Scottish Independence No More

  • The Background

Outsiders often think of, or refer to, the UK (which is an abbreviation of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) as England. This is incorrect. England is only one of the constituent states of the United Kingdom. The others are Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The reasons for Wales and Northern Ireland being ‘united’ with England are outwith the scope of this page but are not entirely irrelevant to the history of Scotland’s relations with England. This page merely recounts some of the background to the Treaty of Union between Scotland and England in 1707.

Since 1603, when the Scottish king (James VI) also became King of England, on the death of Elizabeth I of England, the monarch had been jointly King or Queen of Scotland and England despite the fact that both were still independent countries with their own parliaments. That being the case there was always the possibility of a return to separate monarchs and since this was perceived as a possible threat to English stability, the English moved to neutralize the threat. This was not just paranoia. There was the experience of Charles I’s reign and the English Civil War, with Scotland’s attitude(s), to be remembered and, in more recent times, an attempted Jacobite insurrection based in Scotland after William II/III’s accession to power. More would follow later. Ultimately the English were successful in their policy and the Hanoverian dynasty became established as the ruling royal house in both Scotland and England. It was a long time after the Union before the question was finally resolved, however, and not until, as so often in Scottish history, there had been a good deal of bloodshed.

  • The Union

Scotland was an independent country until 1707 when the English parliament, using a mixture of quite open blackmail and less open bribery, persuaded a powerful group of Scottish aristocrats to vote for the union of the English and Scottish parliaments. In those days the vast majority of the population had no say in such decisions. They did not have the right to vote, though they did show their general opinion of the union by rioting. The English establishment’s motivation, expressed through their parliament, was to destroy any threat to the Hanoverian succession in England (the incumbent, Queen Anne having no surviving issue and the ‘Hanoverian succession’ being a politically engineered move to ensure that the English monarch would be a Protestant) by making sure it would apply to Britain as a whole i.e. to make sure that the (Roman Catholic) Jacobites could not ascend the throne in Scotland while a Hanoverian sat on the English throne.

The main instrument of English blackmail was the Alien Act of 1705, passed by the English parliament. This astounding act presumed to legislate for Scotland even though Scotland was, at the time, a foreign country. The Alien Act stated that the Scots must accept the Hanoverian succession in SCOTLAND (remember Scotland was an independent nation at this time) or begin negotiations for a union of the English and Scottish parliaments by Christmas day 1705 or else the three main Scottish exports to England (cattle, linen and coal) would be banned and Scots not already living in England would be treated as aliens. These threats were specifically aimed at the pockets of the Scottish nobility who were the only people who could bring about the union of Scotland with England. The Scots parliament had passed the Act of Security in 1703 (approved by Queen Anne in 1704) which allowed for circumstances in which Scotland would not choose the same monarch as England to succeed Queen Anne. The Alien Act was therefore, in itself, an emphatic denial of Scottish independence.

The bribery, too, was aimed at the nobility, for the same reason as the threats i.e.they possessed the power in Scotland. The largest bribe was compensation for the loss made by investors in the Darien scheme, an ill-fated Scottish colonisation scheme in Central America. Virtually all the nobility had lost money in this and the Scots blamed the collapse of the scheme on England, which was in good measure true, and recognized by this compensation. In addition there was widespread distribution of smaller amounts of cash and also advancement in their careers of those who might be useful to the unionist cause.

Blackmail and bribery being thought perhaps insufficient, a propaganda campaign was instigated and military pressure was brought to bear. Troops were moved to the border in an indication of England’s willingness to use force if the other methods failed.

This concentrated campaign by the English to force a union of Scotland and England hoped to achieve something they had been unable to achieve in the previous 400 years despite massive military, and even at times, diplomatic, efforts, namely the destruction of Scottish independence and the subjection of Scotland to English rule. The disgrace is not just that England wished to dominate Scotland. After all, from an English point of view it was in their interests to do so. The disgrace is much more that their campaign was brought to success by the treachery of certain members of the Scottish nobility, a not unfamiliar occurrence in Scottish history.

In any event, negotiations for a union of Scotland with England were decided on. ‘Negotiations’ may not be the best term for what occurred since one might expect that if two countries negotiate then each country would choose its own representatives. Having forced events thus far the English were hardly going to be reasonable now. The union was to be portrayed as a merger, but they naturally regarded it as a takeover. If the Scots were allowed to choose their own representatives they might well not think primarily of the English interest. Here the historical accident which meant that Queen Anne was the monarch of both Scotland and England helped out. On 1 September 1705, in an act of treachery remarkable even for the Scottish aristocracy, the Duke of Hamilton, supposedly leader of the opposition to the union, ensured that Queen Anne (in reality her English political ministers) would choose both the English and Scottish negotiators. After that the term ‘negotiation’ becomes a joke; it was simply a discussion of details amongst Crown appointees. A package of proposals was put forward in 1706. Well supported by the Scottish nobility in parliament but less popular with the other parliamentary factions (who were nevertheless pressured into supporting it by the nobility) and unpopular amongst the general public, the Treaty of Union was passed by both the English and Scottish parliaments and came into force on 1 May 1707.

The treacherous Duke of Hamilton, who had been well rewarded by the English for selling out his country, died in 1712 after a duel with Lord Mohun in London.