Scotland in Union; Thoughts of Home Rule

[Scotland in Union Contents]

In 1801 Ireland joined in its own union with Great Britain. This gave Scots something with which to compare their own union with England. 

Barely forty years had passed before Irish calls for Home Rule and to repeal their own union came thick and fast. In 1838 we have a “remarkable article entitled ‘REPEAL OF THE UNION – NECESSITY OF LOCAL LEGISLATION,’” wherein it was shown grievances were coming to a head; 

   “No one, we imagine, will be so absurd as to pretend that the affairs of Scotland can be as efficiently managed by a legislative body sitting hundreds of miles from her territory, and having the interests of an empire dispersed over the whole face of the earth, and containing more than a hundred millions of beings, to attend to, as by a Parliament meeting in Edinburgh… The expense at present necessarily incurred for a Road, a Harbour, or a Railway Bill for Scotland is intolerable… Then, all matters relative to Scotland are slurred over in the reports of the debates – first, because the reporters think a ‘Scotch’ bill, though vitally affecting Scotland, is of no public importance; secondly, because they cannot intelligibly report what they, in general, do not understand; and third, because ‘Scotch’ business is generally put off till past midnight, an hour at which, except on extraordinary occasions, the reporters, by a well-organised combination – Whig, Tory, and Radical reporters agreeing in this point –  retire from their labour. The consequence is, that there is hardly a measure, however important, affecting Scotland, of the grounds for passing which her population are duly informed… What is meant by a Repeal of the Union with Ireland, we do not exactly understand; but if all that is intended is, that the Irish should have the management of their own exclusive concerns, we heartily wish them success; and we hope that when the people of Scotland shall see the necessity of a legislature in Edinburgh, the Irish will assist them in obtaining it.”1 

In 1853 was the formation of the National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights in order to obtain the representation Scotland deserved in parliament, an end to centralisation, &c. This association was determined, 

   “that Scotland may not be any longer treated as a mere province – ‘a sort of larger Yorkshire appended to England.’”2   

The English members of the British parliament had had 150 years to show an intention of treating Scotland as the equal partner to the treaty of union she was, and had failed to do so, and had, in fact, gone out of their way to show the disdain they felt for the Scots, their country, and their rights. 

   “‘Many of the calamities following on the Union had much encouragement, if they did not spring, soon that haughty English nature which would not condescend to sympathise in, or even know, the peculiarities of their new fellow-countrymen… The pervading historical character of the events immediately following the Union, is, that English statesmen, had they desired to alienate Scotland, and create a premature revulsion against the Union, could not have pursued a course better adapted to such an end. The position of the countries demanded a delicate and cautious policy. Scotland had to go through the immediate perceptible evils of a departed nationality, a decaying retail trade, and increased taxation; the countervailing benefits from extended enterprise lay in the future. A paternal Government would, on such an occasion, have carefully avoided everything that irritated national pride or prejudices, and seemed, however slightly, to sacrifice the interests or independence of the one country to the other… But in almost every one of the changes just enumerated, the offensive act was offensively done, and the country was ever reminded that she was in the hands of ungenial and uninterested, if not hostile strangers.’ – (Edin. Review, Oct. 1854; Article, Burton’s Hist. of Scotland from 1689 to 1748.)”3   

In the latter half of the nineteenth century an inheritance case, of Orr-Ewing, had been taken to the English courts when it rightly should have remained in Scotland. It was generally acknowledged that it was due to the amount of money that was in question that had attracted the attention of the English courts to it. This caused a huge amount of discussion in the press with regards English jurisdiction over Scots and those resident in Scotland. An article appeared in the ‘Scotsman,’ that gave a suggestion as to why English lawyers felt they had any jurisdiction in Scotland. In 1875, an English legal professor, John Indermaur, had written an English law student’s textbook that states; 

   “Jurisdiction over Scotland acquired by the Articles of Union with Scotland, ratified and confirmed by statute in the reign of James I.” 

