Scotland ‘whitewashed’ its part in slave trade out of history exams, says Professor Neil McLennan

Scotland has ‘whitewashed’ its part in slave trade out of history exams in bid to ‘vilify’ the English, top historian says

  • Professor Neil McLennan said the exams ignore Scotland’s role in the slave trade
  • He asked the SNP to include Glasgow in a list of UK cities that used slave imports
  • The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) refused to include it in the exam 
  • Glasgow imported huge amounts of rum, sugar and tobacco in the 18th century

Scotland has left its vital role in the slave trade out of the school curriculum to ‘whitewash’ its history and ‘vilify’ England, a leading historian has claimed. 

Professor Neil McLennan, a senior lecturer at the University of Aberdeen, said he repeatedly asked the SNP for Glasgow to be included in a list of UK cities ‘associated with slavery gains’. 

Students sitting National 5 history – the Scottish equivalent of GCSEs – are only taught about Bristol and Liverpool in the module The Atlantic Slave Trade, 1770–1807.

This is despite Glasgow importing huge amounts of rum, sugar and tobacco from the American colonies.  

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), which is partly funded by the SNP, refused to include Glasgow, according to The Telegraph

McLennan, who began his career as a history teacher, said:  ‘It is part of our reconciliation with a bloody history which England, Scotland and other European countries, we are all guilty of.

Professor Neil McLennan (pictured), a senior lecturer at the University of Aberdeen, repeatedly asked the SNP to include Glasgow in a list of UK cities 'associated with slavery gains' but was refused

Professor Neil McLennan (pictured), a senior lecturer at the University of Aberdeen, repeatedly asked the SNP to include Glasgow in a list of UK cities ‘associated with slavery gains’ but was refused 

‘Unless we acknowledge it in our education system we will never cleanse the demons of the past.

‘That is a good example of the vilification of English history without presenting the totality of it, that is a real concern.’

In fact historical evidence shows that Glasgow – together with Greenock and Port Glasgow – was importing more tobacco from slaves in America than all the English ports combined by 1782.

Many Scots owned, managed and supplied plantations, while Glasgow grew rich from the goods being imported into the city. 

The city was also bringing in large amounts of rum and sugar to its port. 

Students in Scotland are to be taught about Liverpool and Bristol's role in the slave trade, despite the fact that Glasgow was importing huge amounts of tobacco, rum and sugar. Pictured: Glasgow marina

Students in Scotland are to be taught about Liverpool and Bristol’s role in the slave trade, despite the fact that Glasgow was importing huge amounts of tobacco, rum and sugar. Pictured: Glasgow marina

In addition there are 62 streets in Glasgow named after slave owners who built their fortunes on plantations supplying tobacco.  

The SQA’s course description of The Atlantic Slave Trade module says pupils ‘should be taught the organisation and nature of the slave trade: its effect on British ports, eg Liverpool, Bristol’.   

Another historian, Sir Tom Devine, said that Scotland has developed a sense of ‘moral superiority’ over England because Scotland ‘came very late’ to understanding its connection to the slave trade. 

Oliver Mundell, the Scottish Tory spokesman for education, said it was part of an ‘insidious attempt to rewrite aspects of our history in a misleadingly partisan fashion’ by the SNP.

He added that students need to be taught an accurate account of historical events – one which includes the sad reality of Scotland’s implication in the slave trade.

McLennan has previously called out the SQA for its ‘apparent inability to reform’ and backs its abolition. 

The professor, who has worked with Learning and Teaching Scotland, wants to break the SQA’s monopoly over exams so pupils can have the opportunity to achieve other qualifications, such as A Levels and the International Baccalaureate. 

A spokesman for the SQA said: ‘We fully recognise the importance of learners understanding Scotland’s role in the Atlantic slave trade and teachers have always been free to include this content in their lessons.

‘We will work with history teachers to review our curriculum guidance to see if any further changes are needed.’

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