Two Shameful and despicable Deals for Scotland – Part two
Act of Union 1707, was a totally Shameful and underhand deal for Scotland, and one the vast majority had no say on the outcome of the act, indeed there were riots in the streets of Edinburgh over the Union. The reasons for the Union of Parliaments were complex and varied; it would take the equivalent of writing a book to explain the reasons as to why the Union happened. The following is a summary of the main events that brought two former enemies together as one Parliament.
Commerce was a cause of friction along with religion between both nations, and the fact that the English Parliament continued to frustrate many Scottish attempts to improve the economy through trade. Despite helping England to build and add many new over sea colonies, by providing fighting troops from a number of Scottish regiments and Clans, the Scots were bared by the English Parliament to trade with the colonies that were bringing countless wealth to England.
Four out of five Scots made their living from agriculture and fishing, and was dominated by a land-owning aristocracy that would exploit their tenants to the extremes. At the end of the 17thcentury Scotland suffered a number of very poor harvests, there was famine, and to cap it all Scotland had increasingly seen its trade routes to Europe and beyond blocked by England. The final nail in the coffin so to speak came when the Darien project by the Company of Scotland to settle Darien was a total disaster and almost bankrupted many Scots by the end of 1700 and indeed many people did go bust. And it was not just the aristocracy who lost fortunes; it was a gamble by a large part of the nation, which backfired spectacularly. The Scottish attempt to establish a colony in Panama was deliberately obstructed by the English navy, and the Spanish government, too, bitterly opposed the scheme as they considered the land to be theirs, and they sent troops to besiege the Scottish colonists who were also dying from various tropical illnesses.
The Scottish economy effectively needed a bailing out, more so the aristocrats, and the political moves that lead to the Act of Union were already under way. One of these was the Act of Settlement of 1701 which banned Catholics from the throne of England, an insult to many Scots as that ruled out the surviving Stuarts and would give the English Parliament first say on who would be Scotland’s monarch. In response, the Scottish Parliament tried to pass an Act of Security in 1703, which contained a vital clause that prevented the successor to the Crown of England from becoming the Scottish monarch unless Scotland’s conditions were met.
Queen Ann was childless and her half brother James, better known as the Old Pretender, was now a threat and was backed by many Scots, and pro-Jacobite sentiment and strong Scottish nationalist feeling was high in Scotland. The Scots Plot worried the English Parliament, and they were furious with the Scots, the only way they could secure England’s northern frontier was to make the Scots accept the English act of Succession.
A number of other indefensible incidents occurred and soured relations further between the two nations to the extent that the English Parliament passed the ‘Alien Act”, according to the act all Scots who were not resident in England, or serving in Queen Anne’s military, were to be declared aliens and banned from trading or migrating to England. Uncompromising in its terms, the act was little more than an attempt to call the bluff of the Scots to get them to accept the Hanoverian succession. The English were prepared to go to war with Scotland if necessary, and take over the Government of Scotland by military rule, putting more pressure on the Scots.
The appointing of Commissioners was brought before the Scots Parliament on 1 September 1705. The Duke of Hamilton demanded a vote, his resolution astounded the Estates, and over a dozen of his anti-union colleagues left the assembly in disgust, enabling a motion to allow Queen Ann to choose both sets of commissioners, the vote was carried by eight votes. The Duke of Hamilton switched sides for money and his actions that day was one of the most unscrupulous act of political treachery in Scottish history. The Treaty would not now be the subject of negotiation but rather the meeting of two sets of Crown appointees discussing details. Of the thirty-one representatives from each country, only one Scot George Lockhart of Carnwath, a Jacobite who at first refused to serve as a commissioner, was not a court appointee. It would take a further eighteen months to get the union accepted by the Scots. To help the Scots to accept the union the English Parliament used bribery with the promise of government jobs, awards of money and pensions for services to the Crown.
Not all the Scots were in the pockets of the English, among the anti-union movement was Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, Lord Belhaven, and Stenton, there were many more, but not enough. The word ‘Union’ posed a problem of interpretation in early eighteenth century, the word ‘union’ did not have the specific political meaning that it now has, and the word then meant the opposite of conflict. Andrew Fletcher spoke of the ‘Union’ with England as a way of stopping the ‘bloody destructive wars, to the Scots’, ‘Union’, meant cooperation and to encourage industry and trade between the two countries.
Fletcher wanted the two independent countries to share the same monarch, co-operate over defence and foreign policy and have a trading relationship based upon a legal treaty. Neither party, however, should be allowed to interfere with the internal affairs of the other.
The English had many spies sent to Scotland, one was Daniel Defoe who was able to infiltrate Edinburgh society with great success, there were also prominent Scots Lords that would report back to their pay masters, such as the Duke of Hamilton, Duke of Argyll and Duke of Queensberry. The Scots aristocracy who all had seats in the Scottish Parliament, in no way proportional as to numbers with the rest of the ordinary members of parliament, therefore they were able to affect the constitutional processes irrespective of public opinion.
The use of propaganda and bribery would turn the tide in favour of the Scots aristocracy. The unfair Treaty of Union might have been more favourable if the Scots concept of federalism had not been so readily dismissed. Fletcher and his colleagues fought long and hard, that if the union was voted for, it would be a federal and not incorporating union, allowing Scotland still to have a Parliament. The English were never prepared to consider this, and they wanted complete control.
