Claire Anderson, Daily Mail, September 23, 2018
Scotland’s first black professor has called for reparations to be made after a groundbreaking report shows how Glasgow University benefited from the proceeds of slavery.
Sir Geoff Palmer said it posed ‘uncomfortable questions’ for British society as a whole and that institutions who profited on the slave trade to make amends.
The report which was published last week by Glasgow University and is based on more than two years of research, revealed that the institution gained almost £200million in today’s money.
Glasgow University has now launched a wide-ranging, ambitious ‘reparative justice programme’ after the recent discovery.
The university was actually the forefront of the movement in the 19th century to abolish slavery even though it benefited from the slave trade in Africa and Caribbean in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Russel Group university is working to establish ties with the University of the West Indies, as well as creating a centre for the study of slavery and memorial or tribute to those who were enslaved.
The report’s findings, though, carry profound implications far beyond the cloistered spaces of this 546-year-old university.
The unrelenting and forensic detail of the study also raises questions about how the wealth of the city of Glasgow and other parts of Scotland was derived.
‘Some Scots have told me they’re mystified why no one told them any of this, but who did they think made the tobacco?’ Palmer, professor emeritus at the school of life sciences at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh told The Observer.
‘We can have all the equality laws and anti-racism legislation we like, but if no other institutions, firms or organisations which also benefited from slavery declare this and seek to make amends, then it’s all meaningless.
‘If they all were to follow the example of Glasgow University, then that would be real race relations … If what Glasgow University is doing in reaching out to these communities as a means of reparation were to be replicated, it would make a real difference.’
Merchant City, a chic neighbourhood near Glasgow’s city centre, had many of its building built on the tobacco trade, which profited from the most appalling acts of inhumanity, some of which are described in grim detail in the report.
The evil of slavery has been stitched into the very fabric of Glasgow for almost 200 years: Buchanan Street, Glassford Street and Ingram Street are named after some of the most notorious exploiters of the slave market, while Jamaica, Tobago and Virginia are similarly commemorated.
One of the most notorious Scottish slave-masters who figures prominently in the Glasgow University report is Robert Cunninghame Graham, who on his return to Scotland after two decades as a slaver became a politician, poet and, eventually, rector of Glasgow University.
The report also looks at the family connections to the slave trade of the great Scottish engineer James Watt and the Coats family , whose cotton fortune, which contributed to the prosperity of Paisley, was built on slavery.
This, in turn, raises the question of how many other grand Scottish families and companies derive much of their present-day wealth from historical human trafficking, and whether or not they may be willing to acknowledge this and make reparations.