312 years ago this week a big week in British politics too: ‘Honours, appointments, pensions and even arrears of pay and other expenses were distributed to clinch support from Scottish peers and MPs … ‘
Happy to share a timely history lesson from The National.
Bribery, corruption and riots
… the passage of the Act of Union
IT never ceases to amaze me how few Scots have actually read the Act of Union. If they did, they would probably be amazed at how such a paltry document could define their existence as a citizen – formerly subject – of the United Kingdom.
For the majority of the 25 articles are concerned with matters such as tax and customs duties and the ramifications of these agreements, such as a unified weights and measures system. Precious little is stated about what the UK would become.
It was in this week in 1707 that the Scottish Parliament met for its final discussions and votes on the Articles of Union. In just three short days, the parliament took the momentous decisions which affect us to this day.
The run-up to the final vote had begun the previous year with the negotiations between the English and Scottish commissioners. The outcome was inevitable since Queen Anne and her supporters outnumbered their opponents in both parliaments.
But the Country Party, as the opponents of the Union were known in Scotland, put up a good fight against the Court Party and the Squadrone Volante who favoured the Union – many, if not most of whom, had been bribed to vote for it.
There was also great public discontent, even riots, across Scotland, as the process of uniting the two parliaments gathered pace. England had sent a spy, the author Daniel Defoe no less, and he reported: “A Scots rabble is the worst of its kind … for every Scot in favour there is 99 against.”
From the outset, the Duke of Queensberry, as the Queen’s High Commissioner, made it clear that the Scottish Parliament had to agree to the Union in order to preserve the Protestant succession to the throne. Article 2 states: “All Papists, and Persons marrying Papists, shall be excluded from, and forever incapable to inherit, possess, or enjoy the Imperial Crown of Great Britain, and the Dominions thereunto belonging, or any Part thereof.”
The Union is therefore institutionally sectarian. If Meghan Markle was Jewish, Muslim or atheist, Harry could keep his place in the line of succession. If she was Roman Catholic, he’d be out.
Back in 1706-07, the Scottish Parliament was only too happy to agree that article, and in return the Court Party and its supporters got what they wanted – access to English markets and consequently the protection of the Royal Navy.
So to the denouement: on January 14, the 25th and final Article was approved by the Scottish Parliament.
It has caused controversy ever since: “THAT all Laws and Statutes in either Kingdom, so far as they are contrary to, or inconsistent with the Terms of these Articles, or any of them, shall, from and after the Union cease and become void and shall be so declared to be, by the respective Parliaments of the said Kingdoms.”
Does that mean that the Henry VIII powers cited by the UK Governmentare still in force? Might be a point to ponder for a lawyer.
The next day, January 15, the draft of an act for ratifying the Articles as “enlarged, explained and amended” was introduced.
On the morning of January 16 it was ordered that the Act for guaranteeing the Presbyterian Kirk be made part of the Act of Ratification. This was the last barrier to the success of the pro-Union party. The Kirk and Scots law were all preserved.
The final vote took place later that day. By 106 votes to 69, as noted in the Parliamentary Register which you can view online, the Scottish Parliament voted for the Act of Ratification, and the Union began on May 1. The public still protested, but the threat of military force against them was very real.
The official website of the Westminster Parliament gives a remarkably fair and accurate account of the proceedings. On the history pages of http://www.parliament.co.uk it states: “In contrast to the abortive negotiations for union of 1702-3, the English this time had gone out of their way to accommodate Scottish demands, particularly over access to English trade.
“Next the Scottish Parliament had to agree to the Articles of Union. This turned out to be arduous and was accomplished against a background of protest, often violent, in many parts of Scotland.”
Nor does the Parliament website shirk from acknowledging the manner in which the Union was put through the Scottish Parliament – corruption, basically.
It states: “Queensberry was appointed the Queen’s High Commissioner for the session and was responsible for a successful outcome. Honours, appointments, pensions and even arrears of pay and other expenses were distributed to clinch support from Scottish peers and MPs.”
In other words, our present Parliament in Westminster acknowledges that the Union was brought about by bribery and corruption.
The list of those who voted Scotland’s independence out of existence included three dukes – Montrose, Argyll and Roxburghe, Queensberry not being able to vote – two marquesses and 21 earls. Those who opposed the Union included one duke, one marquess and clan chiefs such as Sir Humphrey Colquhoun of Luss on Loch Lomondside. It would be interesting to see if the current occupiers of those titles are still for or against the Union.