STUDYING history is not everyone’s cup of tea. “Why dwell on the past when it’s the future that counts?”, is a common refrain. Well, as a self-confessed history philistine (I took the geography alternative at secondary school), I now freely admit that I have become increasingly interested in our past. The events and customs, traditions and habits that all contributed to shape today’s society.

With apologies to Wet Wet Wet and their hit single: “History’s all around us, ….. It's written on the wind, it's everywhere I go”. It seems unfortunate then that our history education gurus at the Scottish Examination Board think it appropriate to expunge Glasgow from the list of the UK’s western seaboard cities whose wealth, growth and very prosperity were founded upon trade which was inescapably linked with the transatlantic slave trade. Liverpool and Bristol alone, are to be left with that dubious honour in the revised Nat 5 History syllabus (the old ‘O’-levels to old bufties like me).

Now, my early-day history lessons (before geography took over) focused on the early-day Glasgow which grew up along the Molendinar burn, flowing through to the Reformation of the 16th century. (The thought of a bishop being ‘run out of town’ captured my imagination.) If I had persevered a year or two longer, I might have learnt that by the middle of the 18th century Glasgow and its Clyde ports were importing vast quantities of tobacco, rum, sugar and later cotton from the colonies of the Caribbean and the Americas, often aboard Clyde-built ships.

By that time, the Glasgow Merchants dominated the city through their trading activities, dominating the landscape with their city centre mansions, their philanthropy, endowment of seats of learning and occupying positions of civic power. The trade in sugar, rum, tobacco and cotton were the foundation upon which Glasgow’s wealth was founded and it was Glasgow’s commercial connections over three separate centuries which underpinned the economic transformation from small market town to world-leading industrial powerhouse. And ultimately it was this wealth that drove the engine of the Industrial Revolution allowing Glasgow to self-proclaim itself as The Second City of the Empire. An empire built upon the black slave labour of the colonies.

“History’s all around us….”: in the city-centre the names of Buchanan, Bell, Spiers (Wharf) Ingram, Cochrane and Glassford (all tobacco lords) are all familiar street-names. And there are many, many more with connections to the trade with the colonies. Think also of Tobago Street and Jamaica Street and the daily Radio Clyde daily traffic reports of morning rush hour tailbacks to Kingston and Plantation.

Now, I’m no advocate of gesture politics such as Bristol’s Colston statue toppling, nor indeed of proposals to remove some of the statues from George Square due to connections with the trade. They, together with the street names and mansions, the portraits, civic buildings and philanthropy are an embedded part of the history of Glasgow and cannot simply be airbrushed from our past by well-intentioned educationalists.

“History’s all around us….” and however unpalatable and distasteful we might find many aspects of it, it needs to be told to help us understand the past and build for the future.