Formation of the National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights

[Treaty of Union Articles Contents]


(From the Edinburgh Advertiser.)

   Since, somewhat to our surprise, it has been made a question whether or not the “Scottish Rights Association” is a good movement, we have no hesitation in taking part with those who maintain that it is a good one. And in order to let our readers judge for themselves in the matter, we publish in our other columns an abridgement of the lengthened ‘statement of grievances,’ which appeared in our contemporary the Mercury. Two pieces of gross injustice are evident on the very face of this document, – or rather, we should say, are so well known to the country, that any dispute about them at this time of day betrays a spirit as warped and unfair as it is anti-national. These are, firstly, the inadequate number of Representatives which we are permitted to send to Parliament to look after our interests; and secondly, the miserably small pittance of the public money bestowed on Scottish institutions in proportion to the amount which we contribute to the Imperial revenue. 

   The first of these grievances is a very important one. It is important because, in all cases where a union takes place between two States, the natural result is, that the larger one is not only inclined to look after its own interests in preference to those of its neighbour, but, by means of its greater number of Representatives, it is always able to carry its selfishness into effect. Therefore, it peculiarly becomes us, who are unequally yoked with our big sister England, to take care that the natural and inevitable disadvantages of our position be not aggravated by an apathetic concession of our just rights, and by resting contented with a most inadequate amount of representation in the United Legislature. Whether we look at the proportion which our population bears to that of England, or to the amount which we contribute to the revenue, the number of our Representatives ought to be one-seventh that of the sister kingdom; and as England sends 496 Members to Parliament, we ought to send at least 70. Nevertheless, we are only allowed to send 53! And so, by the jealousy of England, we are defrauded of seventeen Representatives, or nearly one-third of the whole number which we have at present! This injustice on the part of England is so glaring, and the hardship to ourselves so exceeding great, that if the Association had been originated for no other purpose than to right this particular wrong, we should hail its appearance as a national boon. Its appearance, moreover, is, in regard to this matter, peculiarly seasonable. A new Reform Bill is ‘looming in the future.’ With that must come a breaking-up of many of the old Constituencies, and a redistribution of the national Representatives. This is the very time we wait for. Let us be ready, then, when that time comes – nay, let us be ready beforehand – to insist calmly and steadily on having that most fundamental of all rights, an Equality of Representation, at length conceded to us. Surely we shall not be told by those journals who are so foolhardy as to oppose the present movement, and who have met the demand of justice for Scotland with sneers as idle as their spirit is paltry, that there is any unworthy agitation here. We despise all such agitation; and Scotland can afford to treat with contempt such aspersions as those which the Times and the Scotsman would fain fasten upon her. Unconstitutional agitation! – unworthy complaining! Why, we do but ask that the first principle of our noble Constitution be applied to Scotland as it is to England. We do but claim as our due that fundamental point in every treaty of union – that best if not sole guardian of our national privileges, – the right of being adequately represented. And if Scotland be but true to herself, not another change will be permitted to take place in our Representative system without that right being conceded to us. 

   An inadequate representation in the Legislature is a radical grievance, – a grievance from which all others flow as naturally as streams from a fountain. We ought not to be surprised, therefore, that of the large sums which we contribute to the State, hardly a sprinkling even is allowed to find its way back to us. Upwards of six millions sterling do we yearly transmit to England, yet L400,000 is all we get in return. A national grant for us is as rare a thing as a phœnix. ‘Scotland,’ says the Mercury, ‘has not a Harbour of Refuge from the Forth to the Pentland Firth, – she has not a Free Library, or Museum, or Wash-house, or other municipal institution for the instruction, or morality, or cleanliness, of her people, – she has neither parks for her citizens nor palace for her Sovereign, – as regards geography, she is behind all the countries of civilised Europe, – she has not a ship-of-war, and scarcely a soldier, for her defence, – she has been robbed of her local institutions, – her Universities are threadbare and poverty-stricken, and she has not even a national mouth-piece in the British Parliament.’ The State has grown ‘deaf as an adder’ to any complaints from the apathetic North. Our noble Palaces, to which England could never show the like, may moulder and crumble away; and pigs may grunt unmolested within earshot of Majesty in the once royal precincts of Holyrood, – and yet the state purse-strings remain undrawn. Our Professors may starve, and Museums exist only in imagination; Literature and Art may go in sackcloth;- in fact, all classes alike are doomed to knock in vain at the doors of the Treasury, in the hope of seeing some fair portion of the solid millions they have contributed returning to them in the shape of national grants. It is as unjust as tantalising. The Scotch have helped well to fill the capacious reservoirs of the Exchequer, yet they see the fountain of Public Expenditure ever playing before their eyes, and hardly a drop even of its golden spray allowed to come near them! 

