Original Scottish Parliament

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THE ORIGINAL Scottish Parliament had its origins in councils of noblemen and clergy that were gathered to advise the King or Queen of Scotland. These "parliaments" were first named as such from around the middle of the 13th century although similar groups will certainly have existed earlier.

In the 14th century the more formal system of the "three estates" came into being. These gatherings consisted of clerics, lay tenants-in-chief and burgh commissioners who together would make decisions regarding home and foreign policy, social and economic matters and religious issues in Scotland. Another facet of the parliament at this time were the Lords of the Articles. These were persons chosen by the three estates to prepare any items of legislation for consideration and conformation. One problem with this arrangement was that many people were of the opinion that the Lords of the Articles were often swayed by the monarch's desires rather than those of parliament.

Given Scotland's stormy history it is no surprise to learn that the parliament was in many cases at odds with the monarchy. In a time when Scottish Kings and Queens had a far more antagonistic relationship with their nobles than those in England - resulting in several royal murders - it is of little surprise that both James I and James III had myriad problems winning approval over matters such as taxation and war. However, by the time of James IV's reign, the power of the monarchy - and James's belief in that power - was growing strong enough for him to ignore parliament. His legacy would ultimately lead to the disastrous arrogance of James IV's great-great grandson Charles I and the English Civil War, which had a profound effect on Scotland.

The changing face of religion, politics and royal leadership in Scotland resulted in several major upheavals during the 16th century, most particularly with regard to the Reformation. Catholic clergy were excluded from 1567 and even Protestant religious representatives were eventually excluded. The parliament from 1638 became an entirely lay establishment.

Elizabeth I of England died in 1603 and this led to James VI of Scotland becoming James I of England. The two nations were now united - under a common monarch at least. During James' reign, the Lords of the Articles were felt to come under his influence to a much greater extent than previously. However, with the rise of the Covenanters, parliament gained more freedom from its monarch than in any other time previously, providing an example for English parliamentarians to follow. (Although Oliver Cromwell's forced imposition of the first Anglo-Scottish parliamentary union from 1657-60 may not have been what the Scottish Parliament's members would have desired.)

From 1660 to 1707, the Scottish Parliament was restored and the Lords of the Articles were abolished in 1690, giving it yet another level of independence from the crown. However, at that time, the parliament only had another 37 years of its life to run.

It is a matter of debate as why exactly such an ancient institution should vote itself out of existence, but it seems certain that unavoidable matters such as economic problems - particularly the disastrous failure of the Darien scheme to establish a Scottish colonial footing in Central America - coupled with increasing divisions in the parliament and underhanded misdeeds such as bribery all meant that the end of the legislative body was a formality by the time it came to accept the union with England.

Whatever the realities of the matter, for many Scots the whole matter was summed up in Robert Burns' famous poem A Parcel of Rogues in a Nation.