Scotland and slavery opinion: should Scotland's links to the Atlantic slave trade be taught in schools?

09 July 2020
Glasgow's Merchant City
Scottish links to the Atlantic Slave Trade should be taught as a mandatory subject for all schools, argues Bradley Benton (aged 14).

Bradley writes: I am an S3 pupil who has chosen to study History over the next few years at National 5 Level. I enjoy everything about the subject, learning about the past and how things that have happened have shaped the world we live in today. 

When my class began studying the Atlantic Slave Trade, I was horrified to learn of the suffering of millions of people. It was unbelievable that they could have been treated this way, it initially seemed like these events happened in a far distant place, in a time that was unrelatable. 

Glasgow links

However, as the lessons progressed, I was taught about the links with Scotland, particularly Glasgow. I was shocked that I was unaware of Glasgow’s involvement in the Atlantic Slave Trade. I was unaware that the busy shopping location, Buchanan Street, was named after Andrew Buchanan, a tobacco merchant who had plantations in Virginia and is thought to have owned up to 300 slaves.

Additionally, Glassford Street in Merchant city, where it is normally full of people eating and drinking with their families, was named after John Glassford: one of Glasgow’s leading tobacco lords in the 1700’s. Most of the Glasgow’s busiest streets are linked to slavery.

I think it is hugely important that Scotland’s involvement in the Atlantic Slave Trade should be taught in all schools. Currently, there is much discussion around Scotland’s involvement in slavery and it can be a very controversial subject.

Much of the information online, particularly on social media, is very opinion based, lacks facts, and contains a lot of bias. It is, therefore, pivotal that school children are taught about the correct facts of the history in our country; by teaching the facts of a topic, this allows Scottish pupils to determine their own opinions. 

There is currently a petition for Scotland’s involvement in the Atlantic slave trade to be taught in Scottish schools. As of 15 June 2020, it stands at 15,164 signatures and was started by a pupil named Jennifer Cochrane. Those who have signed this are calling for the Scottish government to make it mandatory for schools to teach about Scotland's past and the lives and experiences of black people in Scotland, starting in the broad general  phase and continued into the senior phase. 

This petition will bring Scotland in line with England; In September 2008 Britain's involvement in the slave trade was to be studied by all secondary pupils in England. At the time Children's Minister Kevin Brennan said: "Although we may sometimes be ashamed to admit it, the slave trade is an integral part of British history. It is inextricably linked to trade, colonisation, industrialisation and the British empire”. I believe it should be the same for Scotland. 

A different world?

Often in history, the past is hard to imagine because it is such a different world from today. It is a good thing that we learn from the past and this includes mistakes that have been made and atrocities that have been committed.

In Britain, profits from the slave trade fuelled the industrial revolution, it boosted the economy, brought businesses, and increased employment. This was financed by the selling of slaves and the profits from plantations on British Colonies. Although this in uncomfortable, it is important that all Scottish pupils know this.

If we walk around the streets of Glasgow today, we see a mix of races and cultures which show how the world has changed in the past few centuries. Everyone is invited to be part of the diversity cities and towns in Scotland. Teaching about the Atlantic slave trade in Scotland in schools would help further the understanding of how people feel when they know how their ancestors were treated.

I think is important to remember the past, as it has shaped the country we live in today, and this should never be forgotten or relegated to past conversations. As Nelson Mandela himself once said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” ...