I WRITE with reference to Iain McEwan’s letter “Where do we draw a line with statues?”, published yesterday.

I am a South African Scot, and I am loath for the discussion around the taking down of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol to be bogged down in the same arguments that surrounded the removal of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes at the University of Cape Town in 2015.

I was present at the removal of that statue, and I supported its removal wholeheartedly. One of the fallacies that was routinely rolled out by those who did not support the removal was that doing so would somehow “change history”, and once that process of changing history began, it would descend into revisionist anarchy, political groupthink, or similar undesirable outcomes.

READ MORE: Where do we draw a line when it comes to the removal of statues?

History, of course, is a constructed thing. We decide as a society what is history: what things are remembered, recorded, forgotten, and thought of with reverence. It is a process that lives with us. When Mr McEwan asks about whether the removal of statues of slave traders might be the beginning of some slippery slope – and while we slip down it we must be forced reconsider our monuments of people who have done awful things – he begs his own question: yes, we absolutely should regularly re-assess who we honour in our public spaces. We might decide to continue honouring some people, such as Churchill, whose actions in crisis may justify commemoration despite their moral failings. Others, like Colston, we may decide to jettison entirely.

Public statues are physical embodiments of values. Among many other things, the statue of Rhodes in Cape Town (similar to the one that still stands at the University of Oxford) foregrounded to black students the historical fact that the university they attended was not built for them, was never intended for them, and that the country they lived in continued not to have their interests front of mind.

READ MORE: Edward Colston: Tory councillor brands slave trader 'a hero'

When Britons consent to having statues of (and streets named after) slave traders in our public places, in addition to the hundreds of reminders of colonialism that litter our towns and cities, we signal to black Britons, and Britons of all colonised backgrounds, that our society does not care about their generational experiences and their pain — pain that is the direct result of people like Calston.

That his statue, and monuments to other slave traders, had not been removed earlier, speaks volumes about our collective reluctance to reckon with our nation’s past, our historical complicity with slavery and colonialism, and to emphasise the humanity of thousands of Britons whose individual histories are over-full of the actions of slavers and colonialists.

Removing a statue does not change history. The events of our past shape and are indelibly written onto our present — we have no choice about that. We do have a choice, however, about who to honour.

Nick Mulgrew

THE murder of a black male, George Floyd, has strangely, of all things, ignited the debate over the statue to George Granville Levenson-Gower, 1st Duke of Sutherland atop Ben Bhraggie.

During Black Lives Matter protests in Bristol, the protesters tore down a statue to slave trader Edward Colsten and sent it hurling to the murky depths of Bristol harbour. Nobody is about to argue that a man who profited in the trade of human flesh is in any way deserving of a statue, nor am I about to argue that the Duke is any different. The problem is that we are not discussing if the statue to the duke should have been commissioned; the statue is there and is now an irrevocable part of our history.

READ MORE: Black Lives Matter: 'No loss' if statue of Scotsman is removed

In 1994, Sandy Lindsay applied to Highland Regional Council to have statue demolished, broken into pieces and scattered on the hillside. The issue with this proposal is that people act as if destroying a statue exorcises its power. The truth is that this statue and any other statues are just that, pieces of stone whose meaning is only what meaning we ourselves assign to them, and it is entirely our own choice what form that meaning takes.

I would suggest that locally the statue’s meaning has been altered in such a way, and is likely why you will seldom find local support for its removal. We who are in its shadow have since school age been taught of the Duke’s actions during the Clearances and the monument is a continuous reminder – in all its 100ft a rather difficult one to avoid. Its intrigue may also spark a passing tourist to take out their phone and discover who is standing on that plinth; I think we could all agree a pile of rubble would not attract the same attention.

Destroying the statue only acts as an easy way out. A way to whitewash our history and hide from the more inconvenient truths of our past. Auschwitz remains a permanent testimony to a past we would never want to repeat, so why should the Duke’s statue be any different?

What those who propose its destruction do not realise is the very fact they are involved in such discussions is precisely why they are so very wrong. If the statue’s presence and infamy continue to provoke such spirited debate, it is proof of its ability to educate people on our past and must remain.

Jake Chambers