The changing of some Glasgow street names to recognise the role of prominent city merchants in the slave trade has been suggested by a Scottish Government Minister. 

Glasgow is home to many famous names that celebrate tobacco lords and other businessmen who owned plantations in America and whose enterprise was underpinned by the trading of slaves and their transportation from Africa.

In an exclusive interview with The Glasgow Times, Ivan McKee, Glasgow Provan MSP and Scottish Government minister for Trade says Glasgow can and should make a statement.

Mr McKee suggested Glasgow could rename a street for George Floyd.

Several streets including Buchanan Street, Ingram Street, Glassford Street and others like Jamaica Street and Virginia Street celebrate the merchants and the places where traders made their wealth.

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But they are known and celebrated as successful and wealthy tobacco merchants who brought wealth to Glasgow, not as slave owners.

One of the city’s most famous streets, Buchanan Street, is named after Andrew Buchanan a tobacco trader and whose family owned slave plantations in Virginia.

The two main streets running from the city centre to the River Clyde also have a dark slave past.

Oswald Street, named after James Oswald, not only a plantation owner in America and the Caribbean but a trader of slaves in West Africa.

Jamaica Street celebrates the trade in rum and sugar from the Caribbean but is also where many merchants owned plantation worked by generations of slaves.

Mr McKee said while ensuring we conduct a fair and just trade policy now and in the future, we can and should do better in recognising the past and the role played by prominent Scots and Glaswegians.

He said: “It has always been an issue but George Floyd’s death has brought it to the fore. It challenges us to ask what else we can do to raise the matter.

As Trade Minister, trade can be positive but we should also not be afraid to say where there are issues to be addressed, make people aware of it.

He said the city’s past is worth highlighting.

Mr McKee said: “It could be we change some of the street names, we could keep some like Virginia Street, Jamaica Street to remember where salves were taken to.”

However, he suggested Glassford street and Ingram Street and others could be renamed to “raise the issue and get a debate going around it”.

For those names that remain the same, he proposed plaques to explain the full nature of their namesakes’ exploits.

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He said: “Nelson Mandela Place was renamed in the 1980s. It got people talking about South Africa and apartheid.”

It was formerly St George’s Place and was once the location of the South African consulate.

On suggestions for new names, he said: “A George Floyd Street is a good way to start.

“Also we can do more to recognise people who have done work to address inequalities in Scotland.

“It is about recognition not blame but we could take away the names of individuals who have benefited from it.”

Mr McKee said the renaming of streets can be done to address the past and other measures could be taken to ensure fairness and justice in the future.

He said: “I’m open to suggestions as trade minister.

“Glasgow University has built links with universities in the West Indies.

“There is also the Trade Justice agenda which importantly influences current trade policy but it is also important to recognise historical injustices around trade.”