In 1707, the kingdom of Scotland forged a treaty, the Treaty of Union, with the kingdom of England to form Great Britain. Why? Why on earth would it do such a thing?
Scotland was an independent nation state and had been for hundreds of years before William Wallace and Robert the Bruce ejected the English invaders of Edward Longshanks and his son in the 14th century. So how, just 400 years after the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, did England pull us into a union so unequal that Scotland was exploited and robbed as soon as the union was agreed, an exploitation that goes on even today.
To force a union with Scotland, England took a classic carrot and stick approach. Scottish trade was still hamstrung by the Navigation Acts and in 1705 England turned the screws further by passing the Aliens Act.
The Aliens Act was specifically aimed at forcing Scotland into a union. If we refused to negotiate, all Scots in England would be treated as aliens and all Scots’ exports to England banned. It was an effective blackmail and commissioners were eventually appointed to negotiate the Treaty of Union.
Before we move on, you should take note of that word, ‘treaty’. The only way that two nation states could possibly combine was through an international treaty.
The terms, or articles as they are styled, were eventually agreed in 1706 and both sides presented them to the monarch, Queen Anne. Remember of course that England’s queen was also Scotland’s. Handy that, to have a biased queen in charge of both sides during momentous treaty negotiations.
So England had its treaty, but just because the terms of the treaty were agreed, that didn’t make the union. Each country then had to ratify or approve it in order for it to become law and take effect.
The tricky part was making sure that the Scottish Parliament ratified the treaty. That wasn’t a given, because the union was no joyous merging of the two nations. It was an English takeover.
However, the aristocrats in Scotland’s parliament proved easy meat took their English bribes without question. Most had lost their shirts on Darien and their loyalty to their country didn’t stretch beyond their pockets. But just to make sure they didn’t waver, the Duke of Marlborough camped his army on the border, ready to invade if the Scots didn’t play ball.
And so the Act of Union with England, the last act passed by the old Scottish Parliament, ratified the Treaty in early 1707. The English parliament had ratified it the previous year as no big deal, congratulating itself that it had ‘catched Scotland and would hold her fast’.
In Scotland though, the mood was very different. The Act of Union was not signed in Parliament itself, as was normal. When the people (that’s your 18th century ancestors by the way) found out what had been done, that their very country had been sold for English gold, their anger was uncontrollable and immediate.
They rioted in towns all over Scotland, while in Edinburgh the mob forced the members of the Parliament to flee, so that the Act of Union that sold the independence of our country was signed in a basement of a building in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, a basement that today houses a toilet.
On 1st May 1707, the day of Union, the bells of the High Kirk of St Giles in Edinburgh rang out to the tune, Why am I so sad on this my wedding day?. It was an appropriate sentiment as it’s estimated that over 95% of the people were opposed to the union. But in the 18th century, there was no vote for the people, no referendum asking them if they’d like to give up their independence.
On the first day of the United Kingdom’s new parliament, Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, a Treaty negotiator and ardent Unionist, observed of the new contingent of Scottish MPs:
“To find themselves obscure and unhonoured in the crowd of English society, where they were despised for their poverty, ridiculed for their speech, sneered at for their manners and ignored in spite of their votes by the ministers and government”
(One might be forgiven to think that Scots MPs are still thought as such today, 300 years later.)
That is how the ‘United Kingdom’ came to be. There never was a glorious and joyous coming together of Scotland and England. Instead, Scotland was captured and shackled to England to create a United Kingdom of Great Britain, a United Kingdom that was – and still is of course – firmly under England’s control.
Only the British State thinks of the union as ‘precious’, and well it might. It got everything it wanted, and took more, much more that even the treaty allowed. But the plundering and the massive criminal fraud perpetrated on Scotland is for the next bit of the story, along with the preamble to the Acts of Union that everyone now ignores or has forgotten, but has always been Scotland’s escape route from the UK.