Scotland’s Act of Union

128px-Floral_Badge_of_Great_Britain.svgIn September 2014, Scotland will vote for or against the continuation of the union with England, forged 307 years ago. The outcome of that vote will be momentous for both England and Scotland, full of hidden consequences in uncertain times.

The union of Scotland and England in 1707 comprised two Acts of Parliament: The Union with Scotland Act of 1706 (passed by the Scottish Parliament) and the Union with England Act of 1707 passed by the English Parliament with Scotland. Together the two acts joined England and Scotland, sharing a single monarchy in a United Kingdom of Great Britain.

For the English, the driving forces were the need for constitutional settlement and security. Historically, relations between the two countries had been strained by Scotland’s loyalty to the Stuart line of Kings, who were Catholic in religion, in the face of England’s preference for the Hanoverian, Protestant succession. The Act of Union secured the Hanoverian Succession after the death of Queen Anne, creating the kingdom of Great Britain, and, in law, ensured that the future monarchy of the new joint kingdom would remain Protestant for all time.

The Union also ensured that any conflict of Scottish interests and those of England would be settled by agreements made between equals. Crucially for the English, no foreign power (i.e. Spain or France) could be called upon, under the act, to interfere in foreign affairs in Scotland’s favour against England.

For Scotland, the main advantages of the Union were financial and economic. Prior to the settlement, Scottish estate holders, in particular James Douglas, the 2nd Duke of Queeensbury, had invested heavily but disastrously in a hair-brained scheme of colonisation on the Bismuth of Panama. The backers for the enterprise hoped this would be Scotland’s entry into world trade. Unfortunately it was instead an unmitigated disaster from the start.

Under the Act of Settlement, England agreed to cover all personal debt sustained by Scottish investors of the colonisation scheme. This included the Duke, who as Lord High Commisioner to the Parliament of Scotland in 1707, was an influential member of the “Crown Party”, a pressure group of Tories and Whigs who were the main backers of union in the Edinburgh Assembly. Bribery was a key factor in securing a “yes” vote.

Generally the Scottish people were against the union, judging from the petitions submitted by the parishes, towns and the Scottish Church. There were massive street protests in Edinburgh, and threats of civil war. Martial law was declared. In the long run, however, such resistance was unfounded. Scottish industry flourished throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. With the industrial revolution in Scottish woollen manufacture, coal, and ship-building, Scotland quickly became a major player in imperial markets and the settlement of the new colonies of Australia and New Zealand.

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Terry Jones taught History to adult students taking Foundation courses at a College of Higher Education prior to their entry into full-time degree courses at Warwick and Coventry Universities. Since taking early retirement, he has travelled widely in Eastern Europe, pursuing a life-long interest in 19th and early 20th century European history. He has been a GCSE and "A" level tutor with OOL since 1996.

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