WITH Trump’s regime in chaos over its links to white supremacy, many are finally waking up to the exceptional role of racism in recent American history. However, it’s both easy and wrong to look down on other countries from a vantage point of superiority. In at least one crucial sense, America’s debate about racism is more advanced than Scotland’s.

Even the most appallingly ignorant Americans know their country came to world prominence through racial violence. School children know who Lincoln was. They know Native Americans were on the continent first. They know Black people arrived in the country in chains.

If you began hauling down Scotland’s many statues, street names, and buildings linked to slavery, colonialism and racism, would there be violent protests? We’ve got plenty to tear down. One of the tallest monuments in Edinburgh is to Lord Melville, a slavery profiteer, a nemesis of William Wilberforce who helped delay abolition for two decades, and the man who ran a patronage network getting Scots into Indian jobs. Tear it down, and, yes, you’ll get retired GPs and lawyers in the Grange writing angry letters about “Edinburgh’s architectural heritage”. But torchlit protests? Forget it. And maybe the reason is that we are far too ignorant of our nation’s past to feel guilty about it.

You can get all the way to Higher History without knowing that Walter Scott wrote of India as the “corn chest of Scotland”, or that Scots, just 9 percent of Britain, accounted for 25 percent of the Brits ruling India. “A disproportionate number of Scots were employed in colonial enterprises, as soldiers, sailors, merchants, agents and employees,” writes Shashi Tharoor in his bestselling account of Britain’s role in India. “Their earnings in India pulled Scotland out of poverty and helped make it prosperous.”

Some Scottish people may be vaguely conscious of these links. Most Dundonians are at least semi-aware of the Indian jute connection. However, if our trade routes are sometimes known, the true disaster of British rule is too grand for anyone to grasp. Statistics can only hint at it. When Scots began flooding India, the latter’s share of the world economy was 23 percent, as large as all of Europe. When the lasts Brits left in 1948, it was just 3 percent.

Our links to the slave trade are – or deserve to be – even more notorious. Scottish people owned 30 percent of slave estates in Jamaica, and 32 percent of the slaves.

But while Americans still keenly feel the violence of earlier centuries, in Scotland there is apparent tranquillity. There’s not even a Scottish equivalent to the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool. There’s a “Jamaica Street”, a “Kingston Bridge” and a great big euphemistic sign for the “Merchant City”. There’s various statues to faceless men, and as we lean on their plinths to eat their lunches, we are oblivious to the horrors they commemorate.

In burying our colonial past, Scottish consciousness often feels totally removed from the violence that divided the world into rich and poor.

Some people present Scotland as a victim of colonialism. That’s a wild stretch of the imagination. Others – Scottish Labour are often the worst offenders – say that centuries-old events have nothing to do with “doorstep issues” today, even though if immigration is still measurably the top doorstep issue, only ignorance can divorce that topic from Britain’s role in the historical poverty of Africa, the Caribbean, the Indian subcontinent and the Arab world.

For now, the vacuum of Scottish debate over colonialism is an advantage, albeit a hypocritical one. It leaves less space for hard right, conservative Scottish/British identity. We can retain a benevolent myth of civic nationalism, where even the Scottish Tory leader is appalled at Donald Trump. But if we’re serious about being a mature nation, then we must face the worst of our history.

Maybe we can learn from America. For all his obvious duplicity, Donald Trump had a point when he said that tearing down the statues of Confederate generals might eventually lead to similar actions against George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. These were slaveholders who dealt with runaways in the highhanded manner of a master race. But they are still historical “goodies” in the liberal children’s story of American history.

I’m not some moralist who’s out to present Washington and Jefferson as “baddies” either. The point is that the institution of slavery and imperialism are in themselves evil. In an era when liberals are obsessed with pitting the “good billionaires” – Zuckerberg, Tim Cook, etc – against bad billionaires like Trump, this lesson is doubly important.

By giving people a real education about our history, we prevent cheap politics on both sides.

And we can teach an equally important lesson. Throughout history, ordinary people have been ridiculed, attacked, imprisoned and even killed for resisting the atrocities committed in our name.

But they made the sacrifices because they believed in greater purposes. These people are real heroes, and we deserve to know their names, just as we should know the names of the men who made famous fortunes by trading in the worst human enterprises.

Guilt at our past should be balanced with pride at the people who lost everything to fight for a better future.