BBC show to lift lid on Scottish Highlands' slavery legacy

Slavery’s legacy in the Scottish Highlands and Islands is to be examined this week in a special programme on BBC Alba.

Ruairidh MacIver asks some uncomfortable questions about the history of the Highlands
Ruairidh MacIver asks some uncomfortable questions about the history of the Highlands

The stories of Highlanders who profited from colonial slavery are now coming to light and are investigated in the first of a new series of BBC Alba’s European current affairs programme Eòrpa.

Reporter Ruairidh MacIver asks how the history and legacy of slavery should be marked in the Highlands in the light of the recent Black Lives Matter movement, which has already generated intense debate - and direct action - across the world in an attempt to get wider acknowledgement of this history.

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Eòrpa speaks to campaigners who want to advance this debate and to public bodies who seek to re-assess the Highlands’ place in this history.

Dr Iain Mackinnon from Coventry University will discuss research by himself and Dr Andrew Mackillop - a Scottish History lecturer at Glasgow University – into Scotland's links with slavery in Thursday’s episode.

They reveal that over one million acres of land, around one in every three acres, that was purchased in the West Highlands and islands from the 18th century to early 20th century was paid for with funds derived from slavery.

Historian and author Dr David Alston from Cromarty has been researching this issue for over two decades and also features in the programme

Dr Alston said: “The more I’ve studied this I think that you really don’t understand the history of Scotland or the history of the highlands unless you understand the importance of the slave trade in that history.

“The history of the highlands in 1700s and 1800s isn’t complete without mentioning slavery – it’s where the money was made.

“Whatever the wrongs of the ways people have been treated in the Highlands and elsewhere in Britain it is not the same as chattel slavery and it’s a profoundly misleading parallel. The horrors of slavery are so terrible that people want to distance themselves from it and I think that’s one of the ways people distance themselves but it’s really something we have a moral obligation to resist – it’s false.”

Eòrpa airs this Thursday, November 12 on BBC ALBA at 8.30pm.