PUPILS in Glasgow have gone head to head with their peers in Toronto to debate the legacy of the slave trade represented in Scotland's statues and street names.

Teenagers from Lourdes Secondary School and North Toronto Collegiate Institute held a discussion about Henry Dundas, a Lord Advocate and MP whose actions deferred the abolition of the slave trade.

In Glasgow, the city has a Dundas Street while Toronto is home to Dundas Street and Dundas Square, honouring the legacy of Lord Melville, who died in 1811.

Youngsters argued the question of whether he helped or hindered the slave trade in a project run by Parallel Histories, an educational charity promoting new ways to study conflict.

Peter Milne, who teaches history at Lourdes Secondary School, said: "Our students love this project because it’s also a chance for them to weigh up the evidence and come to their own view.

"And because the students know about the debate around Glasgow’s role in the slave trade and all the street names that derive from that, the controversy around the signage on the Melville memorial in Edinburgh is very meaningful to them.

"This is a project which helps make history come alive.

"Our plan is that after studying the evidence for a few weeks, we’ll ask the students to write two arguments, one for ‘help’ one for ‘hinder’ and assemble the evidence to support each case.

"They’ll then have an opportunity to debate the question with other schools from across Scotland and schools in Toronto too, where there is a Dundas Street and Dundas Square and there is the same debate going on about the legacy of Dundas – Lord Melville."

Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, by Sir Thomas Lawrence (died 1830).

Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, by Sir Thomas Lawrence (died 1830).

Lord Melville's legacy was a talking point last year as a debate raged over the Melville memorial in Edinburgh.

It was proposed that a plaque be placed alongside the memorial, explaining that "While home secretary in 1792 and first Secretary of State for War in 1796 he was instrumental in deferring the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade.

"Slave trading by British ships was not abolished until 1807. As a result of this delay, more than half a million enslaved Africans crossed the Atlantic."

This was the first transatlantic schools’ debate about the transatlantic slave trade and was at noon Central Time and 5pm British Summer Time.

In England and Scotland, the debate about how to remember the country’s involvement in the slave trade has centred around statues like that of Edward Colston in Bristol and Cecil Rhodes in Oxford, and Lord Melville in Edinburgh.

In Canada there is that same debate about commemorating figures whose wealth came from slavery or who were in power and prolonged slavery but it’s part of a deeper and broader debate about the founding of the nation and the expulsion of the original First Nation inhabitants.

Parallel Histories spokesman Michael Davies said: "Each school got to go twice so they could argue both sides of the case, both for and against Dundas, and the teachers from both schools gave individual feedback to each speaker so everyone learned something – it wasn't just a case of win or lose.

"I love watching young people debate controversial historical subjects – they do it so much better than adults who can sometimes end up shouting past each other.

"They are genuinely curious about finding out the facts, really getting into the source material to assess Dundas’s record as a minister and also his personal attitudes, and they are prepared to change their mind when the evidence changes."

Peter said he is now interested in how this process will change his students’ attitudes.

He added: "At the start of the project we surveyed the students on their attitudes to Dundas, to statues, and whether we should use today’s standards to judge the past, and we’ll survey them again at the end of the project.

"I think we are all interested to see the results.”