Scotland urged to create new national museum confronting its slave trade history

Scotland is being urged to create a new national museum to properly confront and explore the country’s historic links with the slave trade and its “colonial” past.

The Scottish Government has been told to create a new organisation to lead the development of the new attraction following a wide-ranging view of the museums sector, which also calls for more to be done to return looted or stolen objects to their country of origin.

Ministers are being urged to set aside £5 million over the next four years and also commit long-term funding to kick-start the museum, which would be run independently of existing arts organisations.

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More than 5,000 individuals took part in a nationwide consultation led by a Government-backed expert panel.

The Melville Monument in Edinburgh was targeted by protesters when the Black Lives Matter movement emerged two years ago: Picture: Urquhart Media/BBC

Its other recommendations include ensuring Scotland’s museums are committed to researching, interpreting and sharing the histories of the country’s links to empire, colonialism and historic slavery.

The Empire, Slavery and Scotland’s Museums Steering Group report states: “The Scottish Government should commit to the establishment and long-term funding of an independent organisation, run by people with relevant lived experience of racism and colonial legacies, and professional expertise.

"The organisation must be led by people who understand how racism manifests and operates in our organisations and in society.

“Consultation with people who have experienced racism has shown substantial mistrust in current museum structures and approaches.”

Sir Geoff Palmer has chaired the Empire, Slavery and Scotland’s Museums Steering Group.

The Government, which instigated the steering group two yeas ago, is being urged to “voice support” for the return of “unethically required” collections.

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The report adds: “Consultation with those who experience racism within Scotland strongly indicates that restitution and repatriation is an essential step in addressing the legacies of empire, colonialism and historic slavery.”

The work of the expert group has been led by Sir Geoff Palmer, a human rights activist and long-time campaigner for Scotland, with the aim of doing more to recognise how the country profited from the transatlantic slave trade.

Sir Geoff said: “The recommendations mark a milestone in Scotland’s tradition as a forward-looking nation.

Sir Geoff Palmer, pictured at the Melville Monument in Edinburgh. Picture: Urquhart Media/BBC
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"Taking a brave stance, acknowledging the part this country has played in shaping the world of today and being ready to see that glorious and inglorious histories co-exist, support us to move forward in a progressive way.

"The work that lies ahead may sometimes feel challenging and uncomfortable, but will be worth it to ensure museums and galleries are for all of Scotland’s people.”

A spokesman for National Museums Scotland said: "The report is an important contribution to the ongoing work within the sector to recognise Scotland's colonial past and how it is represented in collections and to diverse audiences.

"We’re committed to revealing and sharing the full range of stories about imperial and colonial activities associated with our collections and supporting the sector in doing so through our partnership work.

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“We’re making changes to displays and labels to address historical bias."

Scottish culture minister Neil Gray said: “The Scottish Government sponsored this independent group to look at how our existing museums, and those set up in the future, can present a more accurate portrayal of Scotland’s colonial and slavery history.

“We’ll carefully consider these important recommendations and discuss them with the steering group, before responding to them.”