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‘No sense of loss’ if Dundas statue removed

The leader of City of Edinburgh Council spoke about the Melville Monument after campaigners hurled a statue of Edward Colston into Bristol Harbour.

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The statue of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, on top of a 150ft column, known as the Melville Monument (Jane Barlow/PA)

The statue of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, on top of a 150ft column, known as the Melville Monument (Jane Barlow/PA)

The statue of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, on top of a 150ft column, known as the Melville Monument (Jane Barlow/PA)

The leader of Edinburgh City Council has said he would feel “no sense of loss” if a statue of a politician who delayed the abolition of slavery was removed.

Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, worked to frustrate efforts to end the trade by using his influence as home secretary, setting the move back 15 years.

A 150ft column with a statue of the politician – known as the Melville Monument – stands in St Andrew Square and was vandalised during the Black Lives Matter protest in the Scottish capital on Sunday.

I think it's important to tell our story as a cityEdinburgh City Council leader Adam McVey

Council leader Adam McVey told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “I would have absolutely no sense of loss if the Dundas statue was removed and replaced with something else or left as a plinth.

“I think it’s important to tell our story as a city, I think it’s important that that’s reflective, that’s representative of what actually happened – not what we might have wanted to happen – and I think we take that conversation from there.”

Dundas put forward an amendment to a Bill which would abolish slavery in 1792, opting for a more gradualist approach.

This allowed the practice to continue for 15 years longer than it otherwise would have done.

During this time an estimated 630,000 people were transported to Britain as slaves.

Dundas was nicknamed “the Great Tyrant” and was later impeached for the misappropriation of public money in 1806.

The now A-listed monument was erected in 1823.

Mr McVey’s comments came after campaigners pulled down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol and graffiti was scrawled on the monument to Sir Winston Churchill in London’s Parliament Square.

Talks are ongoing to discuss the wording of a plaque that will be installed at the monument to display a more “representative” history.

Mr McVey said: “When we scratch beneath the surface of our city’s long history – the sweeping streets of the New Town, some of the statues in our squares – we must face an uncomfortable truth.

“Edinburgh was, in part, built on wealth created by the slave trade.

“For too long this part of our city’s history has been hidden but we are starting to confront our past and need to go further.”

He added: “The statue of Henry Dundas in St Andrew Square at the very least requires a more representative story to be told on-site and, although the statue doesn’t belong to the council, we’ve previously done what we can to facilitate discussions around how this might look.

“While a consensus wasn’t achieved with a previous approach, we need a resolution now to make a change and I have called a meeting of Edinburgh World Heritage, Prof Geoffrey Palmer and an expert from the University of Edinburgh with a view to agreeing a new form of words as quickly as possible.”

On Tuesday, London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced the city’s landmarks would be reviewed to ensure they reflect the capital’s diversity.

He said the Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm would examine murals, street art, street names, statues and other memorials, and consider which legacies should be celebrated before making recommendations.

PA