View from a correspondent
REPORTS that police decided not to stop people pulling down and throwing a statue of slave trader Edward Colston into Bristol Harbour during the nationwide “Black Lives Matter” protests on Sunday are interesting. Senior police officers interviewed explained they wanted to avoid confrontation. They were also under extreme pressure, apparently with limited manpower. And so in a flashpoint situation, the protesters – some would call them rioters – got their way.
Throughout the UK there are statues built in the mists of time in tribute to people who we now consider to have been involved in some terrible episodes in history. One such is the statue of George Granville Levenson-Gower, 1st Duke of Sutherland. It sits atop Beinn a’ Bhragaigh overlooking Golspie.
He played a significant part in the Highland Clearances when homes of smallholders/crofters were burned/demolished to make way for sheep.
Would it now be acceptable to attack that statue, take it down the hill on the back of a lorry and hurl it into the Dornoch Firth?
In this area I’m sure it would not be and that such actions would be prevented by the police.
Nevertheless, what happened in Bristol as the statue was tossed into Bristol Harbour has set a potentially alarming precedent.
We’ve fully understood for a very long time that there are statues in almost every corner of the United Kingdom commemorating people who by modern standards were certainly involved in abhorrent and crooked businesses to create their fortunes.
However, destroying statues or anything else which assists us to better understand and reflect on a country’s historical glories and on occasions horrific misdeeds is nothing more than wanton vandalism. Understanding the mistakes of the past must surely help us ensure they don’t happen again in the future.
Throughout the UK there are huge houses on country estates and castles perched in prominent positions overlooking the lands in their ownership below. The fortunes to build and maintain many of them came from the exploitation of the land and those living in African countries.
It would be entirely wrong to even consider that anything relating to parts of our history some people don’t like or are ashamed of can be “dumped” with impunity. It would signal open season for the destruction of anything historically distasteful – not so much rewriting history as simply making it go away.
All too often the past becomes blurred. We must do our level best to ensure we don’t lose sight of how we behaved towards others historically.
As time passes the importance of understanding history and learning lessons from it grows naturally. Understanding the past is the key to ensuring we don’t repeat our historic errors in the future. Visual representations of that help.
I recall that with regard to the Duke of Sutherland statue, in 1994, the late Sandy Lindsay, a retired councillor, applied to the then Highland Regional Council to have the statue demolished, broken into pieces and scattered on the hillside, so that people visiting a new monument in memory of the cleared could walk on Sutherland’s remains.
His bid to topple the Duke sparked debate in newspapers across the world, and he was offered support from all over the world.
His application was rejected, but the council agreed there should be an indicator board, detailing exactly what happened in the Duke’s name.
Rob Gibson, a former Dingwall-based SNP MSP and a colleague of Lindsay’s, never approved of the statue, but said most people in Golspie now see it as part of their skyline.
“I think most people actually see it as a warning.
“It’s a warning about what happened and the Clearances that took place. It’s a warning about what happened and the Clearances that took place under their regime, that the Clearances should never be allowed to happen again.”
That I believe is the perspective which should apply.
There was no justification for tearing down that statue in Bristol on Sunday and absolutely none for vandalising the statue in Trafalgar Square of Winston Churchill, the greatest Briton of the 20th century.
This behaviour appalled many people like me and did no good service at all to the Black Lives Matter cause. Compare and contrast with the entirely peaceful protest in Inverness and the signs displayed on the Ness Bridge, which surely made the point those involved intended to make, in a reasonable manner.
I hope those responsible are caught and punished as the wanton vandals and rioters they are.