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'Britain must own up to its role in the slave trade'

CONCERN: Professor Sir Geoff Palmer says the university regrets its association with slavery

SCOTLAND’S FIRST black professor has told The Voice that leading British institutions must fully acknowledge their role in the Transatlantic slave trade following a groundbreaking revelation from the University of Glasgow, pictured below right, that it benefited from slavery to the tune of £200 million.

Professor Sir Geoff Palmer said the decision by Glasgow University to launch a “reparative justice programme” could raise “uncomfortable questions” for Britain.

He added that the university’s actions could also provide clear solutions to the thorny question of how to pay reparations to the descendants of people affected by the slave trade. British banks, insurance and shipping companies were among those that grew wealthy in the 18th and 19th Centuries from slavery profits.

Palmer told The Voice: “When an institution does what the University of Glasgow has done nobody can deny that dealing with reparations is not possible. “Their actions have gone a long way to tackling some of the negative attitudes on this subject. People try to undermine the argument and say that there are lots of different types of slavery. “But Glasgow has come out and been very specific about the type of slavery it’s talking about which is Caribbean slavery.”

The Heriot-Watt University academic continued: “It’s not only about the money, it’s about the advantages it gained as a university. One of the things about slavery is that it limited the advance and development of people in the Caribbean and therefore Glasgow is admitting that this slavery left an imbalance between the people who were engaged in and running slavery and the people who were the victims of it.”

Recent research by Glasgow university, published as part of a report last week into thousands of donations it received in the 18th and 19th Centuries, found that some of the money it received was linked to profits generated by the slave trade.


DISCOVERY: Recent research by the University of Glasgow revealed the institution profited from the slave trade

It included sums for bursaries and endowments. In total, the money it received is estimated as having a present day value of up £198 million.

Donations to build the university’s campus at Gilmorehill which was completed in 1880 found 23 financial donors who had some financial links to the New World slave trade.

Included as part of Glasgow University’s restorative justice plans are a centre for the study of slavery and a memorial or tribute in university grounds in the name of the enslaved.

Glasgow University Principal Prof Sir Anton Muscatelli said: “This report has been an important undertaking and commitment to find out if the university benefited from slavery in the past.

“Although the university never owned enslaved people or traded in the goods they produced, it is now clear we received significant financial support from people whose wealth came from slavery.

“The university deeply regrets this association with historical slavery which clashes with our proud history of support for the abolition of both the slave trade and slavery itself.”

The issue of how to pay reparations for slavery has long been a thorny one for people of African and Caribbean heritage. British profits were made from exporting manufactured goods to Africa and importing products made by slaves such as sugar.

Ports such as Glasgow, Bristol and Liverpool prospered as a result of the slave trade.

In 2015, former prime minister David Cameron rejected calls for Britain to open talks with Caribbean nations on reparations for slavery, saying it was time to “move on”.

However, Professor Palmer said that Mr Cameron’s refusal to open talks on the issue reflects a reluctance to discuss the issue in Britain.

On the issue of who should receive reparations, he said: “Nobody would realistically think that money will be doled out to us, to individuals.

“That would be impractical. Reparations should be given to the governments of the Caribbean and used specifically for infrastructure development.”

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