SCHOOLchildren are to learn about Scotland's involvement in the slave trade industry in a new booklet launched today.

The Scottish Executive will send 10,000 copies to primary and secondary schools to mark 200 years since Westminster passed the act to abolish the slave trade in the British empire.

Rhona Brankin, communities minister, launched the booklet, entitled Scotland And The Slave Trade, in Musselburgh on a walk that follows the footsteps taken by anti-slavery activist Robert Wedderburn and his mother Rosana, a slave maid.

Brankin said Scots "cannot hide from what was a shameful period in our history which we all deeply regret".

She added: "The new booklet to mark the anniversary raises awareness of the role some Scots played in the slave trade and also provides a record of the effort made by Scots to consign it to history."

Paula Kitching, the booklet's main author, hopes it will help young people learn about a part of history not widely taught in schools. She said: "Slave trade history has tended to look at London, Liverpool and Bristol, but this booklet shows that's not the only story. The slave trade rippled across the country."

Throughout its eight chapters, prominent figures in the slave trade are highlighted, including the Glasgow-based merchants John Glassford and Andrew Buchanan, both of whom have city streets named after them.

One of the wealthiest merchants was Richard Oswald, who owned a 100,000 acre estate in Auchincruive, Ayrshire, where he built Oswald Hall. On his death he left £500,000 - equivalent to £40m in today's money.

School pupils will also learn about the conditions in which enslaved people had to work and live, as well as the development of the abolitionist movement in Scotland in the 18th century.

However, the Sunday Herald has learned that two researchers who were awarded the original contract to write the 50-page booklet which cost £25,000 to produce, were sacked by the Executive before it was finished. The Rev Iain Whyte and Eric Graham were withdrawn from the project after a disagreement over the content and style of the booklet.

Whyte said: "In my view, they wanted a particular slant that was not historical. I felt that they wanted certain stories that weren't possible to produce, to change the text in certain ways. I wasn't prepared to do that.

"The government always has a certain agenda and they felt that what we were producing wasn't what they wanted."

Whyte went on to say: "They made various comments and I disagreed. I don't know what they've put together because they terminated the contract."

Whyte and Graham are, however, acknowledged for their research in the booklet, and both welcome the introduction of a publication which will help inform young people of Scotland's involvement in slavery.

Graham said: "It's something that the slave trade should be taught in schools. It's one of those great moral vehicles we have to teach our children about what's right and wrong. Slavery is one of the great crimes of humanity."

During the slave trade, British ships carried more than 3.4 million Africans to slavery in the Caribbean and America. Scottish ports such as Greenock and Glasgow were heavily involved in the shipping of goods, including tobacco and cotton, which were produced on the plantations where slaves worked.

Businesses, particularly those around Glasgow, flourished, and by 1720 the city imported half of all American slave-grown tobacco.

The booklet also details the architectural reminders of Scotland's involvement in the trading of sugar produced by enslaved labour, such as giant sugar warehouses in Greenock. In Glasgow, as well as street names, buildings such as the Tobacco Merchants House are still standing.

Anti-racism groups have criticised the publication for not going far enough to discuss the current issues effecting black communities in Scotland.

Jatin Haria, director of Glasgow Anti-Racist Alliance (Gara), said: "What struck me was the chapter on the legacy of slavery, which is really only one page. I was appalled when it mentioned listening to African-inspired music and how we eat fruits from around the world."

Gara has also called for "an unreserved apology" for Scotland's involvement in the slave trade and its continued effects on the country's black communities.

Whether politicians should apologise has been a contentious issue. The prime minister, Tony Blair, was criticised in November for stopping short of a full apology after he said he felt "deep sorrow" for Britain's role in the slave trade.

Fiona Hyslop, SNP education spokeswoman, said an apology should have been given at the time and not 200 years afterwards. "Can a politician of today really apologise for the actions of a politician of the past? What is important is that we start talking about Scotland's involvement and learn from it."

She added: "I think it's essential that Scotland's pupils learn about their culture, heritage and history. It's important they know where Scotland's wealth comes from."