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All six recommendations of independent steering group, set up to advise on how museums and galleries can better reflect the country’s role in empire, colonialism and historic slavery are accepted by Scottish government.

The interior of the Museum of Scotland
The Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh

Ronnie Fleming/Creative Commons

Proposals to establish a dedicated museum to address Scotland’s role in empire, colonialism and historic slavery will be backed with £200,000 of funding from the Scottish government.

Responding to recommendations made by a steering group of independent experts on how on how the country's museums and galleries can better reflect its role in empire, colonialism and historic slavery, Culture Minister Christina McKelvie said the money would be used to "scope out the establishment of a new organisation" to establish a slavery museum.

However, the funding represents a fraction of the £5m over a four-year period that the Empire, Slavery and Scotland’s Museums (ESSM) Steering Group called for when it published its six recommendations in 2022.


In a statement published today (22 January), McKelvie said: “While budgetary pressures mean we are not currently able to commit to the group’s suggestion of £5m for this work, the Scottish government has provided funding of £200,000 in 2023/24 to enable the steering group and Museums Galleries Scotland to begin work addressing the recommendations, including scoping out the format of a new organisation to progress the creation of a dedicated space and national guidance around the repatriation of objects from Scottish institutions."

A further five recommendations were accepted by the government. These include ensuring anti-racism is embedded in museums, and a demonstration of support from the Scottish government for the restitution and repatriation of looted or unethically-acquired items in Scottish collections.

“The Scottish government wants everyone to feel safe, welcome and represented in our cultural spaces," McKelvie said. 

"Though we cannot change the past, it is within our power to learn from it and use that to improve the experience of all people who live, work in and visit Scotland, whilst celebrating the wide ranging and positive contributions that ethnic minority communities have made and continue to make to our society.”

Long-term process

Jatin Haria, Chair of the Steering Group and Executive Director at the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, said the steering group is determined to work with the wider museum sector to bring the recommendations to fruition. 

"We understand that finances are tight, and although more will be needed, the money that the Scottish government has committed will be useful to kick start a long term process that will finally allow Scotland to properly tell its story of involvement in empire, slavery and colonialism in a coherent way. 

"We can't expect to resolve the racial inequalities that persist today without a better understanding of the history which brought us to this point."

Lucy Casot, CEO of Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS) said described the government's announcement as "significant".

“Since their publication in 2022, the recommendations have not just shaped MGS’s work, but how we work as an organisation to collectively support the sector to engage with, and tell the stories of, all of Scotland’s people," she said. 

"We are already seeing brilliant work by museums and galleries across the country collaborating with local communities impacted by the legacies of slavery and empire to create more inclusive heritage spaces. I am excited about the future of a museum sector that is truly inclusive, trusted and engaged with by all of Scotland’s people, and the role that MGS can play in supporting this work.”