The first four Articles of the agreed Treaty laid down the essence of the Union. Two kingdoms, Scotland and England, were to become one, called Great Britian. Scottish subjects were to have the same wrights as Englishmen, and were able to trade freely. The Protestant Succession was to apply to Scotland, and one new Parliament, called the Parliament of Great Britain, was to replace two; but the English Parliament was not officially dissolved as the Scottish one was! Although in theory the treaty created a new parliament, in reality the English Parliament carried on unchanged in their ways and practices by out voting the Scots at every opportunity.
Representation in the early eighteenth century was to do with wealth, not population, and most of the ordinary working people had no vote or Member of Parliament as their proxy. After a lot of disagreement the Scottish nation would be represented by 45 MPs, a grossly unfair number the English had 513MPs, a ratio of 11 to 1, over the Scots. Scottish Lords lost their automatic right to sit in parliament, England would have 196 seats to Scotland’s 16 to elected fro 154.
There were some concessions from the English. The Scottish legal system was to remain; but could be amended by the new Parliament. Laws concerning the public were to be made the same throughout Britian; but Scottish civil law was to continue unaltered. The ancient Royal Burghs of Scotland were guaranteed their rights and privileges as was the Kirk, and the Scottish education system. The Union, therefore, was to be less incorporating than the English would have liked. Scotland’s separate identity was not to be destroyed, only impaired.
Two ruling classes did this deal; and the terms agreed were themselves a bribe to the Scottish nobility who stood to gain most from the equivalent sum of money (£398,085) England agreed to pay Scotland for accepting a share of the English National Debt. English National Debt in 1697 was nearly £14,400,000. Scotland’s National Debt, on the other hand, was small, less than £200,000. Scottish taxes would rise after the union to help pay the dividend as well as the revenue that would come to the new British government from increases in Scottish customs and excise (GDP); all retained by Westminster to this day. The English claim that, by paying the equivalent to the Scots nobility, they had bought the right to tax the Scots, in perpetuity, as they saw fit.
All twenty-five Articles of Union were signed on 22 July 1706. When the terms became known in Scotland there was uproar. The ordinary people of Scotland took to the streets, all over Scotland, with the cry, ‘No Union, No Union!’. Despite over ninety petitions and other demands to the Scottish parliament urging the Estates to vote against the terms. It soon became clear that patronage and bribery were working, the anti-union lobby made three desperate attempts to stop the terms being steam-rollered through the Scots parliament, all three attempts were frustrated by the Duke of Hamilton actions or non actions. The main proposal was to have two armed groups involving Presbyterians from the south-west and Jacobites from the North, some 7000 men were to meet in the town of Hamilton and then march on Edinburgh, where they would ‘raise the parliament’. The Duke of Hamilton was to lead them. He postponed the rendezvous at the last moment.
Fletcher and his colleagues fought long and hard, they had prepared a second line of defence, that if the union was voted for, it would be a federal and not an incorporating union, allowing Scotland still to have a Parliament of some sort. The day of decision came for the Scots Parliament, on 16 January 1707. Andrew Fletcher went fearing the worst and his fears were well founded as most of the doubtfuls had been got at. The Act of Union was passed by 110 votes to 68, and – the shame of it – a considerable number did not vote at all. It was to be an incorporating and not federal union after all. From now on Scotland would be ruled from London.
It is only fair to say that there was a body of opinion, mainly in the new commercial classes of Scotland, which sincerely believed that the union would be a good thing for the country. But the great majority of people were wholly against it, and the country rose in uproar and outrage as the decision was announced – so much so indeed that the pro-union members were in danger of their lives in the streets of Edinburgh thereafter, and the administration leaders had to go secretly to a mere summer-house in the grounds of Moray House, in the Canongate, to affix their signatures to the hated Treaty. It was all to late and this only gave the authorities the opportunity to move in swiftly with the military. With a large number of English regiments installed into garrisons up and down Scotland to keep the population of Scotland under military threat and control.
The anti-union leaders were arrested and mostly transported down to London for trial as Jacobites – although most were not that. Andrew Fletcher found himself locked up in a cell in Stirling Castle, where some of his friends got him immured, as being a deal safer than the Tower of London or banishment to the plantations. His friend Lord Belhaven was one who died in English custody.
From the start the union proved manifestly unsatisfactory for most Scots – even for the lords who had so solidly voted for it. The 45 scots MP’s fond themselves to be very second – rate members – and, of course, able to be outvoted on any and every issue by the vast English majority. The new burden of taxation as an imposition on all classes was imposed onto the Scots and the country suddenly became liable for a share in maintaining a standing army, a navy, a foreign and colonial service, a bureaucracy and all the panoply of state deemed suitable for a major power. The promised increase in trade never happened; instead trade actually dwindled. Also many clauses of the Treaty of Union were a dead letter from the start, and broken at will by the English establishment. Scots law, which most specifically had been protected in the Treaty, was subjected to prompt breaches.
Scotland as a nation continues to exist, but as a state, self – governing entity, older than England or France, or Germany or Italy and the rest, she ceased to be. This shameful and despicable union that is unworthy and totally underhand in its concept must be brought to an end by Scotland. I hope that this story brings home the truth about the one sided Treaty of Union to my fellow Scots. Please note the echoes down the centuries of English leaders failing to take on board Scottish concerns – Fletcher could just as easily have been speaking of Theresa May or Boris Johnston and Brexit.
Scotland it is time to be the Nation again!
Alba gu bràth