FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon has issued a long called-for formal posthumous apology to those killed under the infamous Witchcraft Act 1563.

Opening a debate on International Women’s Day in Holyrood, the FM said that the conviction of more than 4000 people, mostly women, for being witches in Scotland was “injustice on a colossal scale”.

There is currently a petition demanding a pardon for those convicted making its way through the Scottish Parliament, after the Public Petitions committee agreed to take it forward in September last year.

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It comes two years after Claire Mitchell QC and writer Zoe Venditozzi launched the Witches of Scotland campaign on International Women’s Day 2020.

The group have called for a pardon, apology and memorial to those killed as witches in Scotland. On Twitter the campaign group welcomed the “first formal recognition of this terrible miscarriage of justice”.

The FM said that the parliament would need to legislate to pardon those convicted, but in the meantime she offered an official apology on behalf of the Scottish Government.

The FM told the chamber that withcraft convictions were driven “at least in part by misogyny in its most literal sense, hatred of women”.

She added: “After all, these accusations and executions were instigated and perpetrated by the state and so today on International Women's Day as First Minister on behalf of the Scottish Government, I am choosing to acknowledge that egregious historic injustice and extend a formal posthumous apology to all those accused, convicted, vilified or executed under the witchcraft act 1563.

“Now, some will ask why this generation should say sorry for something that happened centuries ago, though it might actually be more pertinent to ask why it has taken so long.”

The FM set out the reasons behind the apology. The first that acknowledging injustice “no matter how historic”, is important, pointing to formal apologies offered to gay men and miners.

The National:

The First Minister made the formal apology in Holyrood on Tuesday

She added: “Reckoning with historic injustice is a vital part of building a better country.

“So too is recognising and writing into history, what has been for too long erased - the experiences and the achievements of women.”

And, the FM pointed out that witchcraft accusations have not entirely been consigned to history. She explained: “There are parts of our world where even today women and girls face persecution and sometimes death because they have been accused of witchcraft.”

The “deep misogyny” that motivated the Witchcraft Act is also still prevalent in society, the FM added.

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She said: “We live with that still. Today, it expresses itself not in claims of witchcraft, but in everyday harassment, online rape threats and sexual violence.

“All of it intensified by an increasingly polarised and toxic public discourse and amplified each and every day by social media.

“It is no wonder that more women than ever before, certainly in my lifetime, are now questioning whether politics and public life are safe environments for women.”