Festival of Politics starts with discussion about Scotland’s role in international slave trade


Scotland’s role in the international slave trade is just one of the thought provoking subjects being discussed as the Scottish Parliament’s Festival of Politics gets underway.

 Now in its 11th year, the Festival puts people at the heart of politics allowing them to listen, debate and explore the ever-changing world around us. This year’s programme is the most diverse yet with more than 30 events, each of which seeks to inspire people to see the world differently.

Following an international theme, events on the first day will explore the future of the Commonwealth as well as the challenges facing democracy in the 21st century.

Speaking on the opening day, Presiding Officer, the Rt Hon Tricia Marwick MSP said:

“This year’s Festival is all about inspiring people to see the world differently and to give people time to pause and reflect on some of the biggest issues happening in the world around us. What better place to do this than in Scotland’s Parliament.

“As the Festival opens we will hear from Sir Tom Devine about the legacy of Scotland’s role in the slave trade, a legacy which still exists today. It is events like this that makes the Festival of Politics such an important part of Edinburgh’s festival calendar by providing a space where our opinions can be shaped and changed.”

The Scottish Parliament’s Garden Lobby will once again be transformed into the Festival Café Bar, a space for visitors to meet, debate and take in a wide variety of music, poetry and art. For the first time the Festival of Politics will also feature a Festival Youth Café which includes a number of free, bite-sized workshops designed for young people on subjects like cartooning and vlogging.

Today’s Events

Scotland and Slavery - 16:30 - 18:00
While Scotland likes to promote its role in the abolition of slavery, the uncomfortable truth that Scots were also involved in the earlier exploitation of the practice has been somewhat erased from our history books. What was the real role of Scots in the slave trade and what was the legacy? Sir Tom Devine will give a lecture based on his book Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past: The Caribbean Connection.

The lecture will be followed by a panel discussion chaired by the Presiding Officer. Panellists include Louise Welsh, author and collaborator on The Empire Café 2014 Commonwealth Games Project on Scotland’s involvement with the North Atlantic Slave Trade, the academic and author Sir Geoff Palmer OBE, and historian Stephen Mullen.

What does your Commonwealth do for You? - 16:30 - 18:00
The Commonwealth today is an association of 53 member countries with nearly 2.5 billion citizens spread across the globe. The discussion will look at the future of the Commonwealth.

Chair: Allan Little (former BBC special correspondent)
Participants: Kamalesh Sharma (Commonwealth Secretary-General and former Indian High Commissioner to the UK), journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown; and Professor Philip Murphy (Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies).

The Democratic Challenge - 16:30 - 18:00
Voter apathy has become a common complaint from political parties. Yet changes could be afoot with overall voting turnout in Scotland at the recent UK general election at 71.1% and 85% in the Referendum. So is the tide turning?

Chair: Professor Nicola McEwen (Associate Director, Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change)
Participants: Sue Cameron (columnist, The Daily Telegraph), Dr Jan Eichhorn (Chancellor’s Fellow in Social Policy, University of Edinburgh) and John McCormick (Head of the Electoral Commission, Scotland).

12 Years a Slave (15) – 19.30 – 22.15
To link in with the earlier Scotland and Slavery debate there will be a film screening of 12 Years a Slave, followed by a short panel discussion.


The Festival of Politics takes place at the Scottish Parliament from Friday 14 August to Sunday 16 August 2015.

Other events taking place include: a speech by Professor Michael J Sandel, hailed as the most popular political philosopher of his generation, where he will explore public service and the future of democracy, an event looking at contemporary South Africa following the end of Apartheid and a debate on workers’ rights in the 21st Century.

Once again the Festival of Politics takes place at the same time as the award-winning World Press Photo Exhibition is on show in the Scottish Parliament’s Main Hall. Running until 22 August 2015, the exhibition features the best in contemporary photojournalism from around the world.

Also taking place will be the Michael Peto: Politics in Focus an exhibition of some previously unseen work by Hungarian-born photographer Michael Peto who captured some of the most iconic figures from the 1950s and 1960s. The exhibition takes place in Committee Room 1 until 22 August.

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