THE assertion by Scottish Labour that Scots willingly chose to join the UK is wrong on every level.
On 1 June The Scotsman quoted verbatim a passage from a speech in the Scottish Parliament by the Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont. She said: “We, as a nation, were never conquered. The United Kingdom has not been imposed upon us. It is the choice of Scots”. She made the same point again in the BBC Question Time programme on a week later.
This distorts the facts so drastically that Johann Lamont is either completely ignorant of the history of the Union or she is trying to deceive us. It is an event which I have studied for years and which is the subject of two of my books, Andrew Fletcher and the Treaty of Union (1992 and 1994) and The Union of 1707, Why and How (2006). There is in fact no mystery about the way in which England achieved the Union against the clear wishes of the great majority of Scots. It is clearly recorded in the documents of the period.
The English opportunity arose over the failure of the Scottish attempt to establish a trading post at Darien on the Isthmus of Panama. The Act of the Scottish Parliament which established the Company offered 50 per cent of the shares to English investors. There were over subscribed within few days but they were withdrawn when King William made know his disapproval. The necessary funds were raised in Scotland alone in a surge of patriotic fervour. They amounted to half of the total money in circulation. The venture failed for many reasons including the English encouraging a Spanish attack.
In consequence of this, the Scottish Parliament passed an Act in 1703 which called for the appointment of a different successor to the Scottish throne on the death of Queen Anne. Royal approval of the Act was withheld and the Scottish Parliament passed it again in 1704. The English Government reacted by first threatening invasion and then proposing negotiations in London.
Because it was put to the vote after most members had left for the night the Scottish Parliament passed an Act to leave the appointment of the Scottish delegation to the Queen. When they arrived in London the English Government declined to discuss any Scottish proposal their own was eventually adopted.
This provided for the abolition of the Scottish Parliament but the continuation of both Houses of the English Parliament with the addition of a few Scottish members to both Houses, 45 in the Commons (one more than Cornwall) and 16 in the Lords (fewer than the English bishops). The Treaty provided for the payment of a sum of money to be paid to Scotland which among other purposes was intended to compensate the shareholder in the Darien scheme. On the other hand it imposed on Scotland a share of the English National Debt and the payment of English rates of import duties on alcohol.
To secure the passage of this proposed Treaty the English began a programme of bribery of the members of the Scottish Parliament. The debate there lasted from 30 October 1706 to 16 January 1707 when it was approved. At that time the Parliament was not representative of the people. It consisted of three types of members sitting together, the Lords, the Burghs (which were then unrepresentative of the people) and the Counties. It was only this last element which was elected, but only the Lairds had votes. The population of Scotland at large made its outraged opposition to the Union very clear. Letters against it flooded into the Parliament and not one in favour.
The great economist Adam Smith in a letter of 14th April 1760 said of the Union: “The immediate effect of it was to hurt the interest of every single order of men in the country. Even the merchants seemed to suffer at first. The trade to the Plantations was, indeed, opened to them. But that was a trade which they knew nothing about; the trade they were acquainted with, that to France, Holland and the Baltic, was laid under new embarrassments which almost totally annihilated the first two and most important branches of it. No wonder if at that time all orders of men conspired in cursing a measure so hurtful to their immediate interest”.
For some years after 1707 the English Parliament intervened in Scottish affairs, including the Patronage Act of 1712 which enabled lairds to intervene in the appointment of Church ministers in Scotland. This led in 1843 to the Disruption, a major split in the Church of Scotland. But, as Walter Scott remarked in his Letters of Malachi Malagrowther of 1826: “Scotland was left from the year 1750 under the guardianship of her own institutions, to win her silent way to national wealth. Scotland increased her prosperity in a ratio more than five times greater than that of her more fortunate sister”.
These Letters (which have been called the first manifesto of modern Scottish nationalism) were a passionate protest against the way in which Westminster again started to interfere in Scottish affairs when France ceased to be a threat after their defeat at Waterloo. In fact (although Walter Scott died too soon to see it) Scottish opinion began to approve of the Union in the 19th Century. This was because of the effects of the British Empire, while it lasted. It provided a good source of raw materials and a market for Scottish exports and provided valuable jobs for many Scots in its administration.
That is now the distant past. The modern world is the age of independent, and contented small nations. They have increased the membership of the United Nations from 51 member states in 1945 to 193 today. The rapid surge in their prosperity and sheer happiness as independent countries has been unmistakable and impressive. Scotland should follow their example.