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Acts of Union 1707

The Acts of Union were a pair of Parliamentary Acts passed during 1706 and 1707 by the Parliament of England and the Parliament of Scotland to put into effect the terms of the Treaty of Union that had been agreed on July 22, 1706, following negotiation between commissioners representing the parliaments of the two countries. The Acts joined the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland (previously separate states, with separate legislatures but with the same monarch) into a single united Kingdom of Great Britain.

The two countries had shared a monarch for about 100 years (since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when King James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne from his cousin, Queen Elizabeth I). Although described as a Union of Crowns, until 1707 there were in fact two separate Crowns resting on the same head. There had been three attempts in 1606, 1667, and 1689 to unite the two countries by Acts of Parliament, but it was not until the early 18th century that the idea had the will of both political establishments behind them, albeit for rather different reasons.

The Acts took effect on 1 May 1707. On this date, the Scots Parliament and the English Parliament united to form the Parliament of Great Britain, based in the Palace of Westminster in London, the home of the English Parliament. Hence, the Acts are referred to as the Union of the Parliaments. There was an attempt to rename Scotland and England as North and South Britain. This was generally short lived, particularly in "South Britain" - although the name "North Britain" lingered for a while in some institutions. This practice is now rarely, if ever, seen.

On the Acts of Union, historian Simon Schama said "What began as a hostile merger, would end in a full partnership in the most powerful going concern in the world... it was one of the most astonishing transformations in European history.

Background

Previous attempts at union

The first attempt to unite England and Scotland was by King James VI and I. On his accession to the English throne in 1603 King James announced his intention to unite his two realms so that he would not be "guilty of bigamy". The Scottish and English parliaments established a commission to negotiate a union but ultimately abandoned the attempt.

Later in the seventeenth century the Estates of Scotland petitioned a number of times for a union but were rejected by England.

The Solemn League and Covenant sought a forced union of the Church of England into the Church of Scotland, and although the covenant referred repeatedly to union between the three kingdoms, a political union was not spelled out. In the aftermath of the Civil War, in which the Covenanters had fought for the King, Oliver Cromwell conquered Scotland and by force created the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, a brief union which was dissolved by the restoration of King Charles II. Scottish members expelled from Parliament petitioned unsuccessfully for a continuance of the union.

At the Glorious Revolution in 1689, the records of the Scottish Parliament show much discussion of possible union. Nothing was done. Thereafter relations between the English and the Scots deteriorated, largely perhaps through the English stranglehold on Scottish trade and ultimately because of the failure of the Darien Scheme and the popular perception in Scotland that the scheme's failure was the fault of the English.

The English perspective

The English purpose of it was to ensure that Scotland would not choose a monarch different from the one on the English throne. The two countries had shared a king for much of the previous century, but the English were concerned that an independent Scotland with a different king, even if he were a Protestant, might make alliances against England. Specifically, England wished to ensure a Protestant Royal Succession. Until the Union of Parliaments, the Scots could choose their monarch in line with the Scottish Act of Security 1704, and it was quite possible for them to choose a Catholic monarch. The English succession was provided for by the English Act of Settlement 1701, which ensured that the King of England would be Protestant.

The Scottish perspective

In Scotland, it was claimed that union would enable Scotland to recover from the financial disaster wrought by the Darien scheme through English assistance and the lifting of measures put in place through the Alien Act to force the Scottish Parliament into compliance with the Act of Settlement.

The ultimate securing of the treaty in the unicameral Scottish Parliament is sometimes attributed to the weakness and lack of cohesion between the various opposition groups in the House, rather than to the strength of pro-incorporationists. The combined votes of the Court party with a majority of the Squadrone Volante were sufficient to ensure the final passage of the treaty through the House.

Personal financial interests were also involved. Many Commissioners had invested heavily in the Darien Scheme and they believed that they would receive compensation for their losses; Article 14, the Equivalent granted £398,085 10s sterling to Scotland to offset future liability towards the English national debt. In essence, it was also used as a means of compensation for investors in the Darien Scheme.

Even more direct bribery was said to be a factor. £20,000 (£240,000 Scots) was dispatched to Scotland for distribution by the Earl of Glasgow. James Douglas, 2nd Duke of Queensberry, the Queen's Commissioner in Parliament, received £12,325, the majority of the funding. (Other studies suggest that all of this money was properly accounted for as compensation for loss of office, pensions and so forth not outwith the usual run of government. It is perhaps a debate that will never be set to rest.) Robert Burns referred to this:

We were bought and sold for English Gold,
Sic a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation.

Some of the money was used to hire spies, such as Daniel Defoe; his first reports were of vivid descriptions of violent demonstrations against the Union. "A Scots rabble is the worst of its kind," he reported, "for every Scot in favour there is 99 against". Years later John Clerk of Penicuik, originally a leading Unionist, wrote in his memoirs that,

(Defoe) was a spy among us, but not known as such, otherwise the Mob of Edinburgh would pull him to pieces.

Defoe recalls that he was hired by Robert Harley.

The Treaty was not universally popular in Scotland. Many petitions were sent to the Scottish Parliament against Union, and there were massive protests in Edinburgh and several other Scottish burghs on the day it was passed , as threats of widespread civil unrest resulted in the imposition of martial law by the Parliament. Sir George Lockhart of Carnwath, a Jacobite and the only member of the Scottish negotiating team who was not pro-incorporation, noted that `The whole nation appears against the Union'. Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, an ardent pro-unionist and Union negotiator, observed that the treaty was `contrary to the inclinations of at least three-fourths of the Kingdom'.

