Claire Mitchell welcomed the First Minister’s apology as the Witches of Scotland campaign continue to push for a pardon to be issued for all the victims who were convicted under the Act.

A Witches of Scotland spokesperson said: “We are delighted that the public petition committee has decided to refer the issue of the National Monument to the Scottish Government to find out which public body might be put in charge of bringing the idea to fruition.

"It is high time that public spaces reflected the history of Scottish women and this national monument will be an important step in doing so.”

Although not present, MSP Natalie Don told the committee she was consulting on her proposed Private Member’s Bill that focuses on issuing a pardon to those impacted by the Witchcraft Act.

However, she made clear her Bill does not deal with the issue of a national memorial.

Addressing the private member’s Bill focusing on the pardon, Alexander Stewart MSP said: “It is important now to get some of the evidence from Natalie Don herself.

"It will be useful for us to receive an update on how she is progressing with that member’s bill.”

In her apology, Ms Sturgeon said “misogyny still runs deep” in Scottish society, adding: "Reckoning with historic injustice is a vital part of building a better country.

"So too is recognising and writing into history what has been for too long erased, the experiences and the achievements of women.”

The apology from the First Minister is the first formal recognition of the miscarriage of justice that took place under the Witchcraft Act 1563.