"WE cannot change the past but we can change the consequences of that past. We can change the future.’

I borrowed those words recently from the leading human rights activist Professor Sir Geoffrey Palmer at the launch of the City Council’s study into the impact of slavery on Glasgow.

The internationally-regarded expert on Scotland’s links with the transatlantic slave trade, Dr Stephen Mullen, will lead the study, the first of its kind by a UK authority which will then shape how Glasgow moves forward.

Most Glaswegians are aware that our city played a pivotal role in this shamefully racist episode in history.

What we don’t know is to what extent the wealth which flowed from that shaped our city. Just how much of the Glasgow we continue to engage with every day was funded by those centuries of mass inhumanity?

It is inevitable that we will face criticism from some for dredging up aspects of our past that we cannot change in the cause of political correctness.

But the world is watching. Hundreds of millions of people in those countries where the colonial past has shaped their present recognise Glasgow from its role in the Empire and they want to know how we intend to recognise that. Other major cities in the UK are preparing to respond. Glasgow has to show willing and lead.

It won’t be for me to decide how the city responds to the findings of Dr Mullen’s study. How we go forward will be a matter for consultation.

But if I am to be asked my personal opinion, I believe the likelihood of street name changes is less likely than it may once have been. Apart from the potential to create considerable confusion, that could certainly be seen as a whitewashing of our past. We cannot pretend it didn’t happen.

That, however, is not to say we will should continue to use the names associated with our slave trade past.

Glasgow, like every major UK city, contends with the brutality of what we term “modern slavery”. The City Council, with all our partners, remains absolutely committed to tackling the abhorrence of adults and children being traded and abused.

But we should not conflate the modern scourge of this illegal exploitation with the race-based slavery which was once legal in this country and upon which so much of Glasgow’s prosperity was built.

Experts and advocates like Sir Geoff and the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights tell us that much of the world is waiting for us in the UK to properly acknowledge the impact of our past on the world of today.

And in doing so the outward-looking, internationalist Glasgow of the here and now is carrying forward that radical tradition which has also been a part of the fabric of this city.


A COUPLE of weeks past we reached a landmark moment in the transformation of our city and it was an honour and a privilege to be part of it.

On the Gallowgate, in the heart of the East End, GHA marked the completion of its 3000th new home.

That’s a significant contribution to the City Council’s target of 12,500 new homes across Glasgow by 2022. We’re getting there.

Our city has undergone tremendous physical and social transformation across the past two decades, a transformation which, as I’ve written in this column in recent months, is now internationally recognised as the standard bearer for how regeneration should be done.

Across every neighbourhood in this city, GHA, with support from the City Council, has been providing families with quality, affordable homes and bringing an expertise and knowledge to regenerating neighbourhoods Glasgow had been crying out for decades.

The smaller housing associations have also been doing incredible work in creating thriving communities undergoing a real sense of renewal. It was really apt that this milestone was celebrated in the East End, which has become a real beacon for transformation.

Compare this with the news yesterday that the 2014 pledge by the UK government to build 200,000 new starter homes has so far delivered not a single property. Our partnership approach in Glasgow delivers for our citizens.