Empire, Slavery and Scotland's Museums steering group recommendations: Scottish Government Response

This publication is the Scottish Government response to the recommendations set out in the Empire, Slavery and Scotland’s Museums steering group’s report in 2022.

Ministerial Foreword

I warmly welcome the steering group's report and recommendations. The report is sensitively handled, thoroughly researched, and the recommendations set out how to address the challenges facing the sector.

The recommendations are for the sector, for Museums Galleries Scotland and for the Scottish Government. The response below focuses on the proposals that were set out for the Scottish Government.

The actions suggested by these recommendations made me reflect on how the Scottish Government is working for the people of Scotland. We have to continue working hard, within our devolved areas, to deliver real, tangible benefits for all the people whom we serve. It is vital that we never lose sight of the overall purpose of our work – to create a fairer Scotland, which improves the lives of those who live, work and visit here. Whether it is through increasing opportunities by applying Fair Work principles, or the Scottish Child Payment lifting children out of poverty we are determined to treat all people with dignity, fairness and respect.

Scotland also has ambitions to demonstrate good global citizenship. Part of that means being honest and acknowledging our role in historic slavery and colonisation, and also in considering the ethics of the objects we display and hold. Building peaceful outcomes, engaging in honest transparent dialogue and encouraging education.

These recommendations are a crucial step on the journey that Scotland is taking as a society and will continue to take, which will interrogate who we are as a nation, and accept the role that we have held in shaping the past. We are determined to acknowledge and learn from our past and the role Scotland played in the transatlantic slave trade. We need to be a forward-looking nation, but one that must reflect on the inequalities and injustices that have shaped, and continue to shape, our current world. It is also important to acknowledge that when we refer to historic slavery, we are including within that term the abhorrent practice of chattel slavery, which defined individuals, and their offspring, as pieces of property.

It is important that everyone in Scotland is aware of how the legacies of empire, colonialism and historic slavery have created our society today. I am optimistic that there is much work that will be enabled by these recommendations, and that the work already underway will be amplified and enhanced.

This project invites museums in Scotland to ensure that collections, interpretation, human resource and education/outreach work takes a firm anti-racism approach, in line with Scottish Government strategy. Museums tell our national, and local stories, and are uniquely placed to inform and challenge us. We want them to be inclusive places where we can celebrate all the people of Scotland and enable us to interrogate our colonial and slavery histories.

The recommendations were formed from the results of the largest national study of attitudes to museums and racism undertaken in Scotland. The collation of this body of evidence is to be highly commended. It clearly establishes the needs and wishes of the communities which experience racism, as well as the views of museum and gallery experts and the wider public.

In the response below, the Scottish Government's answer is set out for each of the recommendations and explains how we intend to progress work to support and develop this vital work in Scotland. Some of the recommendations are more challenging than others, and will take more time to deliver, or will require some further exploration.

I am greatly humbled by the enormous personal effort of each member of the Empire, Slavery and Scotland's Museums steering group. A great deal of time, energy and sensitivity has been invested to help us improve the cultural offering in Scotland. Not just for groups that have experienced marginalisation and under-representation for far too long, but for everyone in Scotland as we seek to reduce the harms of systemic racism, decolonise our cultural spaces and to be clear about Scotland's role in the British Empire and the harmful legacy of colonisation.

It is important also that we acknowledge the work that got us to this point, with many different voices that have contributed. I thank them all. Looking at established institutions, collections or practices with fresh eyes and thinking in new ways is not always easy or comfortable, however it is necessary.

Mainstreaming action to tackle deep-rooted racism is reflected across cultural organisations and we can see new sector strategies emerging which aim to deliver towards similar outcomes. It is central in Scotland's Museums and Galleries Strategy which identifies increasing inclusivity of our organisations as a key driving force for change. The aim to create safe, inclusive spaces with an emphasis on co-development, co-production, and co-delivery will be essential to improving connections with communities and increasing the capability and resilience of staff. National Museums Scotland's strategic plan for 2022-27 similarly has a key strategic aim of increasing the diversity of its audience and ensuring that more people can find relevance in its collections and connections with their stories.

I am determined that these recommendations, and this response to them, is not the endpoint of this work, and fully acknowledge that there is still a great deal of work to be done in order for us to get closer to our vision of the Scotland that we want to be. By taking these steps, however, we are advancing towards a more inclusive and equitable future which will see our many talented and valued communities better represented and visible in our cultural spaces.

By encouraging people or groups who experience racism to be better represented and therefore more engaged in heritage and culture, we will hope to see benefits in relation to social cohesion, reduced levels of isolation, the realisation of untapped creative potential and undiscovered talent whilst fostering good relationships at a community level across the country.

I look forward to seeing where and how this work evolves and inspires, and learning more about the lives that it will enrich. I encourage all who work in Scotland's museums sector to actively engage with and contribute to this work, and for the public to do so too. I want this work to build towards the vision we have for Scotland and continue to reflect who we are as a nation, the rich, warm, respectful and welcoming people that I am proud to belong to. We cannot change the past, but we can change the consequences of that past for everyone in Scotland.

Christina McKelvie

Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development


Email: Nastassja.Beaton@gov.scot

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