16 January 2007

History of the Union

A lot of talk in the papers and on the BBC (including a special Newsnight later) on the question of Scottish independence, 300 years since the kingdoms of England* and Scotland were joined by the Acts of Union 1706 - 07** to form Great Britain.

Rather than enter into a debate about the merits of independence for the Scottish, I thought I would share with you, dear reader, why the two countries were joined (the crowns having effectively been joined 100 years earlier on the succession of James I/VI), to put the debate in a historical context. It happened for two principal reasons - the succession crisis and the economic crisis.

A succession crisis

The monarch of the time, Queen Anne, did not have any surviving children and so the English Parliament passed the Act of Settlement 1701, which forbade the crown from passing to a Catholic, providing that on the death of Anne the monarch should be Electress Sophia of Hanover, a granddaughter of James I, or her descendants. Unfortunately, the Scottish Parliament, passed the Act of Security 1704, which stated that, on the death of Anne, Parliament would decide who her successor should be from the descendants of the Scottish kings. This person would not be the English successor unless various economic, political and religious conditions were met. England was therefore worried that, without a shared monarch, Scotland might ally against it, and passed the Alien Act 1705, which placed heavy economic sanctions on Scots' property, unless it entered negotiations to end the crisis. But would the Scottish bow to such blatant blackmail? Economic pressures meant it had to.

The economic crisis

Scotland (through the Company of Scotland) became involved with the DariƩn scheme, a plan to establish a colony on the Isthmus of Panama in the hope of establishing trade with the Far East. The Company raised 400,000 pounds sterling in a few weeks, with investments from every level of society, and totaling roughly a third of the wealth of Scotland. The colony, however, failed, and the government became massively in debt.

What happened next?

After negotiation, the two countries passed their respective Acts of Union and on the 1st May 1707 the Kingdom of Great Britain came into existence. The Scottish debt was covered by the English and the succession was secured in line with the Act of Settlement.

What does this say about today?

Great Britain wasn't formed out of any feeling of brotherhood or shared values between the two nations, but out of simple necessity. It sprang from a fear that an independent Scotland might crush the British in alliance with the French or Spanish. It was pushed through because of an ill-planned venture which almost bankrupted the Scottish government. Both of these factors are no longer present today and serious thought should be given to whether the union is really relevant.

* And Wales
** England passed its Union with Scotland Act in 1706, Scotland passed the Union with England Act in 1707 and they came into effect on 1st May 1707.


Tristan said...

People don't realise that. They think it was some noble gesture - then of course the English fell for the whole British thing...

The Union has had many benefits - including helping the Scottish enlightenment - where would be without that?

I approach the Union with ambivalence - I don't particularly care either way, but I do think that Scotland and Wales should have Home Rule (one wonders if this will cause similar problems to those that Home Rule in Ireland caused the Liberals to other parties).

Jackart said...

Of my 4 Grandparents, 2 Spoke Scots Gaelic as a first Language. One Great Grandfather was Welsh. I have an Irish Surname. I was Born and Brought up in England.

I am not English. I am British. Of Course the Union is Relevant. 10% of the Scots population is English. 40% of scots do not live in Scotland.

Whatever the history, We are no longer seperate, whatever the rump of statist, nationalist parochial scots who live there think.