Eminent Professor and Human Rights Activist to chair new Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group

New Chair - Sir Geoff Palmer

The Council has appointed an independent chair to lead the Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group.

The Group will review features such as statues and street names in Edinburgh which commemorate those with close links to slavery.

Sir Geoff Palmer OBE, a Professor Emeritus in the School of Life Sciences at Heriot-Watt University, will chair the group as they investigate links with slavery and colonialism legacy in Edinburgh’s civic realm. 

Sir Geoff was invited to lead the review by the Council’s Group Leaders following agreement at July’s Policy and Sustainability Committee to delegate the appointment of a Chair. 

Alongside his academic work, Sir Geoff is a prominent human rights activist and serves as the Honorary President of Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council (ELREC), an Edinburgh-based organisation which works to tackle discrimination and promote human rights and equality in the community. 

Sir Geoff will lead on recruiting further members in the coming weeks, with the aim of bringing together people from a range of backgrounds and expertise including community leaders and figures from the cultural and arts world, as well as academic representatives. Whilst the membership is delegated to the Chair, there is an expected emphasis on having a very strong BAME representation. 

Due to meet for the first time before the end of the year, the group will consider any features within the council boundary which commemorate those with close links to slavery and colonialism, including, but not limited to, public statues and monuments, street or building names.

As a result of the review, the Group will make recommendations to the Council’s Policy and Sustainability Committee on a programme of actions and activities needed to rectify the glorification of slavery and colonialism which these commemorations in the capital represent to many people. The group will consider all options, including removal of statues.

Sir Geoff Palmer, Chair of the new Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group said:

I regard this appointment as a great honour and duty to work with the Group and the community to ensure that the Council’s aim of fairness and justice to all is realised.

Council Leader Adam McVey, said:

I'm delighted to welcome Sir Geoff into his new role as Chair of the Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group. He brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and leadership to the post and will be a real asset to the Group.

We have a responsibility to face up to our City’s past, the good and the bad. While this review is about the story of our City, it’s not about statues of people long gone. It’s about people who live here now and their experience. The Black Lives Matter movement shone a bright light on structural exclusions faced by people in all areas of life. We are committed to investigating, with communities and partners, where any such exclusions might exist in Edinburgh. Through this Review Group we hope to build an improved shared understanding of our Capital’s history by reviewing the origins of our public statues, monuments and street names and their context with events and meanings and making sure we share the true stories with future generations.

I very much look forward to hearing the Review Group’s findings.

Depute Council Leader Cammy Day said:

I’m very pleased that Sir Geoff has agreed to be the independent chair of the Review Group. This group will make sure we take action where we can in response to lessons learned from the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s important we listen to and act upon the views of the BAME community.

We have a duty to work to understand what the perception is now and what could make it better. We want the group to consider all options for rectifying the glorification of slavery and colonialism in our streets and elsewhere and for supporting diversity in our city.


Published: November 11th 2020