Last night as we were watching the telly I turned suddenly to OH and said: ‘We’re living through history!’ That’s always true I suppose but right now there’s no denying we are in the midst of cataclysmic happenings. Brexit is the least of it. There’s the obvious dreaded lurgy paralysing the world and in the US the situation is on a knife-edge as we wait to see what will happen. Will Trump be impeached again? Will they be able to prise him from the White House before inauguration day like a thick cork blocking a champagne bottle? Will he face judgment for his alleged crimes? And on the day itself, what will happen? Will there be a peaceful transfer of power or will violent demonstrations wreck the day? Will the police be adequately prepared? I guess if last week’s insurrection achieved one thing it was as a wake-up call; if the authorities are not ready this time there’s no excuse for them.
Another thing that was abundantly clear after last week’s insurgence was the difference in the way black and white protestors are treated. Commentator after commentator – including Biden himself – pointed out the gulf between the violent, heavy-handed police response to the BLM protests – which were a protest, not an insurrection – and the tepid reaction to the armed, mostly white mob which descended on the Capitol. And it happened that when I turned to OH and said ‘We’re living through history’ we were watching a programme on BBC Scotland about that very topic. Scotland, Slavery and Statues dealt with the controversy over the Melville Monument in Edinburgh to one Henry Dundas. Dundas was an aristocrat who made a great deal of money from businesses using slave labour and who is placed atop the largest monument in the capital, a sort of Scottish Nelson’s column.
But nowhere on the plaque was his connection to slavery mentioned; neither was the clause he inserted into Wilberforce’s Anti-Slavery Bill which slowed the progress of abolition and arguably resulted in thousands more losing their liberty and lives. Campaigners had been trying for years to get the plaque changed but met with resistance from the council and from a campaign by the Dundas family maintaining that he was essentially a pragmatist and an abolitionist at heart, and that the clause he inserted saved the bill rather than undermining it. The programme interviewed campaigners and historians on both sides and the longer it went on the more complex the arguments became and the harder it seemed to get at the truth. Enter – or rather, exit – George Floyd (RIP) and the BLM movement. This was a turning-point: once the statue of Edward Colston had been toppled the Melville Monument looked to be next in the firing-line. Edinburgh Council did a complete volte-face, produced a new plaque mentioning Dundas’s part in the slave trade and despite the family’s protests, said that was the end of the story.
I may come back to this complex narrative in another post because arguments that history is being ‘altered’ (as though it were already perfect) need to be dealt with more substantially.
After all that we were in need of some comedy so finished the second series of the highly amusing Staged. I’ll probably come back to this at some point too.