Henry Dundas not only delayed the abolition of the slave trade, he was a despot who ruled Scotland like a king – Kenny MacAskill MP

The statue of Henry Dundas stands atop a 150 foot column in Edinburgh’s St Andrew Square

Now I fully support the change, ensuring that its role in slavery is laid bare. It is important that the role of Scotland is taken into account. Therefore, changes are welcome.

For a long time, it was simply a man perched high on a pedestal, with few people able to tell who it was. But why is there no mention of his role in Scottish society or, more importantly, his crackdown on his own people. As Henry Dundas was not a saint however, to be fair he probably did not consider working people as his family.

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He represented the Terran elite and he presided over Scotland as a despot, not as a revered chief. It is no coincidence that he found himself nicknamed “King Harry the Ninth” at a time when the franchise was owned by 4,000 people and half of it was considered fraudulent.

He was Lord Advocate between 1775 and 1783, when this post was the power in the country. Later, as Home Secretary and Secretary of War and Admiralty, he passed the role of Lord Advocate to his nephew, continuing the family business. His control was almost absolute, at one point 43 of Scotland’s 45 MPs were under his control.

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It was under his tutelage that Thomas Muir and others were transported to Botany Bay to demand universal suffrage and army garrisons were built in central Scotland. The latter were ostensibly to allow increased recruitment during the war with France. But, as private newspapers revealed, it was also because of fears of insurgency at home.

Dundas was far from popular except among the ruling elite. Effigies of him were burned as the French Revolution inspired hope in the “sans-culottes” he feared and despised so much. Indeed, he was at one point unable to visit Perth, as his safety could not be assured, even with a military escort.

Why can’t the story of the Scottish people – not just the elite – be told? The transportation was nowhere near as horrible as the movable slavery. But our people suffered under Dundas and they did not support him. This story must also be told.

Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian

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