DISCUSSING the apparent “bold move” by Glasgow University to pay back slave trade profits by setting up a £20million “programme of restorative justice”, a colleague of mine raised an eyebrow and suggested this could be thought of as a politically correct form of ambulance chasing.

The university is to establish a Glasgow-Caribbean Centre for Development Research, managed in partnership with the University of the West Indies. But it is unclear how this relates to or helps resolve any of the problems faced by black people in either the West Indies or in Scotland today.

One wonders about the extent to which this move fits more with the modern liberal elite’s desire for virtue signalling, mixed with the development of both a compensation and victim culture in British society.

Part of the problem is that it reflects another example of universities moving away from their purpose, the development of knowledge, towards an instrumental approach in which all sorts of social problems become the objective of the academy, where the pursuit of truth once again becomes weighed down by social, economic or moralising issues.

Perhaps the new research centre will produce some good work but with a therapeutic basis for its existence it is unlikely to produce much that is challenging to the sensibilities of those who have founded it. After all, to be open and questioning about everything, as you should be, could lead to findings that could be seen as hurtful or disrespectful rather than “restorative”.

It is of course worth noting that until the Enlightenment and modernity, the ideas and ideals of liberty and equality that laid the basis for the abolition of slavery did not exist. Indeed, despite receiving funds from those who benefited from slavery, many of the staff at Glasgow University adopted a clear anti-slavery position at the time, and in 1791 it awarded an honorary degree to William Wilberforce who led the fight to abolish slavery in Britain.

The move by the university may appear progressive but there is something quite pompous about this bourgeois trend to apologise, something rather worthy, almost holy, in this public, perhaps even publicity-seeking, self-flagellation. “Look at me. I’m so humble”.

Perhaps the most depressing part of this affair is, as academic Joanna Williams has noted, “It also suggests that other people who are alive today are victims of what happened to their ancestors”.

Rather than encouraging young black and white people to look to the future, it encourages a victim-based sense of being forever trapped in the past. Something that undermines a dynamic sense of progress and liberation, a sense embodied by the black and white people who crushed slavery 200 years ago, and one still needed today to move society forwards.