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19 September 2014
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The Thistle and the Rose - British Union
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The Articles of the Union‘Scotland is a beggar and whoever marries a beggar can only expect a louse for her portion’.
The Tory leader Edward Seymour on the subject of Union with Scotland in the English Parliament, 1700

In 1999 a Scottish Parliament was created in Edinburgh after a break of 292 years. So why did the Scots give up their parliament in 1707?

Since 1603, when King James VI of Scotland had become King James I of Scotland, England and Ireland, the Scots had struggled with the problem of Britain. In the 1640s the Covenanters had attempted to solve the problem of having one king and two parliaments by limiting the power of the King’s rule in Scotland through a free parliament, but that had only ended in the conquest of Scotland by Oliver Cromwell and the humiliation of the Scots being forced into an incorporating Union.

After the Restoration in 1660 Scotland’s parliament was restored under royal direction but the instability of the political settlement, especially concerning the Church, had led to widespread revolt by Presbyterian supporters of the Covenant across the south of Scotland.

The 1689 Revolution
In 1688 William of Orange invaded England and drove the Scottish Stuart dynasty into exile. For the Scots it divided the nation. The Jacobites unsuccessfully attempted to rise in support of King James VII, but it also created an unexpected opportunity for a new political settlement. The Scottish Parliament declared that James had forfeited his throne and offered it to William as long as he agreed to what was known as the Claim of Right. This demanded a free Scottish parliament where the King was subject to the laws of Scotland. It also demanded the exclusion of Catholics from holding office, and sought the establishment of a Presbyterian Kirk run by a General Assembly - in many ways similar to what the Covenanters had fought for in the 1640s. The new leaders of Scotland, like the Duke of Argyll and Dalrymple of Stair, were Presbyterians who had been in exile with William of Orange but were much more interested in the money markets of Amsterdam and London or in military glory than in visions of a godly Scotland. They thought they could remodel Scotland along on the Dutch lines: a small but successful trading country in Europe. For them money rather than religion was the new politics for a successful Scotland, however events overtook the optimism of the 1689 settlement and led the Scots down the agonising road to the Union of 1707.

William of OrangeFamine, Trade and the Idea of Empire
The 1690s were grim economic times in Scotland. A succession of failed harvests brought famine and Scotland’s European lifeline was contracting as Holland, England and France ruthlessly competed for trade. To make matters worse William of Orange’s Continental wars made further disruptions in Scottish trade. The Scottish Parliament responded by setting up the Company of Scotland to found colonies abroad. It was an ambitious scheme to provide Scotland with its own empire.

The Darien Venture - Scotland’s Thwarted Empire

To fund the company the Scots attempted to raise money on the London and Amsterdam markets, however, William of Orange, under pressure from the East India Company, banned any English investment. The Scots reacted patriotically by raising hundreds of thousands of pounds in capital for the Company, which eventually settled on Darien in Panama as the ideal location for a Scottish colony.

The company hoped to make Darien the trading link between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, across the narrow isthmus of Panama. Founding colonies in the New World was a risky business at the best of times and Darien turned out to be a disease-ridden swamp. The Scots soldiered on but the global politics of Empires ensured its failure. The Spanish laid claim to the area and attacked the Scots colony. William of Orange, who needed the support of Catholic Spain in his Continental Wars, thwarted the scheme by denying the Scots any support from nearby English colonies or from the English Royal Navy. The financial loss of Scottish capital was colossal and the Scots were outraged that, as Lord Belhaven put it, Scotland’s sovereignty had been trampled under foot by their own king.


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