   The grounds upon which the ‘Justice to Scotland’ movement proceeds are too self-convincing to admit of serious dispute, and its object too important and patriotic to be regarded with indifference. It is a national, not a sectarian question. In our view it has nothing to do with either politics or personalities. Therefore on this, as on previous occasions where Scottish rights were at stake, we willingly make common cause with the Mercury, to which journal belongs the credit of having first given voice to the national feelings of injustice. It may be very well for the Times to indulge in unreasoning sneers on a subject which so ill suits the interests of its English readers, and to treat the question of the Scottish Arms and the Scottish Rights as if Scotland were some ‘Isle of Dogs,’ that Providence had burdened England with the charge of. But it is disappointing to find some of our Scottish contemporaries turning their backs on their country, quoting the Times as if it were a great authority on such subjects, and making onslaughts of their own on the leaders of the movement marked by an unusual degree of acrimonious personality. It would be invidious to comment at length on so sore a point; but, so far as the Scotsman is concerned, we content ourselves with the belief that, however lightly our contemporary may regard the Earl of Eglinton and the eighty or ninety other names on the Committee-list of the Association, he will see, from the opinions expressed by the press in Scotland, that the movement has an infinitely wider basis than ‘the two or three people,’ who, in his not very correct phraseology, are said to have ‘constituted themselves as an aggrieved and indignant nation!’

(From the Alloa Advertiser.)

   Let the public not misunderstand the nature of this agitation. It is not got up by any political, ecclesiastical, party or sect, or by any class or section of our countrymen. It is confined to no party, creed, or class, but comprises all these, – laying aside all differences that may exist, and uniting in one common bond for restoring to their native country those rights and benefits secured to her by the Act of Union, many of which, by the centralising system that has prevailed in and guided the Imperial Administration of the empire, have been, by the apathy and want of national sentiment in the people of Scotland, gradually taken away. Neither is it the object of the promoters to maintain any of our institutions that have become, in the lapse of time, or the change of circumstances, useless and unsuited to the wants of the community, or to retain any abuses that may have crept into any of our national institutions. No; we only demand that the spirit of the Union be fairly and equitably carried out, so that Scotland may not be any longer treated as a mere province – ‘a sort of larger Yorkshire appended to England.’ ”

– Caledonian Mercury, Thursday 14th July, 1853.




   SIR. – I have been induced to address you in consequence of reading your observations upon ‘An address to the People of Scotland from the Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights.’ I am at a loss to discover what could have induced you to assign as one, if not the principal objects of this association, a repeal of the union between Scotland and England. So absurd an idea could not have been gathered from the address, or statement appended to it, as it is the true spirit, meaning, and intention of that treaty which we demand the fulfilment of. 

   The address is designed as an interpretation of the terms of the treaty. It shows that the union between Scotland and England was ‘union, free and independent, on equal terms, with equal duties, with equal responsibilities, and with equal rights;’ and that what ‘Scotland was to do England was to do, what England was to receive Scotland was to receive – all in just and due proportion.’ In detailing the benefits which result from union the address states, ‘union obviates war, encourages commerce, permits of free transit, abolishes national antipathy; union, provided it is union and not domination, brings equals together for common benefit, and throws down the barriers to brotherhood.’ You will permit me to say that there is good ground for supposing you had given but a cursory glance at the address when you arrived at the conclusion that it was a ‘repeal’ cry we Scots had raised. 

   The movement is, therefore, no ‘disgraceful imitation of the worst features of the Irish character.’ The address is no tirade of vituperation against the Sassenach, and there is not one word in it derogatory to the character of the English nation; no such sentiments would find an echo or support in Scotland. It is not against premeditated injustice and injury that a stand is made, but against injustice and injury arising from indifference to, and ignorance of, our constitution and country. We demand nothing for Scotland that has not already been given to England and Ireland; it is equality we demand, and it is equality we shall have – equality of taxation, equality of representation, equality of allowances. 

   Equality of taxation we already possess, and Scotland furnishes her proportional share to the united exchequer. 

   Equality of representation. – We demand that the number of representatives returned by Scotland to the British House of Commons shall be in the same relative proportion which her wealth and population bear to England. We complain that England returns 125 members more than her just proportion; that small English boroughs return two members each, while our burghs are grouped together in half dozens, and return but one member amongst them; that the Universities of England and Ireland are represented in Parliament, and that the Scots are not. 

