Scotland's First Minister apologises to victims of historical witchcraft persecution

Scotland's First Minister apologises to victims of historical witchcraft persecution

SCOTLAND'S First Minister has apologised on behalf of the Scottish Government to victims of witchcraft persecution dating back to the 16th century.

Nicola Sturgeon was responding to a petition introduced in the Scottish Parliament by campaigners.

As well as an apology, the petition from the Witches of Scotland campaign is calling for a pardon for those convicted under the Witchcraft Act 1563 and for a memorial to be set up.

In a statement at Holyrood on International Women's Day this week, Ms Sturgeon offered a posthumous apology to the estimated 4,000 victims persecuted under the Act.

'Injustice on a colossal scale'

"Before this Parliament just now is a petition demanding a pardon for the more than 4,000 people in Scotland — the vast majority of them women — accused and, in many cases, convicted and executed for being 'witches' under the Witchcraft Act of 1563," she said.

"Those who met this fate were not 'witches'. They were people, and they were overwhelmingly women.

"At a time when women were not even allowed to speak as witnesses in a courtroom, they were accused and killed because they were poor, different, vulnerable, or in many cases just because they were women.

Claire Mitchell and Zoe Venditozzi of the Witches of Scotland campaign group (Image: ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)

"It was injustice on a colossal scale, driven at least in part by misogyny in its most literal sense — hatred of women.

"The pardon the petition calls for would require this parliament to legislate and in future this parliament may choose to do so.

"But in the meantime, the petition also calls for an apology — after all, these accusations and executions were instigated and perpetrated by the State.

"And so today, on International Women's Day, as First Minister on behalf of the Scottish Government, I am choosing to acknowledge that egregious historic injustice and extend a formal posthumous apology to all of those accused, convicted, vilified or executed under the Witchcraft Act of 1563."


The Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1735, however Ms Sturgeon said the misogyny that had motivated the Act had not been consigned to history.

"We live with that still," she said.

"Today it expresses itself not in claims of witchcraft, but in everyday harassment, online rape threats and sexual violence.

"All of it intensified by an increasingly polarised and toxic public discourse, and amplified each and every day by social media."

'Proper, serious consideration'

The Witches of Scotland campaign estimates 3,837 people in Scotland were accused of witchcraft, with around two thirds of those being executed.

Around 84 per cent of the accused were women.

Speaking after the apology, Zoe Venditozzi from Witches of Scotland said the decision was the first step to righting a centuries-old wrong.

"There's been a tide of mockery before today," she told the Witches of Scotland podcast.

"There's been an idea of 'it's ridiculous, they're just witches, who cares, pointy hats', that sort of thing.

"But now, we've got proper, serious consideration of the plight that those people went through and of the fact that it was a wrong and that's starting to get addressed now."