SCOTLAND has a left-wing self-image that helps sustain many political parties, movements and leaders.

Those who dare question whether this pride matches up with historical reality have faced attack from all sides. That’s why I’m pleased by this week’s report from the University of Glasgow, which acknowledges that it benefitted from tens or hundreds of millions in bequests linked to the slave trade and now promises a programme of “reparative justice”. Regardless of its limitations, this is a major advancement for Scotland’s historical debate.

Importantly, this report doesn’t come from an obscene, racist outlier of an institution. Many of its staff risked their careers to take abolitionist positions.

“James McCune Smith, an emancipated slave, graduated in medicine from the University of Glasgow in 1837, and, in so doing, became the first African-American in the world to graduate in medicine,” notes the report. “Smith came to study at the University of Glasgow for this degree as he was barred from doing so in the United States because of his colour.”

Despite these proud traditions, the report admits that the University gained, in today’s money, millions of pounds in slave-linked money. It acknowledges that the inequalities in world trade today are heavily linked to this legacy. And it promises to make amends.

Scotland’s link to the obscenities of the slave trade and colonialism are everywhere. You find them in place names, in museums and, as I have said before, in statues.

Many are reluctant to admit this, because they wish to exempt Scotland from the British Empire’s violence. The historical record tells a different story. Scotland was, if anything, overrepresented in the plunder of the Caribbean and India, thanks to its backwardness and poverty, and thanks to systems of imperial patronage organised by the Scottish aristocracy. Paradoxically, our centre-left voting patterns have made us especially stubborn in owning up to this. Liverpool has a museum dedicated to slavery; Glasgow does not.

True, there’s an amazing anti-racist tradition here. There’s a Nelson Mandela Place that sits next to street-names that honour our tobacco lords and slavers. In a speech at Glasgow’s City Chambers, Mandela said, “While we were physically denied our freedom in the country of our birth, a city 6,000 miles away, and as renowned as Glasgow, refused to accept the legitimacy of the apartheid system, and declared us to be free.”

As a child, I was taken to George Square with my family to greet him and to celebrate a civic legacy that anybody would be proud of.

But the Mandela narrative only reinforced the idea of a Scottish exception. The Tories supported apartheid (Mandela, like today’s Palestinians, was deemed a “violent terrorist”), while we dared to stand up for decency. While institutions in Trump’s America examine their links to racial violence, we’ve felt no need to examine ours.

In that context, the University of Glasgow has done a brave thing. They’ve shown that we can simultaneously take pride in anti-racist traditions without forgetting that our institutions benefitted historically from slavery and colonialism.

This should be a good thing. It means, above all, that we can celebrate the role of Scottish people in the abolitionist and anti-apartheid movements without being guilty of overwhelming national hypocrisy.

The report is weakest when suggesting reparations. A smattering of name changes, research institutes and visiting professorships is never going to make up for the violence inflicted on Jamaica and the other victims of Scotland’s Empire.

Maybe this is inevitable. The global north benefitted so enormously from its violent superiority that any suggestion of remedial justice will be composed of small gestures.

Previously, I’ve explored whether we should pull down our statues and place names linked to slavery. That would be another small gesture.

Above all, we need a rethink in how we think about and teach history. There have been great strides in this area but there’s so much more we could do. We’re starting to move away from a “kings and queens” model. Teaching of history was once designed to glorify the Empire; that no longer applies today.

However, in overthrowing the Rudyard Kipling style of patriotism, we can be guilty of forgetting how far our influence spreads across the world.

Today, we no longer lionise or worship the Empire in the way it once was. But we have also lost some of our ability to understand how transformative it was, and thus the sheer scale of both structural and actual violence it imposed on whole continents. When we don’t understand that, we fail to see the real scars of its legacy.

It became politically convenient, for a centre-left establishment, to recognise our role in world history with silence. Official cults of David Livingston persisted, but quietly, to avoid any polarising ideological debate. Now, just this week, one of Scotland’s most elitist institutions has blown this consensus apart – and that’s a good thing.