but this article goes on to mention that; 

   “Mr Justice Blackstone says:- ‘The municipal or common laws of England are, generally speaking, of no force or validity in Scotland.’”4 

Charles Waddie became super-prolific at this time with his correspondence to the papers under his pseudonym, Thistledown. He writes to the ‘Scotsman;’ 

   “There are very few Scotsmen who have read your article on the Orr-Ewing case this morning but must feel grateful to you. In the rather dreary outlook for our national independence, it is no small comfort to see our leading journal standing up so manfully for the rights of our country. If you will pardon me saying a few words on this subject I will feel obliged. It seems to me that Scotsmen who go to London to defend cases brought against them by Englishmen commit a grave error of judgment. In the 19th article of the Treaty of Union are these words – ‘And that no causes in Scotland be cognoscible by the Court of Chancery, Queen’s Bench, Common Pleas, or any other Court in Westminster Hall; and that the said Courts, or any other of the like nature, after the Union shall have no power to cognosce, review, or alter the acts or sentences of the Judicature within Scotland, or stop the execution of the same.’ The Lord Chancellor of England has done what is here distinctly forbidden. But, in the name of common sense, why do Scotsmen not seek the protection of their own Courts? No Act of the British Parliament can set aside their rights; they are secured to them by solemn engagement, and it would be an act of treason to the Constitution to try and set them aside.”5 

The determined efforts of centralisation, the bid to have Scotland become a province of England, was a never ending battle for those who stood against it. The Rev. David Macrae, of Dundee, made great strides in subverting this attempt. When it came to Scottish publishers publishing Scottish History textbooks for Scottish schools with Britain and British replaced with England and English he really let loose, holding meetings with the Dundee School Board in a strong attempt to prevent this subversion of Scotland’s history and her place within the union. He had them adopt the following motion; 

   “That the Board regrets to find in so many of the school histories submitted for its inspection, even those issued by Scottish publishers, that the terms ‘England’ and ‘English’ are so often used, as if they were proper equivalents for the terms ‘Britain’ and ‘British;’ that the Board appoints a Committee to correspond on this subject with the publishers especially of the books used in its own schools, and to confer with the teachers under the Board as to the best means of having this objectionable and blundering misuse of our national names corrected.”6 

An example of this is given, 

   “In reference to a recently-published School History he says:-  

   The Union is recorded in the middle of the book as if it were a mere incident in the history of England – which remains England with Scotland taken in. The lion and the lamb lie down together, but the lamb is inside of the lion. The absurdity of the thing is all the greater that the book records the fact that the two kingdoms were united into one ‘under the name of “Great Britain.”’ Yet the very name which it says they were united under is forthwith set aside, and the name of ‘England’ used, almost continually, instead. The British throne is called the ‘English throne’; the British fleet is the ‘English fleet’; the war between Britain and the United States in 1812 is described as a war ‘between the States and England.’ In the battle of Waterloo we hear only of ‘English soldiers’; and in the Afghan war the troops are ‘English troops,’ and the army the ‘English army.’ It was not the British and French that fought side by side in the Crimean war, but, according to this History, ‘the English and French.’ The settlement of the Alabama claim is described as an event ‘unique in English history,’ and Mr Gladstone is not the British Premier, but the ‘Prime Minister of England.’ And this outrage on our national name and history – this practical turning of Scotland into a mere county or district of England – is found in histories issued by Scottish publishers for use in Scottish schools.”7 

It wasn’t just in speeches and the media that this subversion was taking place, however. It was found that the British Parliament were passing international treaties with England and English in place of Britain and British. Leaving those who noticed to wonder if Scotland were, therefore, legally a part of such treaties. 

