THE question of the opening by Glasgow City Council of a museum dedicated to the slave trade raises wider issues about historical responsibility for crimes against humanity. That the German state should have accepted guilt for the Nazi murder of six million Jews in the Second World War, and has made practical retribution is clearly justified. That the Turkish authorities still deny responsibility for the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians during the First World War, is clearly unjustified and pressure to accept these crimes should be kept upon Ankara.

But how far back do we go in history before there is a moratorium on attributing guilt and responsibility? After all, even the Old Testament only visits the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the fourth generation. In the process of his conquests Ghengis Khan – estimates do vary – killed up to 40 per cent of the population of the known world. Should the current rulers in Ulan Bator apologise and make reparations to the present inhabitants of those parts of Russia, China, Central Asia which he conquered? Unlikely, and in my view, unnecessary.

In any discussion on slavery should be avoided two historical fallacies. The first is that slavery and the slave trade were imposed upon Africa by the brutal and rapacious seaborne carriers of slaves to the British colonies in the Americas. However, slavery was widespread in African tribal societies long before Europeans started scouring their shores, and many tribal chiefs profited from the growth of the slave trade by selling the captives from tribal wars, and even their own people, to the slavers. Equally true is that the intermediaries in the trade between the African tribes and the European whites, were – most commonly – the Arab slavers who had, long before the Europeans, been engaged in acquiring slaves for the Muslim Middle East. Mungo Park's classic Travels in the Interior of Africa (1799), gives an excellent description of the involvement of both the local tribal rulers and Arab traders in slavery in West Africa. The net of guilt stretches very wide, further than our shores.

Glasgow gained many fortunes and fine mansions from slavery in one form or another, but it is an untruth to somehow imply that "Scotland" gained as a whole and should beat its collective breast in shame. For the various sections of the working classes the main impact of slavery was the introduction into their consumption of tobacco and sugar, to the short and long-term detriment of their health in high cancer, diabetes and other illnesses. Unlike the whites of the US South, the bulk of the Scottish population were not involved in nor did they benefit from slavery, nor do the Scottish people two centuries later in any way share responsibility for the crimes committed by previous generations far beyond the fourth.

Being politically correct may be very fine, but being historically accurate is more important.

Ian R Mitchell,

21 Woodside Terrace, Glasgow.

WHILE any like-minded person never ceases to deplore slavery, the BBC2 programme Slavery: Scotland’s Hidden Shame (November 6), left much to be desired. It was marred by a thinly veiled hint that the people of Scotland as a whole were in some way guilty. This is nonsense in that the vast majority of Scottish people at that time were working class and in no way to blame. In fact, the working people of Scotland were themselves exploited, largely by the same people who prospered by their involvement in the slave trade.

Scottish working-class people were relentlessly driven from their homes during the Highland and Lowland clearances. Most found themselves in towns and cities living in appalling conditions and working long hours simply to exist and provide for themselves and their families. Granted they were not subjected to the fiendish cruelty meted out to the black slaves. They probably knew nothing about what was going on and they were certainly in no position to do a great deal about it. Research may reveal, however, that some knew and did try. Unfortunately, the programme more than hinted that the people of Scotland as a whole were to blame. Not so, just a powerful small minority.

There was also an unwarranted and scurrilous attach on David Livingstone who, as a working-class boy, worked hard to better himself then took healing and Christianity to Africa. Shame on the producer.

Clearly, the way ahead is to learn from the past and to build a better future for all. Mealy-mouthed apologies based on inaccuracies are worse than useless.

W Findlay,

Flat 64, Bishops’ Gate, 20 Kenmure Drive, Bishopbriggs.