Given the scale of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was going to take an event of some note to knock the devastating impact of this coronavirus off the top of the news agenda.
Unfortunately, it was the horrific death of a black man while being arrested by police officers in the United States – sadly not unusual in that country – that shifted the focus of the media. The death on 25 May of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota re-ignited the Black Lives Matter movement, which has spread across the Atlantic and further afield.
Scottish Black, Asian and other ethnic minority voices have spoken out in the wake of this. We need to listen to their stories of racism encountered on the streets, in the schools and other institutions of Scotland, uncomfortable though they may be.
Orkney and Shetland have both held Black Lives Matter events. Work is needed in both island communities to educate folk about links to slavery, so we can tackle today’s racism effectively. We also need to end for good the practice of blackface, which originated as a cruel way to caricature enslaved Africans on Southern plantations.
Shetland woman Ellie Ratter has led a campaign in the islands by writing to all of the Up Helly Aa committees. Happily, Ellie has already had a positive response from a number of the events, and I am happy to support her campaign.
In Orkney, I understand that there have been incidences of blackface in fancy dress events in past years. I hope local organising committees will note the positive decisions made by Up Helly Aa organisers.
I know in Orkney there has also been discussion over whether Dundas Crescent and Dundas Street in Kirkwall and Stromness respectively are ripe for renaming – or at least a plaque to explain the connection of the Dundas family to slavery. Sir Lawrence Dundas, who bought the earldom of Orkney and lordship of Shetland for £63,000 in 1766, owned two slave-owned plantations in the West Indies. He was a cousin of Henry Dundas, who was instrumental in obstructing the abolition of slavery.
Of course, the Black Lives Matter protests in Orkney and Shetland have been socially distanced due to the continuing Covid-19 lockdown, although further easing of restrictions with a move to Phase 2 of the Scottish Government lockdown route-map may be announced as early as Thursday.
I know plans to restart the tourist industry have caused concern. However, having followed the relatively positive progress made by Orkney in managing Covid-19, I am very keen that this good work is not undone.
In his announcement last week, Fergus Ewing made it clear that 15 July was a provisional date that has been set for when tourism businesses may be able to resume operations, dependent on public health advice and progression to Phase 3. At this time, although tourism businesses have been asked to start to plan for that date, advice remains that travel to and from the Scottish Mainland should be for essential travel only.
This is a regular column by Highlands and Islands MSP Maree Todd, SNP. All Regional MSPs have been offered the same space in The Orkney News to contribute their personal views.