Indignation of the Scots at the terms of the Union – Petition of the Convention of Royal Burghs against it – Tumult in Glasgow and Dumfries – Soldiers called in to overawe the people.
IT is impossible to overstate the storm of indignation that burst over Scotland when the terms of the Union were made public. The people of all ranks of life and every shade of politics agreed in the opinion that they had been basely betrayed by their Commissioners, while the impossibility of being able to remedy the evil drove them to the verge of desperation. The populace of Edinburgh rose in open revolt, and had the Commissioners fallen into their hands they would have been torn to pieces; so, to prevent further mischief, and to overawe the city, a regiment of soldiers was admitted within the walls, and an Act was hastily passed forbidding the usual muster of the fencibles or militia. The city of Glasgow rose in tumult, which was only quelled after a regiment of Dragoons was sent from Edinburgh. At Dumfries the Treaty was burned at the Cross with every expression of detestation; and petitions from every town and parish in the country began to pour into Parliament, and all of one tenor – against the Union as at present before the Parliament. Among the rest the Convention of Royal Burghs sent in a petition, which we give here as a specimen of all the rest:-
‘To His Grace, Her Majesty’s High Commissioner, and the Right Honourable the Estates of Parliament, the address of the Commissioners to the General Convention of the Royal Burrows of this ancient Kingdom, convened the 29th of October last, upon the great concern of the Union proposed betwixt Scotland and England, for concerting such measures as should be esteemed proper for them to take with relation to their trade and other concerns.
‘Humbly Sheweth –
‘That as by the claim of right, it is the privilege of all subjects to petition; so at this time, being mostly empowered by our constituents, and knowing the sentiments of the people we represent, it is our indispensable duty to signify to your Grace, and the Honourable Estates of Parliament. that as we are not against an honourable and safe Union with England, consistent with the being of this Kingdom, and Parliament thereof, without which, we conceive neither our religion, nor our civil interests and trade, as we now, by law, enjoy them, can be secured to us and our posterity, far less can we expect to have the condition of the people of Scotland, with relation to these great concerns, made better and improved, without a Scots Parliament.
‘And, seeing by the articles of Union, now under the consideration of the Honourable Estates of Parliament, it is agreed that Scotland and England shall be united into one kingdom; and that the united kingdoms be united by one and the same Parliament, by which our Monarchy is suppressed, our Parliament extinguished, and in consequence, our religion, Church government, claim of right, laws, liberties, trades, and all that is dear to us, daily in danger of being encroached upon, altered, or wholly subverted by the English, in a British Parliament, wherein the mean representation allowed for Scotland can never signify in securing to us the interest reserved by us, or granted to us by the English.
‘And by these articles our poor people are made liable to the English taxes, which is a certain unsupportable burden, considering that the trade proposed is uncertain, involved, and wholly precarious, especially when regulated as to export and import by the laws of England, and under the same prohibitions and restrictions, customs, and duties. And considering that the most considerable branches of our trade are differing from those of England, and are, and may be yet more discouraged by their laws; and that all the concerts of trade and our interest are, after the Union, subject to such alterations as the Parliament of Great Britain shall think fit.
‘We therefore supplicate your Grace and the Honourable Estates of Parliament, and do assuredly expect that ye will not conclude such an Incorporate Union, as is contained in the articles proposed, but that ye will support and maintain the true Reformed Protestant Religion and Church Government, as by law established, the sovereignty and independency of this crown and kingdom, and the rights and privileges of Parliament, which have been generously asserted by you, in the ———— session of this present Parliament: And do further pray, that effectual means may be used for defeating the designs and attempts of all Popish pretenders whatsomever, to the succession of this crown and kingdom, and for securing this nation against all the attempts and encroachments that may be made by any persons whatsomever, upon the sovereignty, religion, laws, liberties, trade, and quiet of the same. And we promise to maintain with our lives and fortunes all these valuable things, in opposition to all Popish and other enemies whatsomever, according to our laws and claim of right.
‘Signed by order, and in presence of the Convention, by
‘SAM. McLELLAN, Preses.’