Public opinion against the Treaty as it passed through the Scottish Parliament was voiced through petitions from Scottish localities. Anti-union petitions were received from shires, burghs, presbyteries and parishes. The Convention of Royal Burghs also petitioned against the Union and not one petition in favour of an incorporating union was received by Parliament. On the day the treaty was signed, the carilloner in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, rang the bells in the tune Why should I be so sad on my wedding day?

The Irish perspective

Ireland, the third of the "sister kingdoms" was not included in the union. It remained a separate kingdom and indeed was legally subordinate to Great Britain until 1784. Ironically, it was in part of Ireland that the first "British nation" can have been said to have been forged, in the mixing of Scottish and English Protestant settlers who peopled Ulster.

Ireland's benefits from the Union of 1707 were few. Its preferential status in trade with England now extended to Scotland. The strengthening of Great Britain improved Ireland's defence against enemies, whether foreign or domestic. Nevertheless, Ireland was left unequal and unrepresented in the Parliament of Great Britain.

In July 1707 each House of the Parliament of Ireland passed a congratulatory address to Queen Anne, praying that "May God put it in your royal heart to add greater strength and lustre to your crown, by a still more comprehensive Union. The British government did not respond to the invitation and an equal union between Great Britain and Ireland was out of consideration until the 1790s. The union with Ireland finally came about on 1 January 1801.

Provisions of the Acts

The treaty consisted of 25 articles, 15 of which were economic in nature. In Scotland, each article was voted on separately and several clauses in articles were delegated to specialised subcommittees. Article 1 of the treaty was based on the political principle of an incorporating union and this was secured by a majority of 116 votes to 83 on 4 November 1706. In order to minimise the opposition of the Church of Scotland, an Act was also passed to secure the Presbyterian establishment of the Church, after which the Church stopped its open opposition, although hostility remained at lower levels of the clergy. The treaty as a whole was finally ratified on 16 January 1707 by a majority of 110 votes to 69.

The two Acts incorporated provisions for Scotland to send representative peers from the Peerage of Scotland to sit in the House of Lords. It guaranteed that the Church of Scotland would remain the established church in Scotland, that the Court of Session would "remain in all time coming within Scotland", and that Scots law would "remain in the same force as before". Other provisions included the restatement of the Act of Settlement 1701 and the ban on Roman Catholics from taking the throne. It also created a customs union and monetary union.

The Act provided that any "laws and statutes" that were "contrary to or inconsistent with the terms" of the Act would "cease and become void."

Soon after the Union, the Act 6 Anne c.40 (later infelicitously named the "Union with Scotland (Amendment) Act 1707") united the English and Scottish Privy Councils and decentralised Scottish administration by appointing justices of the peace in each shire to carry out administration. In effect it took the day to day government of Scotland out of the hands of politicians and into those of the College of Justice.

Criticisms

The English and Scottish parliaments had evolved along different lines, so contradictions and teething troubles in the merged parliament were frequent. For example, the English doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty in all aspects of national life did not exist in Scotland, and the Scottish Parliament was unicameral, not bicameral. Most of the pre-Union traditions of Westminster continued, while those of Scotland were forgotten or ignored.

Defoe drew upon his Scottish experience to write his Tour thro' the whole Island of Great Britain, published in 1726, where he actually admitted that the increase of trade and population in Scotland, which he had predicted as a consequence of the Union, was "not the case, but rather the contrary."

Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, a vehement critic of the Union, said in An Account of a Conversation, that Scotland suffered "...the miserable and languishing condition of all places that depend upon a remote seat of government."

However by the time Samuel Johnson and James Boswell made their tour in 1773, recorded in A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland Johnson noted that Scotland was: “a nation of which the commerce is hourly extending, and the wealth encreasing”, and Glasgow in particular had become one of the greatest cities of Britain.

Scottish concerns over Acts of Union

At the outset some in Scotland had concerns about the Acts of Union. For example:

In his position as Speaker in 1713, William Bromley responded to questions from a Scottish MP with the reply that "they had catcht hold of Scotland, they wou'd keep her fast". Lockhart Papers Page 427

The Lord Treasurer Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer (Circa 1712) when debating increasing taxes on linen stated "Have we not bought the Scots, and a right to tax them?" Lockhart Papers Page 327

"In Edinburgh and Glasgow there were open riots."

"In Dumfries The Treaty was openly burned."

"It was opposed by the majority of the Scottish people."

"The Scottish members of the united parliament felt their insignificance, and were too evidently despised by their English brethren."

"Their united opposition was utterly lost in the multitude of their opponents."

"The English majority, and not the Scottish members, legislated for Scotland."

A new Scottish Parliament

In 1999, after almost three centuries, a Scottish Parliament was opened after a referendum in Scotland. The new parliament was opened with the words "the Scottish Parliament, adjourned on the 25th of March in the year 1707 is hereby reconvened." As a devolved institution, the new Scottish Parliament does not have the same powers as the old parliament with issues like defence and foreign policy being reserved to the UK parliament. Scotland remains a constituent member country of the United Kingdom and the Parliament may not pass laws to change this.

300th anniversary

A commemorative two-pound coin was issued to mark the 300th anniversary of the Union, which occurred two days before the Scottish Parliament general election on 3 May 2007.

The Scottish Government announced plans for a year-long commemoration including an education project led by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, an exhibition of Union-related objects and documents at the National Museums of Scotland and an exhibition of portraits of people associated with the Union at the National Galleries of Scotland.

Notes

References

  • Defoe, Daniel. A tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain, 1724–27
  • Defoe, Daniel. The Letters of Daniel Defoe, GH Healey editor. Oxford: 1955.
  • Fletcher, Andrew (Saltoun). An Account of a Conversation
  • Herman, Arthur. How the Scots Invented the Modern World. Three Rivers Press, 2001. ISBN 0-609-80999-7
  • Lockhart, George, "The Lockhart Papers", 1702 - 1728

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