The Colston statue verdict has set the hares running. There was amazement, annoyance and some delight when four defiant, politically motivated young Bristolians walked free from court last week after being acquitted for criminal damage, despite dragging a statue of Bristol’s leading slave trader off its plinth and into the docks.

The Attorney General for England and Wales, Suella Braverman, may refer the case to the appeal court for "clarification". But that’s just added to the confusion. Is there currently carte blanche for folk itching to demolish other offensive monuments?

Many letters and column inches have been written about the legal process and the scary prospect of random statue-demolition by crazed mobs. But in fact no toppling seems to have happened since Edward Colston took a dook.

At the risk of appearing to incite criminal damage – why not? Especially when a third of Jamaican plantations were owned by Scots who kept slaves and modern Glaswegians have proved themselves quite capable of interacting with the public realm. Witness the contemptuous traffic cone that sits permanently on the Duke of Wellington’s head.

Edinburgh’s St Andrew’s Square houses a statue of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742 - 1811) whose campaign to defer abolition of the Atlantic slave trade saw half a million more enslaved Africans shipped across the Atlantic, as he stamped out democratic dissent in Scotland as well.

So why no toppling there? Are Scots nervous about direct action or maybe just more creative?

Arguably, Scotland’s Colston moment came the day before Bristol when anti-racism campaigners renamed Glasgow city centre streets. Buchanan Street, named after a slave owner, was subtitled George Floyd Street (with the original street name left intact). Ironically, without headline-grabbing damage, the protest went relatively un-noticed.

Far more attention was paid the following summer, when thousands gathered in Glasgow’s Kenmure Street to stop the Home Office deporting two local Indian men.

There were many undercurrents behind that splendid protest, but perhaps 30-something chef Sumit Sehdev and mechanic Lakhvir Singh represented the folk used and abused by Scotland’s great and good in centuries past – folk modern Scots cannot directly help today.

There’s another factor behind the lack of statue-toppling in Scotland – the likeliest targets are simply too high. The Dundas monument is 150ft high – fifteen times taller than the Colston statue in Bristol. And height matters.

The Duke of Sutherland’s statue stands 100ft above the summit of Ben Bhraggie near Golspie – one reason a group of feminists (including myself) engaged a climber to place a fluorescent pink tutu around the Sutherland Clearances’ chief architect 25 years ago. The attempt was thwarted by a month of bad weather and the Duke’s hand-on-hip stance which made tutu retention extremely unlikely.

Ridicule was our aim – not just because wholesale demolition was almost impossible, but because a temporary ‘adjustment’ was less likely to rile the locals who must surely be the ones to determine its permanent future. Maybe this belief in democratic process explains the lack of statue toppling in Scotland.

The instinct – even amongst those who want monuments removed – is to engage in a democratic process. And in 2022 that will place a burden of responsibility on councils that have generally left the awkward issue on the back burner for decades.

Now they must decide. Is the public realm an untouchable, inviolable space that must be allowed to relay the values of centuries past to every new generation, however offensive those values to modern eyes?

Isn’t it high time Scots shook off the past by daring to engage with our built environment instead of tip-toeing around it like visitors or feudal inferiors?

Of course, we could be here till Doomsday debating those points. Better then if we focus instead on how to reach some democratic decisions.

Change must be possible. When it isn’t, society explodes – as it did last year in the United States – or it atrophies, and becomes an apologetic, faint-hearted Victorian or Georgian pastiche of itself.

Thanks to Black Lives Matter and the wholesale reassessment of values prompted by every current disruption including the climate crisis, Covid lockdown and the independence campaign, those stale options won’t do anymore.

Glasgow Council says it’s commissioned research to decide its response to a street renaming petition that clocked up nearly 30,000 signatures last year.

Edinburgh has been bolder. Last year the City Council installed a new plaque on the Dundas Monument which records the "voluntary contribution from officers, petty officers, seamen and marines)" that financed construction, but ends "in 2020 this [statue] was dedicated to the memory of the more than half a million Africans whose enslavement was a consequence of Henry Dundas's actions".

The planning application to install the plaque attracted 2,200 comments and the current Lord Melville consulted lawyers over the council’s wording. But the plaque is finally up and intact – protected perhaps by the democratic process that put it there.

A process that’s set to continue this year. The Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group, chaired by Sir Geoff Palmer, has produced recommendations on how the city can “publicly acknowledge and actively atone for its part in supporting and benefiting from Atlantic slavery and colonial expansion”.

A consultation (which closes next week) invites locals to comment on ideas like removing monuments, reinterpreting them and/or renaming streets and buildings. It asks about the merits of a civic apology, city-wide observance of the annual International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and a programme to celebrate individuals from under-represented groups.

The council is also backing efforts to finance a statue of Scottish Women’s Hospitals founder Elsie Inglis – once built it will be the first monument to the memory of a woman in Scotland’s capital city.

Change in our built environment is long overdue. The balance of opinion in Edinburgh’s consultation may support selective statue removal – it may not. But the verdict will be a democratic one. And that should be good enough for everyone.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.