   Equality of allowances. – The charitable institutions of England and Ireland are assisted by grants from the public exchequer. No Scottish charity ever received a farthing from this source. The police forces of London and Dublin receive annual grants to the amount of £167,000, while the police force of Edinburgh had never been so assisted. The constabulary of England and Ireland are, as regards the former partly, and as regards the latter wholly, maintained by Government. No such allowance is made to Scotland. Harbours of refuge have been built, and five are now in progress of construction in England; but there is not one on the stormy and rocky shores of Scotland. Large sums (£181,000 last session) are annually voted for the maintenance and repair of English palaces; while Holyrood, the only habitable Royal Palace in Scotland, is in such a state that when the Scottish peers meet to elect their representative in parliament, or her Majesty’s Commissioner holds a levee, the floor requires to be supported by wooden beams in case it should give way, and in many parts the pressure of a walking cane will penetrate the floor. It is surrounded by old and ruinous tenements, and the Royal garden, instead of being laid out in ornamental grounds, is let to a kitchen gardener. Remember, this is the palace of a capital. Museums of geology have been established in London and Dublin, and the Royal Engineers are now employed in a geological survey of England and Ireland, and transmit to those museums sections of the strata and specimens of the minerals of the different localities. No such museum had been established in Edinburgh; no such survey of Scotland has taken place. The Ordnance surveys of England and Ireland have been carried on with energy, and completed at an expense of £1,630,000. The survey of Scotland has been almost neglected, scarcely £100,000 having been spent upon it in 44 years. The annual cost of our naval, military, and Ordnance departments is about £18,000,000, one-sixth (or £3,000,000) of which is contributed by Scotland, yet almost no part of this sum is disbursed there; we receive no share in manufacturing anything for national purposes; we never see British ships of war, and only know the naval uniform from pictures. In violation of the Treaty of Union our Court of Exchequer, Court of Admiralty, and Mint have been abolished, and our arms degraded. The latter may appear a trifle, but any Englishman who would allow other arms than those of his native country to be supreme in England would be unworthy of that free soil he calls ‘home;’ and surely Scotsmen need not be ashamed of their own national symbols, hallowed as they are by the memory of the past. 

   You put the question, ‘To what other end does the Imperial Parliament sit every year than to redress such grievances?’ We are well aware that Parliament sits for such a purpose, but how little attention does that Parliament pay to Scots’ affairs! Is not the half-holy day of Wednesday the only day on which any Scottish question will be listened to for a moment? Is not every measure connected with Scotland postponed and delayed in order that other business may be brought forward? The Parliament sits to redress grievances, but, seemingly, not Scottish ones. We petitioned for a small grant for our universities, which have not advanced either in number, chairs, or funds for 150 years. We petitioned that the police of Edinburgh be placed upon the same footing as the police of London and Dublin. We have petitioned that Holyrood be made fit for the reception of Her Majesty. We have petitioned for the establishment of a museum of geology, similar to those established in London and Dublin. We have petitioned for the restoration of the office of Secretary of State. We have petitioned and petitioned until we are tired of petitioning. Our requests meet with no attention. Finding that addressing Parliament is useless and futile, can it be wondered at that we now address ourselves, and take counsel of one another as to what is best to be done? 

   Shall we send £6,000,000 of revenue to England yearly, and receive nothing in return save neglect – not only neglect, but, in some instances, aggression? We cannot forget that our admirable system of banking and currency has frequently been menaced with destruction; that our local boards are one after another being made subservient to English boards; that we have been denied local access to the plans and specifications of patents, even though that privilege was conferred upon us by act of Parliament; that an attempt was made a few weeks ago to remove our Gazette; that an attempt is now being made to place the whole funds and management of the Scottish lighthouses under the charge of the English Trinity-house. When such is the case, can it be wondered at that we form an association to vindicate our national rights, and that this association should gather the country around it as it is now doing? 

   I have the honour to be, Sir, your most obedient servant, 


   Edinburgh, July 9.”

– Cork Examiner, Monday 25th July, 1853.



   The formation of the National Association, leagued and bonded together, for the vindication of our Scottish Rights, is assuredly one of the most remarkable events of the present day. If we consider the rapidity with which the noble flame has spread from town to town, from man to man, and from heart to heart. Whigs, Conservatives, and Radicals, Free-Traders, and Protectionists – the adherents of every political section and religious sect, have sunk, forgotten, or merged their petty squabbles in one grand common cause, to demand Justice for their native country, to seek the common good, and with the determination to have Scotland for the Scottish people – to have Scotland as the Treaty of Union guaranteed she should be, united to England for Imperial purposes; but not to be merged into England, to be degraded to a nameless province, or to have her institutions violated, and her honour trampled on. 

