Glasgow City Council leader issues slave trade apology after report published

An apology for the slave trade in Scotland has been issued by the leader of Glasgow City Council today.

A new report examined the city’s connection and subsequent wealth from the transatlantic slave trade as councilor Susan Aitken put forward an amendment to offer an immediate apology.

The report, by University of Glasgow historian Dr Stephen Mullen, linked 62 street names and eight statues to the slave trade.

The Glasgow Slavery Audit was commissioned by the council in 2019 to determine the historic connections and modern legacies derived from the Atlantic slave trade.

Councillor Aitken, who represents the SNP, said: “It uncovers and elucidates in greater detail than ever before a part of Glasgow’s history that this city has often marginalized or downplayed.

“It can no longer be ignored and the amendment that I am moving today asks us to do three things to acknowledge, apologise and to act.

“We have long known much of the source of the wealth of which Glasgow was built.

“We knew but up until recently didn’t think much about what it really meant and we brushed aside the voices trying to tell us.

“In our recent era when other cities were sincerely grappling with their role in chattel slavery, our city was still glorifying it naming the Merchant City barely a decade before Liverpool issued an apology for the type of things we are her discussing today.

“Follow the Atlantic slavery money trail and its tentacles reach into every corner of Glasgow.

“The predecessor organization of this very council borrowed and invested money to the equivalent of millions of pounds that directly came from and contributed to chattel slavery.

“It’s clear what this report tells is that the blood of trafficked and enslaved African people, their children and their children’s children is built into the very bones of this city.

“Glasgow’s history to the present day echoes to the crack of the plantation overseers lash.

“Chattel slavery stands as one of the most heinous crimes in human history and Glasgow was complicit and for that we apologize today, unreservedly, without excuses, justifications or attempts at self-congratulation of the type we have too often employed in the past.

“Many who are alive today still live with the legacy of racism whose roots can be traced directly back to what was white supremacy codified in law and the country’s whose populations were stolen and enslaved still suffer.

“An apology tells them that finally we are trying to understand.”

The amendment was seconded by Councilor Graham Campbell, chairman of the council’s cross party working group on slavery.

He said: “This is a historically unprecedented statement and I am in the position of being both able to support this amendment to make this offer of an apology on behalf of the city, but also to partly accept the apology on behalf of African and Caribbean descendants as the first one present in this chamber.

“Perhaps the 40 Lord Provosts mentioned in the report who got their wealth from ill gotten gains would never have anticipated someone like me would be here.

“Why are we remembering and what is the purpose of doing this?

“We have had organized forgetting of the record of Glasgow’s involvement in chattel slavery.

“We have now got the historic evidence and it is now up to us as citizens to see what we can do with that information – how we teach the legacy of chattel slavery.

“Slavery and colonialism are the origins of the racism we face today – how people think, the stereotypes and prejudices are derived from that time.”

Councillor Campbell said the 2020 Black Lives Matter protest shows that there is a racism problem in the city which is why measures have had to be taken.

He added: “This apology is just a first step and is part of the journey not the end.”

Labor group leader, Councilor Malcolm Cunning said: “It has taken far too long to realize that deep-seated, interwoven legacy of slavery in Glasgow.

“We now need to say how do we go forward, what do we do now and how do we make our apology and acknowledgment in the 21st Century.”

Greens Councillor Kim Long added: “It is especially important for us to note the impact and the leadership of the first black councilors elected to this chamber.

“It is crucial for us as a city to move from the stance of we didn’t know, to we do know.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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