A new centre for the study of the Scottish diaspora is already caught up in controversy over slavery





Oh, the swing of the kilt and the skirl of the bagpipes! The tens of thousands who gather annually to try their strength at tossing Scottish cabers around ... in Leipzig.

A mania for "the heedrum-hodrum Celtic twilight", which is afflicting parts of northern Europe, is one of the topics to be researched at a new centre for the study of the Scottish diaspora at Edinburgh University.

But since its launch at the end of last month, the new centre, funded by a £1m donation from a Scottish financier, has been caught up in controversy.

Its founder, perhaps Scotland's foremost historian, Professor Tom Devine, announced in the opening lecture that he intended to challenge the "Burns supper" school of Scottish history. As a result, he has been subject to attacks by nationalists accusing him of "unionist revisionism".

Legacy of slavery

Now, a professor emeritus of Heriot-Watt University, Geoff Palmer, has weighed in. Palmer, whose mother was a West Indian woman with the Scots name Lamond, wants the new centre to challenge what he sees as Scotland's refusal to engage with the legacy of slavery.

"I have a Jamaican telephone directory, and I would say that about 60% of the names in it are Scottish," he says. West Indians with Scottish names acquired them from slave owners and slave drivers, a huge proportion of whom were Scots. Some fathered children with slaves while others simply imposed their names on them.

"Most Scots are completely ignorant of this," says Palmer. He points to the nationalist Scottish government's Homecoming Scotland next year - a festival to welcome back the Scottish diaspora with a series of events like a great clan pageant. There is no mention of the West Indies anywhere in the publicity material: "This event is being marketed in Canada, New Zealand, Australia. Why are they not inviting people from Jamaica with Scottish names?"

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