Union with England

This year (2007) marks the 300th year of union between Scotland and England. The unification of the two countries is probably the single most important event in Scottish history since the country won its independence nearly 400 years earlier. Despite this, most people living within the British Isles are ignorant about the events which led to it. This is in part due to people regarding history involving politics as less exciting and harder to grasp than others, and in part due to the relationship between two countries who have always been mistrusting of each others' motives. To some it is an episode best left ignored lest it reopen old wounds. It is in fact a particularly juicy period of history filled with tales of blackmail, bribery, intimidation and espionage.

The relationship between Scotland and England over the centuries preceding the Union was once summed up by James Anthony Froude in his 'History of England': "The English hate Scotland because Scotland had successfully defied them: the Scots hate England as an enemy on the watch to make them slaves." Despite this ancient rivalry and hostility, Scotland had shared a monarch with its larger neighbour since 1603 when the son of Mary Queen of Scots, James VI, also ascended to the throne of England on the death of Elizabeth I. Despite this, both countries remained independent with their own parliaments. There remained however the possibility of both countries returning to separate monarchs - a fact that many in England saw as a threat to their country's stability. The countries had been hereditary enemies with several hundred years of cross border warfare and bloody conflict to attest to the fact. Scotland had also for centuries been an ally of France, another one of England's natural enemies and Scotland was regarded as a back door to England for any attempt at a French invasion. Any return from the period of relative peace which the neighbouring countries had shared since the Union of the Crowns would have been disastrous for England's economic growth and security. 

Several events had fuelled English paranoia - Scotland had held several powerful cards during the civil war and had played them when pushed. Also, the smaller country's attitude towards the larger during this period when she didn't get her way was decisive in the outcome of the war itself. Most importantly, as it was fresh in peoples minds, was the attempted Jacobite takeover in 1715 after the accession of William III. The English parliament had to move to ensure the Hanoverian succession was secure at a time when Scotland was moving further away from them politically and closer to independence from the monarchy in London. The poet Robert Burns summed up the feelings towards the Hanovarian monarchy north of the border in a verse which he etched into a widow using a diamond tipped stylus in a guest house overlooking Linlithgow Palace.

Here Stuarts once in glory reigned, 
And laws for Scotland's weal ordained; 
But now unroof'd their palace stands, 
Their sceptre's sway'd by other hands; 
Fallen indeed, and to the earth 
Whence groveling reptiles take their birth. 
The injured Stuart line is gone, 
A race outlandish fills their throne; 
An idiot race, to honour lost; 
Who know them best despise them most. 

The English parliament knew that a union would be the best way to achieve this, but knowing that Scottish feelings were almost universally opposed to this - fearing that Scotland would be swallowed up by England making it just another province of the larger country as had happened to Wales 400 years earlier - unscrupulous elements within the English aristocracy were willing to use any method to achieve it including threats, blackmail and bribery. 

The blackmail and intimidation of Scotland began with the English Alien Act of 1705 which stated that if the Scottish Parliament refused to accept the Hanoverian succession north of the border or begin talks on a union between the parliaments by Christmas Day 1705 then Scots living and trading within England would be treated as aliens and Scottish exports to England of cattle, coal and linen would be banned. These threats would specifically harm the interests of the Scottish nobility, the very people who ran and voted in the Scottish Parliament. To accept this Act the Scottish Parliament had to go back on their own Act of Security passed in 1703 which allowed Scotland to pick her own monarch to succeed Queen Anne, which would almost amount in itself to Scotland denying her own Parliament's independence to make decisions on constitutional affairs. 

The same members of Scotland's nobility were also the target of bribes, the largest being the compensation offered by the English for the losses suffered by investors in the ill-fated  Darien scheme, an attempt at setting up a Scottish colony in Panama - losses that English interference and hostility were largely responsible for! The failure of this scheme had seen Scotland losing up to a third of her national wealth - any offer of compensation, regardless of where it originated was going to look awfully tempting to formerly wealthy men who now had experience of having to tighten their belts. Additional cash (and position) was offered to those willing to promote the union within Parliament. The English turned the screw further by infiltrating influential Scottish institutions with spies, like Daniel Dafo (of Robinson Crusoe fame), who skilfully used propaganda to sell the unionist cause on different values north and south of the border. 

These agents who often masqueraded as Scots, or Englishmen who had been disenfranchised by their own country or persecuted due to their religion, proliferated Edinburgh with propaganda ensuring the Scots that trade and money would flow north after the union. The same men would also publish papers in London saying, among other things, that unification would see off any military threat from Scotland in the future and that Scotland would supply the English army with an inexhaustible supply of troops for her wars with France - they never once said that any economic benefit or resources would filter across the border into Scotland. They were basically assuring the English that it would break up any possibility of the re-emergence of the 'Auld Alliance' between Scotland and France by forcing Scottish troops, as part of an English army, to take sides against their former ally while concealing this motive from the Scots. The money and trade promised to the Scots was never one of the original intentions of the English unionists - it was portrayed in Edinburgh as a merger which would prove fruitful to all concerned but was regarded in London as nothing short of a takeover. 

The blackmail and bribes still did not fully convince the Scottish parliament, some of whom were staunch Jacobites, others proudly independent and most were in fear of having to face the prospect of facing the Scottish population at large who by a massive majority opposed the Union and would most likely riot, possibly to the point of civil war. The next option open to the English was to bully and intimidate Scotland as a whole. Scotland was poorly defended at this time and England showed intent to use its full military might if the Scottish Parliament's decision went against the Union. England massed thousands of troops along the Scottish border. 

