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On the UNESCO International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, Edinburgh acknowledges its history while also casting its gaze towards the future

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A civic reception to recognise the UNESCO International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition (August 23) and to officially launch the work of the Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Review Implementation Group (ESCLRIG) was held on the 23rd of August at the City Chambers. 

The event, hosted by Lord Provost Robert Aldridge and Council Leader Cammy Day, provided a space to remember the victims of the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism, time to reflect on its legacy in our city and honour those figures who fought for its abolition.

The reception opened with speeches from distinguished guests before the screening of ‘Sugar for Your Tea’, a short film from Edinburgh’s own Kayus Bankole from the Mercury Prize-winning group Young Fathers. This was followed by moments for reflection and group discussions on key issues.    

Back in 2020, Edinburgh agreed to address historic racial injustice and stem modern-day discrimination by holding an independent review into the city’s historical links with slavery and colonialism.

Between December 2020 and July 2022, the independent Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Review Group, chaired by Sir Geoff Palmer, undertook a significant body of work investigating the city’s past and present relationship with slavery and colonialism.

In October 2022, the Lord Provost Robert Aldridge opened the Council meeting by apologising on behalf of the city for its past role in sustaining slavery and colonialism. The civic apology follows the ten recommendations returned by the Group and an action plan made by the ESCLRIG.

In March 2023, Irene Mosota was nominated to chair the ESCLRIG which will take forward the remaining recommendations. In the last month the ESCLRIG has been recruiting for members of the core Implementation Group and also for a wider Supporters Network. The results of this recruitment drive have now been finalised and a full list of members is now available following the quotes below.  

“It was an honour to host this first civic reception with the Council Leader to recognise the UNESCO International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. It is imperative that as a city we look to our past in order to better understand our present and look forward to a better future.

“Edinburgh, like many other cities in the UK, was enriched by its position in the British Empire and grew at the expense of people and communities around the world. In my position as Lord Provost, I reiterate this apology on behalf of the city of Edinburgh for our historical links to slavery and colonialism. I am clear that this apology will be the start of this collective journey forward for the city.     

“We want this civic reception to be the start of an annual tradition of commemoration and learning here in Edinburgh for everyone who is associated with the Capital on this day. The work of the ESCLRIG will continue year-round to shape the modern, forward thinking, and diverse city that we all want to see.”

The Lord Provost of the City of Edinburgh, Robert Aldridge

“The commemoration of the UNESCO International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition represents a key step in our work to address the legacies of slavery and colonialism here in Edinburgh.

“We must be under no illusions that racism and the legacies of slavery and colonialism continue to impact the lives of Black and Minority Ethnic people who live in and visit Edinburgh. This is completely unacceptable, and I am committed to leading an anti-racist Council in our actions and unconditional support of the ESCLRIG.

“I am proud that we are having these difficult conversations and forging the foundations for a more tolerant, just, and equal Edinburgh. It is crucial that as a city and a society we come to terms with our past in order to create a better present and future.

“I look forward to working closely with the ESCLRIG going forward, and seeing their progress as they undertake this key work for our city.”

Council Leader Cammy Day

“Today, we have to face up to our past and look ahead to what’s next. Our history is complex, marked by the weight of slavery and colonialism, which has left behind a legacy of racism that we still see in our city and its institutions. On this UNESCO Day of Remembrance, let’s work together to make changes, treating everyone with respect and dignity, and sticking to our commitment for a better future. Part of this work is to ensure that we listen to the voices of communities which have long been marginalised, centring their lived experiences to inform how we move forward.

“Everyone must play their part and warm words alone are not enough. We need concrete action from business communities, educational authorities, and government to combat both structural and systemic inequalities.

“The excitement about our recruitment drive shows that Edinburgh really wants to change – it’s an opportunity to reconsider our history and traditions, heal old hurts, and create a future that’s fair and just for all.”

Irene Mosota, Chair of the Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Review Implementation Group

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