   “Why had Scotland made it an indispensable condition to union with England that the united name should be – not England, but ‘Great Britain?’ Why did she postpone the union until England accepted this condition? Because it enshrined a great historic truth, and put England’s seal to the fact that after centuries of conflict Scotland remained unconquered, and entered the union a free and independent nation to form along with England a still larger nationality under the name of Great Britain… Encouraged by the cowardly acquiescence of the Scottish members of Parliament, the Government had introduced the name of ‘England’ into the New Hebrides and Burmah Treaties, instead of the term required by the treaties of union between England and Scotland, and between Great Britain and Ireland. It was high time that Scotland looked to her rights.”8 

Rev. Macrae also mentions another of these treaties at a meeting at the Kinnaird Hall, Dundee; 

   “That this meeting desires to thank Dr Clark, M.P. for Caithness, and Mr Hunter, M.P. for West Aberdeen, for calling attention in Parliament to the conduct of the present Government in permitting a treaty with China to be negotiated under the name of ‘England’ instead of ‘Britain,’ in direct violation of the Treaties of Union between England and Scotland and between Great Britain and Ireland.”9 

Which goes to show just how common and pervasive this centralising tactic had become. 

William Burns was another of these staunch activists against centralisation. His many letters to offenders and news outlets seemed to have an effect on those set on maintaining the practise of substituting, where possible, Britain and British for England and English. In one such letter to the ‘Spectator’ newspaper, a frequent offender, he says; 

   “You assure me you are ‘innocent of any wish to swindle the Scotch out of their nationality.’ But you profess to be surrounded by ‘difficulties.’ There are, you say, ‘three nationalities’ in the Union, the English, Scots, and Irish; and you create, for the nonce, a fourth one, the Welsh – or ‘Taffys’ as you are pleased to call them. In these circumstances, you profess to have great difficulty in finding an appellation to cover the whole; and, after figuring various combinations, made ridiculous on purpose, you come to the conclusion that the simple remedy is, to set aside history and geography, violate the Union Treaty, and make England, as the larger division, stand for the whole.”10 

Which really goes to show how uncaring this outlet and others were of the insult they gave to any nationality other than that of the English. 

He gives some of the effects on Scotland of the union, one of which was the Clearances, and gives Home Rule as the solution; 

   “The Rev. Mr Macrae said there were some people who thought ministers should not interfere in politics. They were to be quite free to deal with sinners of Bible times, but not with those in the present day. They must not say a word about those who turned pasture land into wilderness for sport, and drove the landless people into acts of violence to keep themselves, their wives, and their little ones from starvation. If that was their religion, they needed another; if that was Christianity, they needed to have Christianity born again into the spirit of Christ… Perhaps no nation of its size had more reason to be proud of its nationality than Scotland had. After emphatically protesting against the use in State of documents, school books, and public speeches, of the words England and English, where Britain and British should be used, as stipulated in the Treaty of Union, Mr Macrae said the maintenance of the Imperial names was indispensable to the maintenance of national honour and national rights. He strongly advocated Home Rule for Scotland. If Scotland had been managing her own affairs we should not have seen half of the Highlands turned into deer forests. We should not have seen three hundred square miles of country locked up for one man’s sport, while the hardy population were forced to the verge of starvation, or driven out of the country, because, forsooth, there was no room for them there. If Scotland had been managing her own affairs, there never would have been a crofter and cottar question such as they had before them at present, or the question, had it arisen, would have been settled long since with regard more to justice and humanity than they were likely to see in its settlement under existing circumstances.”11 

An incident which inspired him to write again to the Glasgow ‘Herald’ was Colonel McMurdo’s address to the Scottish Volunteers; 

   “Colonel McMurdo, by name and reputation, is a Scotsman; he was addressing an army of Scottish Volunteers, Lowland and Highland, and he concluded a laudatory address, according to the Herald, as follows:-  

   It is a point that I have often remarked among the Volunteers, especially of Scotland, that the pastors of the people are attached to the Volunteer corps. There is seldom a review that I do not see the minister, as chaplain of the corps, marching past in its rear. There was once a time, a long time ago, when pastors assembled their armed congregations on these hill sides to protect their rights and liberties; but now the pastors of the people assembled on these hill sides with the Volunteers of England – (a voice, “of Scotland”) to show that they encourage the Volunteers to maintain the institutions of the country, the integrity of the dominions, and the honour and safety of the crown of England. (Loud applause.)  

