THE descendant of an 18th century politician who was accused of delaying the abolition of slavery has claimed responsibility for removing a plaque on his ancestor’s monument.

It was previously revealed in The Herald that the A3 brass panel on the base of the Melville Monument in St Andrew’s Square had been taken away the previous night, in what City of Edinburgh Council leader Cammy Day deemed an “improper removal”.

He said: “We are investigating the improper removal of a plaque at the base of the Melville Monument in St Andrew Square. As caretakers to the statue any works to the monument would require the Council’s consent, which was not sought or given in this case.

“The decision of the Development Management Sub-Committee on March 1, 2023 did not give permission for the plaque to be removed.”

However, the Melville Monument Committee, which includes descendants of the politician, insisted they had acted lawfully and that the council had “proceeded contrary to law” in multiple ways, The Herald reports

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The plaque in question has sparked debate as it accuses Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, of being “instrumental in deferring the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade”.

It goes on to say that as a “result of this delay, more than half a million enslaved crossed the Atlantic”.

The plaque was crafted by a committee comprising of city councillors, Scotland’s first black professor Sir Geoff Palmer (below) and another academic.

The National: Handout photo issued by Royal Collection Trust of Professor Sir Geoff Palmer posing alongside his portrait in the new display Windrush: Portraits of a Pioneering Generation, at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The series of portraits have been commissioned

However, the panel did not include any historians, which led to Professor Sir Tom Devine (below) labelling the task force a “kangaroo court”.

He said they were rushing to judgement “on a complex set of questions without taking the advice of any real expert” and that it was “bad history” to pin the enslavement of half a million people on Dundas alone.

Earlier this year, the Melville Monument Committee, which includes descendants of the politician, applied for and received listed building consent to have the plaque removed.

The National:

They said the description was “cartoonishly inaccurate”.

This technically meant the panel could be removed, although the final decision was for the landlords of the buildings around St Andrew Square, who are the owners of the monument.

At the time, councillors suggested that was unlikely.

However, the Melville Monument Committee contacted the owners and their lawyers and received no objection when asked if they could remove the plaque.

The group also said that numerous freedom of information requests asking for correspondence with the owners returned nothing.

Viscount Melville said: “We had all the necessary permits, and ensured that the owners of St Andrew Square, who have ultimate authority, had no objection. We acted completely within the law.

“It is the height of hypocrisy for the city to object for the removal of the plaque. The city should be concerned about its own unlawful acts.

“It had no authority to install the plaque without consent of the owners in the first place and continues to defy an order to remove the large signs about the plaque in St Andrew Square.

“It is in no position to object to the removal of the plaque, which we have done in complete compliance with our legal obligations.”

Taking to Twitter/X, Palmer commented: “The truth once known cannot be removed.”

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However, Devine told The Herald that the “plaque was based on nothing other than scapegoating, prejudice and false history”.

“It has now gone. When sited in a public place it brought nothing but dishonour to Scotland’s capital.”