Electoral Representation Pre- and Post-Union

“ELECTORAL SCOTLAND, PAST AND PRESENT.

—————

PRE-REFORM DAYS.

   Mr Gladstone’s recent increase of Scottish members from 60 to 72 suggests matter for reflection concerning old and new franchises of deep historical interest, and far beyond the region of mere party politics. The new freeman touches the old freeholder under conditions which have shaped out the most exciting periods of our national history. The Reformation, the Revolution Settlement, and the Treaty of Union have all had a distinct bearing on that sweeping Redistribution Act presently being wrought out with such fervent zeal by the new constituencies. Reform Bills, in Scotland at least, are much older than the period usually associated with the extension of Parliamentary rights. The traditional 45 members sent up from Scotland till the days of Earl Grey had, it is true, been provided for only at the date of union with England in 1707, but this representation was in turn associated with a much earlier and, on the whole, a more constitutional system. A very few words on this point are all that can be given here or now, while no reference whatever can be made to the origin, influence, or privileges of those burghs – royal, baronial, and parliamentary – which grew up so rapidly to be a powerful estate in the realm. Nearly 300 years before the Act was carried for uniting the Parliaments of Scotland and England (James I., anno. 1427), provision was made that every freeholder should have a voice in the election of a commissioner or representative to the Parliament in Edinburgh, or wherever else it might please the King to appoint as a place of meeting. This continued for 160 years, when, as a help to relieve lesser barons or freeholders of what they felt to be an irksome and expensive privilege, provision was made that only those possessed of a forty-shilling land in free tenancy, and had their actual dwelling or residence within the shire, should have a right to vote. Various other modifications of the franchise were made within the twenty years between 1661 and 1681, when the right of voting in counties was fixed on principles which continued down to the Union, and beyond the Union, till within the memory of many still living. Indeed, the qualification exists in one shape or another at the present day, only, happily, it is not the only qualification. Yet it is not to be disputed that the ‘faggot’ voter, a vicious survival of the old freeholder, has created much ill-feeling down to, and even during, the present election contest. By the Act of 1681 it was provided that none should have the right to vote but those who stood publicly infeft in property or superiority, and were in possession of a forty-shilling land of ‘Old Extent’ held of the King or of the Prince, distinct from feu-duties in feu lands, or, where the Old Extent did not appear, stood infeft in lands liable in public burdens for His Majesty’s supplies of £100 Scots of valued rent. The ‘Old Extent,’ it may be explained, round which so many electioneering battles came to be fought, was used in distinction to a more recent valuation of lands made for the purpose of proportioning the land-tax. ‘Holding from the Prince’ applied chiefly to lands in the shires of Ayr, Renfrew, and Bute, originally granted by Robert III. as an appanage or patrimony to his eldest son, the Duke of Rothesay, known as ‘the Prince of Scotland.’ The next change in our representative system was associated with the abolition of that spiritual estate which had undergone many troubles and humiliations since its arrogant pretensions were checked by the Reformation. In 1689, when the crown of Scotland was offered to William and Mary, an Act was passed abolishing Prelacy and all superiority of office in the Church above presbyters. An end was thus put to the estate of the clergy in the Scottish Parliament. From that time down to the Union the three estates were composed of temporal peers, the great officers of State, the barons or commissioners from the shires, and the burgesses. There was no distinction, it may be explained, into Upper and Lower House, as in England, all meeting in one chamber, presided over by one common president, and deliberating jointly upon all matters that came before them whether of a judicial or legislative nature. The same Act providing for acceptance of the crown by William and Mary increased the number of representatives for shires from 64 to 90. The burghs were continued as before – 86 – two being sent by Edinburgh and one in by every other burgh. What came to be the royal burgh of Campbeltown was not erected till 1700. Putting aside peers and officers of State, with which this article is not immediately concerned, the shires and burghs at the date of the Union in 1707 were entitled to be represented by 157 members. It should be mentioned, however, that some years before that event came about a few decaying burghs, principally on the Fife coast, had been relieved by their own desire from the duty of sending a commissioner, and could not, therefore, be included in the new scheme of representation. After considerable negotiation, and no little display of ill-feeling on the part of Scotland, it was settled that the northern portion of what was to be the United Kingdom should send to London 16 elected Peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords, and 45 Commissioners – 30 to be chosen by shires or stewartries, and 15 by 66 royal burghs grouped into fourteen districts, with the exception of Edinburgh, which was to send one on its own account. Provision was also made for giving votes to ‘wadsetters’ or mortgages, to life-renters, to heirs-apparent in possession, and a certain few others not necessary to describe. The English House of Commons at this date was made up of 513 members, 40 counties sending 80; 25 cities, 50; 167 boroughs, 334; the remainder for the most part being made up by the Cinque Ports, the universities, and Welsh counties and boroughs. The peers in the English House were 183, against 16 to be sent as representing Scotland.” 

– Glasgow Herald, Tuesday 3rd November, 1885.

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