Honesty about the true role of important historical figures has led to a movement to remove statues and rename landmarks associated with Britain’s imperial legacy and slavery in particular.

Oxford University has refused to scrap a statue of arch-imperialist Cecil Rhodes, while Bristol is renaming a hall named after slave trader Edward Colston. In the United States, such ‘reverse airbrushing’ has seen New Orleans and other cities remove statues of Southern general Robert E. Lee and other confederate monuments.

Now Edinburgh is close to finding a solution to address the legacy of Henry Dundas. The first Viscount Melville (the title was created for him) is commemorated, by way of a statue which sits on top of a 150 foot pillar in St Andrews Square. But, despite his own controversial history, campaigners do not want the statue removed. Instead they want a plaque which describes him to give a fuller account of the role of the Scottish Conservative politician.

A low plaque currently informs visitors who search for it that he was a dominant figure in politics for more than 40 years. “ Besides being treasurer to the navy he was lord advocate & keeper of the Scottish signet.”

But Dundas was more than that, according to Adam Ramsay, co-editor of Open Democracy: Hewas an enthusiastic funder of slavery, who as home secretary sent troops to put down revolts against slavery and oppression. “He was directly responsible for the transportation of the Scottish Martyrs,” Mr Ramsay says. As First Lord of the Admiralty he also had a pivotal role in the expansion of the British Empire:

The Herald:

Most significantly, he delayed the abolition of slavery, his gradualist approach allowing the practise to continue for 15 more years than it would otherwise have done, during which time an estimated 630,000 people were transported to Britain as slaves.

In 2016, Mr Ramsay petitioned Edinburgh City Council to find a way better reflect both sides of the Viscount’s legacy. A receptive council set up a panel to look at the issue and this is now close to a resolution.

“We all have different perspectives, but we have a proposed wording . The council are going to meet to discuss it and we expect a decision within the next few weeks,” he add.

The eventual resolution could highlight the role of Scotland in the empire, he says. “Broadly, while many English people look back on the empire as a brilliant thing, Scots have tended to view it as awful – but all the fault of the English. But huge numbers of Scottish people profited and still profit from Empire, including my own family. It is important we have a conversation about our role.”

Another of the panellists, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, emeritus professor of brewing and distilling at Heriot Watt University, is equally adamant these questions need to be addressed. “I don’t want the statue to be taken down,” he says. “It would be much better if the plaque explained more accurately what Hentry Dundas did. He used the law to take away people’s rights. It was self interest. It should be on his plaque. We are not asking for very much. I lecture around the country and people say to me ‘ why hasn’t anybody told us about this?’”

Bobby Melville, the 10th and current Viscount Melville once criticised proposals to change the plaque as “wrong in almost every particular”. However he too is on the panel and has reportedly moderated his view. “It is difficult to hear about bad decisions that seemingly he decided to take,” he now says of his ancestor. “But he also did a lot of good. I don’t think the evil dictator was the image people had when they named streets and drew portraits and put up statues to him,” he adds.

Councillor Donald Wilson, Culture and Communities Convener at the City of Edinburgh Council, said a committee would consider the proposals: “The Melville Monument in St Andrew Square is a tribute to Henry Dundas, yet many people do not realise who he was.

“If we can make it clearer that the statue at the top is one of Henry Dundas – and perhaps help people learn more about who he was – then that is surely worthy of consideration.”