Some Scots can’t stop lying to themselves about slavery.

Two centuries after the perhaps darkest chapter of our national story, there are still those of us who prefer comforting myths to historic reality.

Even since the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer, it seems the more we talk about slavery, the harder some of us find the truth about it.

The Atlantic trade used to be written out of our collective memory.

Now, amid BLM, the past is, instead, being re-written, at least online. Its main message: It wisnae us.

A wave of fake history - some local, some global - has swept across Scottish social media in recent months.

Its usual aim: to deny, to downplay or to deflect facts about how Scotland - the entire nation - benefitted from the slave-powered Atlantic economy of 18th and early 19th centuries.

But this ad-hoc disinformation/misinformation campaign is not happening in a vacuum.

The backlash against the history of slavery is swirling in to an existing whirlpool of partisan social media and even mainstream media commentary.

So what are the big myths - and who is pushing them?

Graham Campbell is an SNP councillor in Glasgow who has, for years, been campaigning for Scotland to come to terms with its history. Campbell, who is of Jamaican heritage, picks up the broad themes of disinformation from Scottish political partisans.

“Scotland is dealing with two mythical narratives about its past,” he said.

“One of them is unionist. It says we abolished slavery and our empire was not as nasty as the French or the others. It is a mythological memory of us as abolitionists and forgets the two hundred years of being the primary promoters and perpetrators or slavery.

“The other myth is the nationalist mythical one. It is that we were a wee country suppressed by England and slaving and imperialism had nothing to do with us.

“Both these narratives are entirely wrong but they dominate the discussion when you enter the room.”

These responses highlighted by Campbell are crudely nationalistic, based on the premise that the chosen nation, the UK or Scotland, is a “goodie”.

But the sheer growth in awareness of slavery and its legacy has forced the stories some of us tell ourselves to adapt. Campbell picks out one, a “subsection” of nationalist mythology, “that it was not the Scottish working class who benefitted but the rich and the lairds”.

This has been one of the main battlegrounds against disinformation for historians.

The ugly truth? Scots were not hugely involved in the actual trafficking of Africans to the Americas, what we sometimes call “the slave trade”. That was more an English business. But after the Treaty of Union Scots were both heavily involved in the Caribbean plantations where trafficked Africans worked and heavily invested in industries which relied on this exploitation.

Stephen Mullen, one of Scotland’s leading scholars of slavery, has studied the payouts to slave owners compensated after eventual abolition in 1833-34. This included a disproportionate number of Scots.

“Rank and class were not accurate indicators of involvement with Caribbean slavery: although not all benefitted equally, individuals from within all ranks participated,” Mullen adds. “Those with capital reserves or access to credit - typically gentry and middling ranks - participated in large-scale enterprise such as mercantile commerce but there is evidence of Scottish tradesmen working in the slave economies.”

But it was not just those who were directly involved in slavery who benefitted. The wealth derived from unfree labour in the plantations - including compensation - turbocharged the post-union Scottish economy, funding key infrastructure such as canals and waterworks and creating thousands of jobs.

“Slavery and its commerce also had wider effects; powering the Scottish Industrial Revolution and providing large scale employment in cotton mills from 1778, funding philanthropic initiatives in universities, schools and hospitals, as well as the repatriation of wealth to families of lower rank in wider Scottish society,” Mullen says.

It is not just pro-independence Scots who subscribe to the idea that only elites profited from slavery. This myth can be found across the left. Why?

“Slavery is antithetical to the proud Scottish radical tradition and it seems more comforting to blame a small group of elites than to acknowledge the significance of slavery and its commerce to the development of the wider economy and society,” concludes Mullen, who is himself from a Scottish working-class background.

Peggy Brunache has lived in Scotland for a decade and a half and admits she was quite surprised by how little Scots know about the issue when she first arrived in the country. A Haitian American who lectures on the Atlantic trade at the University of Glasgow, she too gets why it is difficult to acknowledge the reality.

“I understand where the misunderstanding comes from,” she says. “History is prioritised to celebrate the benefits of wealth accumulation and the distribution that lifts a community, town, or nation to greatness.

“But rarely do people follow where the philanthropic funds to bring proper sanitation to an area, or build hospitals, or provide the investments for industrial works that creates jobs for locals.

“For example, Glasgow’s economic prominence arose from the role of Scottish merchants whose profits, derived largely from the slave-based transatlantic economies.

“It muddies one’s civic pride if you have to think about the hundreds or thousands of humans that were starved, violated, and beaten to death to create the wealth that put you or your ancestors in a better life.”

Scottish myths about slavery, of course, do not stand alone. They are sloshing about online with lies generated by the apologists of slavery, of structural racism in the United States and the British Empire long before the internet was invented. One of the narratives of those deflecting from slavery in the US or British Empire is called the “Irish Slaves Myth’ - a story equating the indentured servitude of the Irish to the chattel slavery of Africans.

This particular version of history has grown to include Scottish bonded labour. Indeed, it is a theme that has been picked in recent years by the US far right. Gavin McInnes, the founder of the Proud Boys - an extremist group some of whose members were involved in this month’s storming of the Capitol in Washington - was born to Scottish parents and sees himself as a Scot. “If Scots did grievance culture the way everybody else does, we’d get our own month,” he once said. “Yes, we were slaves. Yes, we were slaughtered.”

It is a line which has appeal - if social media is anything to go by - right across the political spectrum. It has gained ground on the right and the left, and on both sides of the constitutional divide. But it is just not true.

The is a world of difference between being a bonded worker and being a slave.

Mullen says: “Servitude was temporary, non-transmissible and Europeans were always regarded as people rather than 'things'.

“Indentured servitude was brutal in its own right, but slavery is, and always has been, about the legal ownership of people. This did not apply to white Scots in Scotland or the West Indies, either in the colonial or modern periods.”

Slavery in the Americas was racialised, servitude was not. Even nominally free people of colour suffered from the prejudice which was used to justify owning people. White Scots and Irish did not live with that legacy. They could hope for better.

“Indentured Scots and Irish did not worry that their plight would be inherited by their children, their children’s children, their children’s children’s children…and so on,” says Brunache.

There are many other myths on slavery and Scotland, sometimes to protect to defend some iconic political figure.

Brunache asks how some historians can commemorate abolitionists while distancing themselves from those who supported slavery. “This, in turn, influences public memory and how descendants of the victors can commemorate and memorialise that version of the past,” she says, “while the descendants of the enslaved are left struggling against contemporary prejudices that are thinly repackaged past racist tropes that legitimated enslavement.”

Campbell is hopeful, especially about the role many independence supporters have taken in addressing Scotland’s darker history. “Of course, it is an uncomfortable set of truths for people to acknowledge,” he sums up. “But most people’s response has been positive.”