On which the historian of the Union makes these remarks:-
‘I cannot, I confess, but wonder how it was possible to impose things so absurd upon a whole nation, and how so great a people, so clear-sighted and wary on all other cases, came at this time to run so apparently upon a plain mistake. Since, as nothing is more plain than that the Articles of the Treaty, and consequently the Great Heads mentioned in the above address, cannot be touched by the Parliament of Great Britain, and that the moment they attempt it they dissolve their own constitution; so it is an Union upon no other terms, and it expressly stipulates what shall and what shall not be alterable by the subsequent Parliament. And as the Parliaments of Great Britain are founded, not upon the original right of the people, as the separate Parliaments of England and Scotland were before, but upon the Treaty which is prior to the said Parliament, and consequently superior; so for that reason it cannot have power to alter its own foundation, or act against the power which formed it, since all constituted power is subordinate and inferior to the power constituting.
This is so clear, and had been so often inculcated in this very case, and is so unanswerably stated in the very Acts of Parliament themselves ratifying the Treaty, that I need say no more to it here.’1
A perusal of the Treaty now-a-days, when we can see the many points in which it has been departed from, will confirm the wisdom of our ancestors, who said, ‘That now they were slaves, and must run to Westminster to vote with a handful of Members who would never be able to carry a question or to make any weight there, but just for form’s sake sit in the House and be laughed at. That the figure Scotland would make in the British Parliament would not be like a kingdom, but like a province. That one County in England – viz., Cornwall – sent up as many Members, one excepted, as the whole kingdom; and that this was an eternal badge of their subjection.’2
We confess that we agree with the historian of the Union, that it is illegal for the British Parliament to alter the terms of the Union, to the injury of the Scots, without getting their consent in the same formal manner as the original bargain was made; yet it is done, and who is to remedy it? It is illegal, for example, to suppress the Mint in Scotland, to drag domiciled Scotsmen to defend actions in the English Courts, &c.; but as the Government is wholly English, and the Parliament overwhelmingly so, these illegal acts are covered with a mantle of authority, which the Judges dare not disobey.
In the year 1706 the population of Scotland was computed to be a little over two millions, and that of England a little under six. The Scots had no public debt, while the English had already twenty millions of debt – an enormous sum in those days. Customs and excise were in full operation in England, duties being levied upon almost every article of consumption, while such duties were practically unknown in Scotland. No one can wonder at the indignation of Scotland. Her population was two millions in England’s six, yet the English Commissioners proposed that the members of the House of Commons sent by Scotland should be 30 to their 513; and after much debate, a compromise was made, and 45 Members were allowed. To place these figures upon our page is enough to show the shamefully unjust nature of our bargain. The Scots were doomed to perpetual insignificance in the House of Commons; and for fear of there being a chance for them in the Lords, their numbers were restricted to 16, while every English Peer had a seat in the House – yea, though 500 English Peers sat in the House, Scotland could claim but 16 seats. The reason assigned for giving Scotland so small a number of Members was her poverty, for it was argued she would only contribute one fortieth part of the taxation of the United Kingdom; and this was actually agreed upon by Article 9 of the Treaty, where the land tax was to be one-fortieth part of the tax for England. But this part of the agreement has been coolly set aside, and Scotland has now the questionable honour of being the heaviest taxed country of the three, and therefore one of the heaviest taxed peoples of the world. But though, at the time of the Union, Scotland was poor, her revenue was sufficient for her wants; and the heavy taxation after the Union was caused by her taking a share of the burdens of England and her wars – the Duke of Marlborough’s for example – a contest in which Scotland had no interest, nor, for that matter, England either, although we have still to pay for it. The number of Members Scotland should have had was 171, and all her Peers should have sat in the House of Lords, if equal justice had been done.
The Scottish Parliament met to consider the Treaty of Union on the 3rd October 1706, and continued their sitting, with one or two adjournments, to 25th March 1707. The House was divided into two distinct parties – the English, or Union party, and the National or Anti-Union party. The English, or Union party, represented themselves only, but as they had a plurality of votes, they were all-powerful in Parliament. The National party expressed the unanimous voice of the people; but although they fought the measure clause by clause, they never received a single concession, but the various parts were passed, in spite of their protest, by a ‘mechanical majority.’ The amendments of the National party were certainly good, for example – That the Parliament should sit every third year in Scotland; that appeals from the Court of Session should be heard in Edinburgh, etc. But it was of no avail, the English party yielded nothing; and as they had the army at their back, and a larger force on the Border, sent at the instance of the English Government, the Treaty was, as it were, crammed down the throat of the nation at the point of the bayonet.