YOU wouldn’t think that a man who crushed a rebellion against the Highland Clearances and played a part in delaying the abolition of the Transatlantic slave trade by 20 years would have a memorial in Scotland’s capital – yet Henry Dundas sits atop one of Edinburgh’s tallest monuments.

Now a campaigner’s fight to have the misdeeds of “The Great Tyrant” recognised have taken a step forward after Edinburgh Council’s Petitions Committee approved plans to discuss further a call to add a new plaque to the statue listing his more nefarious deeds.

The move comes after campaigner Adam Ramsay submitted a petition calling for greater transparency about those who capital forebears have chosen to honour.

Ramsay said: “Public art and memorialisation is sometimes more important than we give it credit for. It tells us who we are as a people. It tells others who visit our city who we are.

“The fact that the statue that dominates the Edinburgh skyline is of the guy who delayed the abolition of the Transatlantic slave trade is something we can’t just ignore.”

Also known as the “Grand Manager of Scotland”, Tory politician Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville played a defining role in late 18th-century politics.

He was the first secretary of state for war and the last person to be impeached in the UK for embezzling public funds.

During his life he also oversaw the transportation of Thomas Muir and the Scottish radicals demanding the right to vote – a case that inspired Robert Burns to pen Scots Wha Hae – and was said to be key to the expansion of the British Empire in India and the West Indies.

Yet despite this record, the Melville Monument on which he stands atop, located in St Andrew Square in Edinburgh, simply states that he was “a dominant figure in politics for over four decades” and that “besides being treasurer to the Navy, he was also Lord Advocate and Keeper of the Scottish Signet”.

The petition intends to add a new plaque to the statue to reveal the truth about Dundas’s place in history. Ramsay said: “We have a lack of conversation about our involvement in the British Empire, and our involvement in the slave trade. It’s important that we begin to have that conversation.”

Green councillor Chas Booth, who sits on the Petitions Committee, said there was “sympathy from all members” about “what the petition was seeking to do”.

However, he highlighted that there were obstacles ahead, stating: “The challenge will be in coming up with a form of words that everyone can agree on.”

Ramsay will work with the committee and council officers to come up with a statement for the plaque that everyone is happy with. If that is achieved, the petition will be passed to the Culture and Sport Committee.

Booth said: “With a can-do attitude, this particular project will come off and could open the door to other similar ones.”

Ramsay will be responsible for raising funds for the plaque himself and believes that, if successful, this project could inspire others to begin thinking more about the people we memorialise in our cities.

He concluded: “It’s important not just who we have statues for but also who we don’t. Edinburgh has only one statue of a named woman, which is Queen Victoria. It has no statues of named black people.

“We should be having conversations about who we should have statues of, about who we should venerate, and of the representation of the ordinary people who really do make our country.”

‘Great Tyrant’ Henry Dundas far from the only Scot with links to a shameful past

SCOTLAND doesn’t have the most distinguished history when it comes to the slave trade, writes Andrew Learmonth. Henry Dundas wasn’t the only prominent Scot to have made huge amounts of money on the back of other people’s enslavement.

Many in Glasgow became obscenely rich due to their trade in the tobacco and sugar businesses; two industries entirely reliant on the efforts of slavery. James Ewing, former Lord Provost and MP, below, who has a memorial in the city’s Necropolis, was a slave plantation owner.

And when slavery was abolished, plenty of prominent Scots became very wealthy thanks to a ludicrously generous compensation scheme.

A database of the compensation paid out showed there were slave owners all over Scotland. Scots on the database include Colonel John Gordon of Cluny, who in 1851 forced some 3,000 of his tenants on the Outer Hebrides to emigrate to Canada, and James Cheyne, who cleared tenants from the Isle of Lismore in the 1840s and 1850s.

There are also the Malcolms of Poltalloch, who were involved in clearances in Argyll; Sir Archibald Alison, a noted social commentator; James McCall and Patrick Maxwell Stewart, who both had substantial holdings in railways; the Marquis of Breadalbane; and Sir William Forbes.

But it is in Glasgow where Scotland’s connection to the slave trade is still in 2016 most visible: Jamaica Street, Tobago Street and the Kingston Bridge, the Merchant City.

Susan Morrison, director of Previously, Scotland’s history festival, said: “I think it might be an idea to put plaques on all our statues, as a matter of fact – not just with the horrible things on them, but with who they were, what they did, that sort of thing. Most people just walk past them these days. It would be good to know who they were and what they did.”

Other controversial statues include the Duke of Sutherland in Golspie. In the last 20 years there have been at least two attempts to destroy this statue of the man held responsible for thousands being evicted from their homes during the Highland Clearances. One involved dynamite, the other involved a great deal of pushing. Neither was successful. Recently his plinth had the word “Monster” spray painted on to it.

There’s also the 1st Duke of Wellington. He defeated Napoleon twice and was prime minister twice. Passed laws to allow Catholics to sit in parliament, though opposed the Reform Act of 1832. But in Scotland he’s better known as the man with the traffic cone on his head. The city takes pride in making sure the Duke’s napper is never without a luminous cone. Any plaque should probably make clear he did not wear traffic cone in real life.