   The future strength of the Association, after the meeting in November, will greatly depend upon the exertions of the local secretaries; but, we are assured, they require no exhortations to make them serve the righteous cause that brings this new Scottish party into the field. 

   All the countless evils complained of by our people have arisen from the false impression which prevails in England, and is so systematically adopted by the more ignorant and illiberal of her members of Parliament, that Scotland is no longer a kingdom in herself, but is a mere province merged into England, as Wales or Ireland were; but the time is coming when we shall teach their worships the difference. 

   By the Treaty of Union, Scotland was to remain within herself a kingdom intact; that Treaty has been violated; her people have been wronged, and can it be wondered at that, after all the neglects and insults they have endured, they add a little saltpetre to the “brimstone,” and take council among themselves as to what is to be done to preserve from future subversion and destruction, the few courts, institutions, and privileges that remain. 

   English influence has been the curse of Scotland, and from the wars of Edward I., to those of the Covenant, and from thence down to the present day, we can trace it; for PAID AND HIRELING PENS are now at work against her, even as paid and hireling lances were of old. Witness the lucubrations of Dryasdust and Macrowdy. Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, who, notwithstanding his project of a union between us and the Dutch, was one of the truest patriots that ever trod on Scottish ground, observed in one of his speeches to our Chancellor before the Union – 

   ‘All our affairs since the union of the Crowns, have been managed by the advice of English Ministers, and the principal offices of the kingdom filled only with such men as the Court of England knew would be subservient to their designs; by which means they have had so visible an influence upon our whole administration, that we have, from that time, appeared to the rest of the world more like a conquered province than a free and independent people. The account is very short; whilst our Princes are not absolute in England, they must be influenced by that nation; our Ministers must follow the direction of the Prince or lose their places; and our places and pensions will be distributed according to the inclinations of a King of England, neither shall any man obtain the least advancement who refuses to vote in Parliament and Council under that influence.’ 

   Honest Andrew referred to the Royal prerogative; but the spirit and sense that dictated his speech come home to us in the present hour. We will no longer have the kingdom of Scotland governed by Ministerial placemen; but we must have our Secretary of State restored, with other and better means of local government than we now possess. We will no longer submit to the invidious policy that flatters while it robs, and smiles while it starves us, and leaves nothing undone to obliterate our nationality and demoralise our national character. We will no longer have Ich Dien substituted, in spirit, for the ancient motto that so well became the Thistle in times of old; although (God wot!) for these hundred years, Ich Dien has been better suited to us than the Nemo me Impune Lacesset, with which our gallant Kings encircled the hardy emblem of their native country. 

   The smallest county in England is now better cared for than the nation whose frontier formed of old the boundary of the Roman conquests, and the consciousness of long neglect has exhausted our patience. That tide of centralisation, corruption, and absorption, which overwhelmed the vast empire of the Cæsars, found a barrier at the base of our Scottish mountains; shall they be less a barrier against the centralisation, corruption, and absorption, which in violation of common justice and of common sense would make bloated London the sole heart and pulse of this united empire? We hope not. 

   ‘The Treaty of Union between Scotland and England,’ say the Association, ‘recognises the supremacy, asserts the individuality, and provides for the preservation of the national laws and institutions of Scotland. Any attempt to subvert or place the said institutions under English control, and under the pretence of a centralising economy to deprive her of Local Action, is an infraction of the true spirit of that treaty, injurious to her welfare, and should be strenuously resisted.’ ” 

– Caledonian Mercury, Monday 17th October, 1853.



   It is somewhat remarkable that the seaport of the metropolis, which has been supposed to be for years the peculiar care of successive Lord Advocates, has more grievances to complain of than any other port on all the coast of Britain. 

   For the present, we have to refer to a portion of that injustice which has resulted from the abolition of the Scottish Customhouse, in violation of the Treaty of Union; and what Sir Walter Scott mentions ‘as that sort of absolute and complete tutelage to which England seems disposed to reduce her sister country, subjecting her in all her relations to the despotic authority of English Boards, which exercise an exclusive jurisdiction in Scottish affairs, without regard to her local peculiarities, and with something like CONTEMPT for her claims as a country.’ 

   Certain inhabitants of Leith have forwarded the following documents to the office of the National Association:- 

‘Leith. 27th January 1854.

   ‘As Scotsmen, we beg to draw your attention to one of the many grievances that Scotland has to complain of, viz., the Customs Department, and the pay of the officers in Scotland as compared with those of England.