England's goal was now in its sights; they were on the verge of achieving something that they had been unable to do in over 400 years of trying through both diplomatic and military campaigns - the subjection and domination of Scotland, its smaller, poorer neighbour who for centuries had resisted overwhelming English power and resolutely and proudly held on to her independence. They were not going to try to take Independence from the Scots - this time the Scots were going to hand it over to them themselves. 

Negotiations began after the Duke of Hamilton, who was supposed to be leading the opposition in the Scottish Parliament to the Union, gave up the right for Scotland to appoint her own negotiators in a disgraceful act of treachery; instead they were to be picked by Queen Anne's political ministers in England! This one act of betrayal meant that the negotiations had now become a discussion on the finer details of the constitution of the now inevitable union. Although hugely unpopular with the Scottish people, who at that time were unable to vote so could only show their anger through protests and riots, which they did in virtually every town and village - often with extreme violence - the Treaty of Union was passed by both Parliaments on 16th January 1707. The Scottish Parliament had been poorly attended that day; many nobles who had fought against the Union had stayed away in disgust knowing what was going to happen and many of those who were in favour of the pact avoided it in fear of what the populace would do to them. Indeed, several members of the nobility were attacked after the treaty was agreed and several had to hide in cellars or flee the Scottish capital! The Scottish attitude towards their political masters was summed up superbly by Robert Burns in his poem 'Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation': 

Fareweel to a' our Scottish fame, 
Fareweel our ancient glory; 
Fareweel ev'n to the Scottish name, 
Sae fam'd in martial story. 
Now Sark rins over Solway sands, 
An' Tweed rins to the ocean, 
To mark where England's province stands- 
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation! 

What force or guile could not subdue, 
Thro' many warlike ages, 
Is wrought now by a coward few, 
For hireling traitor's wages. 
The English steel we could disdain, 
Secure in valour's station; 
But English gold has been our bane- 
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation! 

O would, or I had seen the day 
That Treason thus could sell us, 
My auld grey head had lien in clay, 
Wi' Bruce and loyal Wallace! 
But pith and power, till my last hour, 
I'll mak this declaration; 
We're bought and sold for English gold- 
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation! 

In his 'Tales of a Grandfather', Sir Walter Scott refers to the feelings which had ran through the country, "…The nation, instead of regarding it as an identification of the interests of both kingdoms, considered it as an identification of their independence, by their false and corrupted statesmen, into the hand of their proud and powerful rival." 

As an Englishman in Edinburgh Daniel Dafoe was nervous of the public reaction to the treaty, especially fearing that his own part in the situation would be exposed. He described the mood of the mob: "…I heard a great noise and looking out saw a terrible multitude come up the high street with a drum at the head of them shouting and swearing and crying out all Scotland would stand together, No Union, No Union, English Dogs and the like. I can not say to you I had no apprehensions, nor was Monsr. De Witt quite out of my thoughts." (De Witt had been a Dutch Statesman who had been ripped apart by the bare hands of an infuriated mob). 

The Scottish Parliament was dissolved, the Union of Scotland and England came into effect on 1st May 1707 and has remained a point of debate ever since. The mood in England was joyful; they had finally achieved an aim first attempted in the 13th century by Edward 1st - to have the English Parliament controlling the affairs across all of the island of Britain. The overriding feeling in Scotland was one of utter humiliation made worse by the shameful manner in which it was brought about. Church bells in Edinburgh played 'Why Should I be Sad on my Wedding Day'. It was not the English pressure and desire to subjugate Scotland that most hurt the pride of the Scots, as it had been always in the interests of England to neutralise an independent Scotland. What hurt most was the perceived treachery of the Scottish nobles who allowed themselves to be blackmailed or took the English bribes and delivered their country into the hands of a union designed around the interests of and for the benefit of its old enemy. 

The early days of the union were not easy for Scots to accept, the investment from England did not flow north and Scottish traders were often left grasping for those parts of the Empire that English traders had already rejected. A disproportionate number of Scots began to swell the ranks of what were still referred to by most as the 'English' army and the 'English' navy, and Scottish citizens were openly treated as inferior in social status by their new English partners. James Boswell referred to an incident where two Scottish Officers entered a theatre in London to be pelted by apples as the gallery rang to cries of "No Scots!" He raged "… I wished from my soul that the Union was broke and that we might give them another battle of Bannockburn." Through time, though Scottish innovators, entrepreneurs, adventurers and soldiers proved the equal of any within Great Britain, and with Scots within the union punching above their weight, the United Kingdom built the greatest Empire the world has ever known. 

Under the terms of the Union, Scotland kept her legal systems and was allowed to keep her own church (another change to her religious freedoms after all the blood shed during the Covenanting period would certainly have never been accepted). Scotland and England did now however share the same coinage, taxation, trade, sovereignty and parliament. Great Britain was born and with the Union came a new flag; the cross of St. Andrew was combined with the cross of St. George, creating the Union flag (not the one we know today - the cross of St. Patrick (the thin diagonal cross) was added later in 1801). The Union flag is nearly always called the Union Jack nowadays which actually only becomes its name when flying from a ship of the Royal Navy.

All this did not lead to Scottish identity and traditions being diluted but reinforced them. Recent calls from Scotland for more autonomy and a strong pro-Independence lobby led in 1999 to the restoration of a devolved Parliament in Scotland and a new building to house it which opened its doors in 2004. In May 2007 fifty years of rule by the Scottish Labour Party in Scotland ended with the Scottish National Party, a pro-Independence party becoming the biggest party in Scotland. It seems the debate is not yet over. 

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