Sunday, 09 October 2016 19:31

Union of the Parliaments 1707 Featured

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The reasons for the Union of the Parliaments (which was vastly unpopular with the ordinary Scottish people even though most of them at that time did not have the vote) were complex and varied. They can be summarised as follows:

  • From the Union of the Crowns in 1603, England and Scotland had one monarch but two Parliaments. While this worked most of the time, there were occasions when the two institutions parted company - such as when England Executed King Charles I (to the distress of many in Scotland) and became a republic, while at the same time Scotland's governing body resolved to appoint King Charles II as their monarch. From the perspective of the leaders in London, such a situation had to be avoided in the future and the removal of the Scottish Parliament was seen as a way of achieving this.
  • Following the abdication of King James VII and the accession of William and Mary, the Scottish Parliament were in agreement and declared a few months later that James VII had forfeited the Scottish throne. But there were many in Scotland who still supported the deposed monarch. There were even uprisings in Scotland in support of James and the Jacobite cause was still bubbling away at the turn of the century.
  • There was still a large measure of religious intolerance in both England and Scotland and those in power were determined that there should never again be a Catholic monarch. But the deposed Stuart line (with their Catholic sympathies) really had a stronger claim on the throne and again there were more in Scotland who felt that this should count. When the English Parliament decided, without consultation with their Scottish counterparts, that the crown should go via the Electress of Hanover, the German granddaughter of King James VI and through her to her son (the future King George I), the Scots Parliament made plain their resentment.
  • There were a number of poor harvests in Scotland in the 1690s and Scotland's economic position was then drastically worsened by the ill-fated Darien Scheme to create a Scottish colony in Panama. Scotland lost 25% of its liquid assets. The Act of Union undertook to pay 400,000 pounds in compensation to those who had incurred these losses. This was of course blatant bribery as the people who were to benefit from this compensation were amongst those who voted in favour of the Union.
  • Scotland relied on 50% of its exports going to England. In an act of blackmail in 1705, the English Parliament closed their market to Scottish cattle, coal and linen and declared that all Scots would be treated a aliens. It showed the vulnerability of Scotland to a trade war. In addition, Scotland was excluded from England's colonial territories - indeed early moves towards a union of the parliaments stumbled in England as they were reluctant to allow open access. But the Act of Union in 1707 created the greatest free trade area in the world at that time.

Act of Union 1707
A commission representing the two bodies met and thrashed out the details. The Scots lost the argument for a federal arrangement but did manage to secure the continuation of the Scottish legal system, education and church. These were important elements in allowing the country to continue to regard itself as a separate entity. The privileges of the Scottish royal burghs were also to be maintained. Debates in the Scottish Parliament were heated and lengthy while the crowds in the streets burnt copies of the treaty and threw stones at the Parliament windows. A mob held the city of Glasgow for a month. But on January 16, 1707, the Treaty of Union was passed by 110 votes to 67 (with more than a suspicion that some of the poorer Members of Parliament had been bribed - though this was nothing new for those days). The Treaty was passed in Westminster without opposition and the Scottish Parliament met for the last time on 25 March 1707.

When the Act of Union was given the Royal Assent by the Earl of Seafield, he touched the document with the royal sceptre saying "There's the end of an auld sang." Nearly 300 years later, at the "re-convening" of Parliament in Edinburgh in 1999, the Presiding Officer was to remark that it was the "start of a new sang".

Writing later, Sir Walter Scott summed up the attitude of the Scottish "man in the street" at the time in the words of one of his characters: "I ken, when we had a king, and a chancellor, and parliament - men o' our ain, we could aye peeble them wi' stones when they werena gude bairns - But naebody's nails can reach the length o' Lunnon".

Last modified on Sunday, 10 September 2017 22:20

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