   ‘As citizens of Leith, we are in a position to know that in the port every effort on the part of the officers themselves to have justice done them has failed, we therefore sincerely trust, that in the honourable position taken by the National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights, it will bring this subject before the nation, as nothing but the united voice of the people will ever gain for Scotland and for Scotsmen the rights of which they have been robbed.

   ‘Inclosed is a copy of a petition presented to the Treasury, by Mr Inglis, Lord Advocate, under the Derby Government, from the officers in the port of Leith, contrasting their pay with that received by those of Hull. By perusing the enclosed table, you will at once see how miserably short the pay of the officers in this port is, when compared with the pay of those at Hull. The lockers and weighers receiving L.12 14s., and the tidewaiters L.19 3s. per annum less at the former than the latter port.

   ‘Leith is a first-class port in Scotland; Hull is a second-class port in England; and for many years the revenue of the former has exceeded that of the latter by upwards of L.200,000 per annum. The duties of the respective officers are the same, yet an officer in a first-class port in Scotland must perform the same amount of Government work for a QUARTER less pay than an officer in a second-class port in England!

   ‘In the name of common justice, why should this be?

   ‘In July 1853, the port of Leith was arranged upon the same system as Hull and Liverpool, the officers were to perform the same duties, and wear a uniform dress, without receiving the same advance of pay.

   ‘As citizens of Leith, we have learned that a petition was submitted to the Board of Customs in November last, craving more pay to meet the extra expenses, but the usual reply was given ‘we cannot comply with the request‘ – NOTHING CAN BE GRANTED TO SCOTLAND!!

   ‘The ports of London and Dublin are more handsomely dealt with; a tidewaiter at the latter receives L.10 per annum more than any similar officer in Scotland. As the friends and relations of those employed by Government here, we have furnished you with these facts, for the truth of which we vouch.’

   The following tables prove the truth of the statements contained in the foregoing letter:-








L78   10   0

L60   16   0

L70   12   0

L20   2   6


  73   10   0

  55   16   0

  65   12   0

  20   2   0



L91     4   0

L63   10   0

L89   15   0

L66   10   0


  81     4   0

  60   10   0

  84   15   0

  61   10   0


  76     4   0

  58   10   0

  74   15   0

  56   10   0

   Such is the justice for Scotland! These weighers, lockers, tidewaiters, and boatmen have to perform the same amount of duty as their brother officials in England; but because they have the misfortune to be born in Scotland, or rather stationed in that most unlucky portion of the British empire, they must be glad to content themselves with a quarter less pay. No doubt the Honourable Board of Customs believe that the English officials require many comforts which the Scottish, in their simple hearts, never dream of; and that, while the former may dine on their proverbial beef and pudding, the latter may rejoice upon kail-blades and plain oatmeal. 

   At this time, when Government have it in contemplation to take away our Post-Office, with its secretary and other officials, and to strip our letter-carriers of their red coats – thus, as it were, insultingly throwing down a glove of defiance to Scotland, when she is engaged in an extensive system of national organisation – we cannot do better than close this article by the humble petition, a copy of which was forwarded to the office of the Association, by its friends in the neglected burgh of Leith.

   ‘To the Right Hon. the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Treasury. – the petition of the undersigned day-pay officers of the port of Leith, –
   Humbly showeth. – That your petitioners would most respectfully lay before your Lordships the annexed statement, showing the difference between their salary and day-pay, and those of the officers of the port of Hull.
   That the port of Leith, being a first-class port in Scotland, and the revenue collected there under the management of your Lordships, being greater than that of the port of Hull, your petitioners feel much at a loss to understand why the amount of their salaries and day-pay are so far beneath those of the officers of the above port, they having equal responsibility and the same amount of duty to perform.
   Your petitioners humbly submit to your Lordships that the sums paid by them for house-rents, and for other demands necessary for themselves and their families, are as high as those paid by the officers at any of the English out-ports.
   That your petitioners, therefore, feeling as they do the justice as well as the importance of their request, dutifully but earnestly submit their memorial to your Lordships, and humbly crave that your Lordships may be pleased to place them on an equality as to class, salary, and day-pay with the officers of the port of Hull.
   And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
   Customhouse, Leith, Feb. 1852.’

   The Lords of the treasury referred this petition to the English Commissioners of the Board of Customs, whose answer was, that the Scottish officers should be severely reprimanded for daring to forward any such petition for equality of allowance; which reprimand was accordingly given by the collector.” 

– Caledonian Mercury, Monday 6th February, 1854.

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