Poll: should statues of slave trade profiteers be removed?

Vote in the poll and have your say
Jonathan Knott
The controversy over monuments to confederate general Robert E Lee in the US has helped push statues up the political agenda in the UK.

Patrick Harvie, the co-convener of the Scottish Green Party, was recently quoted in the Times saying that he would like to see statues of slave trade profiteers removed. 

Harvie said: “This is never about erasing history. It’s about putting slavery into a proper context.

“I would be far more in favour of people seeing statues in a museum rather than raised on pedestals. And we should look at the people who built great places and cities such as Glasgow and say something meaningful about the whole context.”

He added: “Huge numbers of people had an economic interest in the slave trade and you can trace a lot of our current economic inequality back to the extraordinary compensation.”

“It is absolutely right that Scotland should have public museum space looking at the slave trade, particularly in the cities that benefited.”

But Murdo Fraser, a Conservative MSP, said: “This is shameless opportunism from someone always desperate to jump on a ‘right on’ bandwagon. There will be little public support for this stunt and the Greens should start focusing on things people actually care about.”

A recent focus of debate in Scotland is a monument to Henry Dundas, a merchant and politician who delayed the abolition of slavery and became Viscount Melville, which stands in Edinburgh city centre.

And statues of people with strong links to the slave trade in other UK cities are also the subject of increasing controversy. A statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol was recently adorned with an “unauthorised” inscription highlighting Bristol’s key role in the slave trade.

Writing in the Guardian, the historian and broadcaster David Olusoga said that the growing debate over statues, could have a positive effect by bringing previously hidden histories to light. "We are growing more sophisticated as we come to understand that not all monuments were created equal and that some were erected for cynical reasons that have little to do with history or heritage," wrote Olusoga, who will be a keynote speaker at the Museums Association Conference in November.

And also in the Guardian, Afua Hirsch has argued that there should be more questioning of monuments such as those to Admiral Horatio Nelson, whose statue stands in London’s Trafalgar Square, and who “vigorously defended” the slave trade.

Regardless of what happens to them afterwards, should statues of people who profited from the slave trade be taken down?

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