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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

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Christian Auer

I. Union, 1707

I. Union, 1707

Texte intégral

  • 1 C. Whatley with D. J. Patrick, The Scots and the Union, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 200 (...)

To tell the story of the making of a union between two nations that has subsequently had such a profound effect on Scotland and on British history […] is fraught with difficulties. The topic is controversial and the evidence can and has been interpreted in very different ways.1

1This comment very explicitly pinpoints the difficulty of trying to present, let alone to explain, the Union between the Parliaments of Scotland and England. The following summary will necessarily be incomplete and anybody interested in this complex issue would be well advised to consult books dealing specifically with this question, and perhaps more particularly Christopher Whatley’s remarkable study of the construction of the Union and the way the Scots reacted to it.

2At the end of his reign, William III (1689-1702) became more and more favourable to the idea of an ‘incorporating Union’ of England and Scotland: he thought that the Union between the two nations would eliminate the risk of an alliance between France and Scotland. It is during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714) that the Union incorporating the two nations finally took place. By the Act of Settlement of 1701, succession to the throne had been vested in the Electress Sophia of Hanover, the granddaughter of James I, and her Protestant heirs. The Scottish Parliament did not take any similar legislation: it passed an Act of Security (1704) that stated that the Scottish Parliament had the right to decide who would be Queen Ann’s successor. On February 1705 the English Parliament retaliated by passing the Alien Act, a form of economic blackmail, since the Act stated that if the Scots did not recognize the Hanoverian succession and if they did not take steps towards Union, Scots in England would be treated as aliens and Anglo-Scottish trade would be suspended. The Scots were outraged by the English decision. Yet, the threat of economic embargo was so serious that the Scottish Parliament accepted to enter negotiations with the English Parliament.

  • 2 Quoted on the internet site of the University of Aberdeen: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/actsofunion/panel (...)
  • 3 Quoted in P. W. J. Riley, The Union of England and Scotland: a Study in Anglo-Scottish Politics of (...)

3Numerous addresses against the Union were submitted to the Scottish Parliament, although many were not wholly opposed to the principle of a Union but rather to its ‘incorporating’ nature. Some of the addresses focused on the defence of sovereignty, a major concern for many Scottish people. Anti-Union demonstrations were organised in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dumfries. In late 1706 crowds in Dumfries were observed “insolently Burning, in the face of the Sun and the presence of the Magistrats, the Articles of Treaty betwixt our two Kingdoms.”2 Supporters of the Union concentrated on the benefits of trade. Scottish Unionists like the first Earl of Cromarty and William Seton of Pitmedden saw the Hanoverian succession as necessary for the future political stability of the country and thought that Scotland’s economic difficulties could be solved by free trade with England. They were also convinced that Scotland’s identity would not be lost in the process. Opposition to the Treaty of Union also came from the English Parliament, mainly from the Tories. Sir John Pakington denounced the Union in the House of Commons as “marrying a woman against her consent: a union that was carried on by corruption and bribery within doors and by force and violence without.”3

4Between April and July 1706 the English and Scottish commissioners sat in separate rooms and communicated with each other only in writing. By July the two sides had agreed to the terms of the treaty. The resulting twenty-five articles of Union formed the basis of the two Acts of Union set before the Parliaments of Scotland and England. The final vote on the Scottish Act occurred on 16 January 1707 and the Act of Union came into force in both countries on 1 May 1707. The first article of the Treaty proclaimed “that the Two Kingdoms of England and Scotland shall… forever after be United into One Kingdom by the name of great britain”. The new United Kingdom was to be governed by a British Parliament at Westminster and a shared head of state. The principal features of the text were the following: Scotland accepted the Hanoverian succession, the two Parliaments were amalgamated, Scotland was given trading access to England and former English colonies, the Scottish legal system remained unchanged and the rights and privileges of the Church of Scotland were guaranteed.

  • 4 Quoted on the internet site of the University of Aberdeen: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/actsofunion/panel (...)

5After the vote on the Scottish Act proclamations were posted throughout Scotland outlawing all “Tumultuary and Irregular Meetings.”4

6The Union altered Scotland in many ways. The country managed to keep its links with continental Europe but in the following decades it became increasingly influenced by English trends. The influence of the 1707 Union was also felt in everyday life. Even the way in which Scots measured their food and drink changed, with the introduction of English weights and measures.

  • 5 Quoted in Whatley, op. cit., p. 7.

7Most mid and late twentieth-century historians contended that England had wanted the Union to achieve security and to guarantee the Hanoverian succession and that Scotland had accepted the Union to obtain entry to the empire. Yet, more recent work has demonstrated that the nature of the debate in Scotland over the Union was more complex. In the years 1705-1706 hundreds of pamphlets were published both in Scotland and in England showing that the Union was the subject of heated discussion: according to one witness, every citizen was concerned by the debate, “Great & small, Rich & Poor, Old & Young Men & Women”.5

Notes

1 C. Whatley with D. J. Patrick, The Scots and the Union, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006, p. xiii.

2 Quoted on the internet site of the University of Aberdeen: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/actsofunion/panel6.php, accessed 17 August 2009.

3 Quoted in P. W. J. Riley, The Union of England and Scotland: a Study in Anglo-Scottish Politics of the Eighteenth Century, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1978, p. 302.

4 Quoted on the internet site of the University of Aberdeen: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/actsofunion/panel6.php, accessed 17 August 2009.

5 Quoted in Whatley, op. cit., p. 7.

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