SIR Tom Devine has warned that Scotland apologising for its role in the slave trade “could form the basis for reparation claims”. Scotland’s leading historian, who in 2015 edited Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past, instead called for “a detailed public acknowledgement of the great extent of Scottish involvement in the transatlantic slave system”.

The academic was commenting after it emerged that a group of SNP activists are trying to force the Scottish Government to say sorry for Scotland’s significant role in the brutal trade.

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Proposers of a motion, which could be debated at the party’s annual conference in October, say the apology would help raise public awareness of the role Scots “played in the development of the slave trade and in the exploitation of slave labour in the sugar, tobacco and cotton colonies of the Caribbean and North America”.

Devine told the Sunday National that saying sorry could leave the Scottish Government open to claims of financial compensation. He said: “Each individual will have their own opinion about this initiative. I would favour a different approach.

The National:

“An apology on behalf of the modern nation, which had nothing to do with slavery, could form the basis for reparation claims. I would prefer a detailed public acknowledgement of the great extent of Scottish involvement in the transatlantic slave system and how profits and markets from it helped to generate economic development at home.

“The pre-eminent Scottish role in the abolition of the trade and slavery itself in the British Empire should also be acknowledged.”

The Edinburgh University professor also called for Scottish higher education institutions to be encouraged to develop ties with their counterparts in the Caribbean, through student exchanges and joint projects and other programmers. This, Devine said, would be “a public and helpful admission of the historic ties which bind Scotland to the West Indies,” and he added, “this would be a practical way of aiding their own economic development”.

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SNP councillor Graham Campbell, whose Provan branch have submitted the motion to the party’s conference agreed that there needed to be a “process of engagement with the truth,” but, he added, the apology must come at the end of that process.

“There’s been a conscious process of deliberate forgetting about the role of Glasgow in slave trade and the commodities of slavery,” he said.

“I think it’s important that [the SNP] take a stance that we’re ready to acknowledge the true history of the country, dealing with the facts as they are.”

Campbell also called on Scotland’s councils and the Government to consider what reparative justice measures they could take.

He said the response to motion from SNP activists had been positive.

“Generally speaking, nationalist activists are people who thirst for knowledge about the history of their country. It’s important to them. The sense I’ve had from people in the party, and also outside and beyond is that they’re horrified to begin with but they want to know more and they want to know why they didn’t more about this, why they didn’t learn about this at school.”

READ MORE: We need a blether aboot Scotland’s role in slavery

He added: “It slightly displaces people’s narrative about themselves because of the way they’ve been brought up. It’s Scotland as perpetrator rather than as victim and that’s quite a difficult thing for nationalists to take on board for understandable reasons.”

Campbell said it was important for independence supporters to accept that part of Scotland’s legacy was “unsavoury”.

“If we want to be an equal nation in a global world and have true equality with our partners across the planet we need to accept that we’re related to them through this difficult history.

“We should change how we see ourselves and all the diaspora Scots around the world who have become diaspora Scots because of that legacy.”

Dr Stephen Mullen from Glasgow University, author of It Wisnae Us: The Truth About Glasgow and Slavery, said Scotland apologising for its role in slavery would be an interesting precedent.

“The notion that the devolved Scottish Government should apologise for historical connections with chattel slavery is an interesting one, given Scotland was a stateless nation at the time of its citizen’s strongest connections with slavery and its commerce (1707-1838).

“The British state has so far failed to apologise for its past involvement with slavery and the slave trade, instead expressing ‘deep sorrow and regret’ in 2007. If the Scottish Government were to make such an apology, it would be leading the way in a British context, though Liverpool City Council apologised in 1999.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We can never, and should never, sweep the difficult aspects of our country’s history under the carpet and we acknowledge Scotland’s complex past including Scotland’s involvement in the slave trade.

“The Scottish Government welcomes the increasing awareness and public recognition of that role through actions such as those of Glasgow University as well as the recognition of those who opposed slavery and campaigned against it such as Dr David Livingstone.

“The Scotland of today is a good global citizen and we have

constructive working relationships with African nations such as Malawi, Zambia and Rwanda.”

In 1796, Scots owned nearly 30% of the estates in Jamaica and by 1817, a staggering 32% of the slaves. Many parts of the country became rich from tobacco, sugar and cotton, industries reliant on slave labour.

But Scots too played a huge role in winning the slaves their freedom. In 1792, the year that produced the most petitions for abolition, there were 561 from Britain – a third of which came from Scotland.

Writing in The Herald last year, Devine said the whole country had flourished thanks to the wealth of slavery. “Few Scots who lived in the 18th and early 19th centuries could have been immune from the direct or indirect impact of the slave-based economies on their lives whether or not they were active in the ‘nefarious trade’ itself,” he wrote.

“Those involved in slavery have long gone but their legacy lives on in country houses, university and school benefactions, church buildings, statues, civic institutions, museum collections and much more. For those who care to look, it is all around.”

In 2007 Tony Blair initially stopped short of apologising for Britain’s role in the slave trade, instead expressing “deep sorrow”.