   You, Mr Editor, and many of your readers are aware that for some years past I have maintained a protest against the growing practice of using the terms ‘England’ and ‘English’ as representing the United Kingdom, its people and institutions – a protest founded upon the practice referred to being in violation of the Treaty of Union, and at the same time dishonouring to the people of Scotland, subversive of their historical traditions and associations, prejudicial to their position (political and social), and so injurious to their material interests. In support of this I sometimes tried argument and at other times ridicule, and I cannot allow the opportunity of Colonel McMurdo’s address to the so-called ‘Volunteers of England’ to pass unnoticed.”12 

These efforts culminated, in 1897, with the “Monster Petition.” 

   “More than 100,000 Scottish people of all ranks and classes, including several of the nobility, over 600 Provosts and Town Councillors, and upwards of 50 Members of Parliament, including the Members for the Scottish Universities, have now signed the Scottish People’s Petition to the Queen protesting against the misuse of our national names, such as is found even in official documents, in direct and flagrant violation of the Treaty of Union. It is a monster petition, more than three-quarters of a mile in length.”13 

Those Scots who had taken an interest in the place their country held in the union had investigated how Scotland stood financially and the reports that came back were shocking. They showed by just how much Scotland was both over-taxed and underfunded by the British Parliament when compared to the financial affairs of England and Ireland. 

   “It is so difficult to grasp such enormous figures or to conceive that our poor country can be robbed to the amount of eight or ten millions a year, that I may be allowed to quote from the report of a speech made by Dr. Clark, M.P. for Caithness, at Dumfries, on 21st August last, a few instances ‘to show how our money was not spent in our country, how our own people were paid in a mean and miserly fashion, while everybody else, especially in Ireland, was paid in a free and generous way. 

    … [The British Parliament] voted this year £860,000 for law charges in England; £527,000 for Ireland; and £122,000 for Scotland… We had about four millions of a population, against the Irish four and three-quarters. But the law charges of Ireland were four times the amount of those for Scotland, although the difference in the population was very little. And they had also an Irish constabulary, which was merely an army in disguise, for which we pay a million and a half. Local Government in England cost the Imperial Exchequer £464,747; in Ireland, £132,600; in Scotland, only £9,500… Turning to the medical and scientific branch of local government, he found that they paid for medical superintendence in England, £17,755; in Ireland, £5,800; in Scotland, £500. In fact the only sum for medical superintendence in Scotland, voted by the Imperial Government, was £200 for Dr. Littlejohn, medical adviser of the Board of Supervision, and £300 to Dr. Husband, who takes charge of the Vaccination Department; while in Ireland you had got one man with £1200 a year and several men with £600 a year to assist him… There were thousands of preventable deaths taking place in Scotland which, had the Public Health Act been applied, never would have occurred. They pressed on Government this year to give us something, and they gave us £15,000; but they gave it out of our own budget, out of our own local resources, whereas in England and Ireland they paid it out of the imperial taxes. In Ireland they paid half the salary of every medical officer of health, and £15,000 for sanitary inspectors; in Scotland, not one penny… They had in England a Royal School of Science, and we voted every year for that school £16,000 for salaries and about £3,500 for scholarships and bursaries. We voted for the Geological Museum £20,573. Not a penny came to Scotland for such purposes. In Ireland they had a Royal College of Science in Dublin, to which they voted £7000 a year, of which £800 was payable in scholarships. He had tried time after time to get a grant for the Watt Institution in Edinburgh and the West of Scotland Technical Institution in Glasgow; and it had always been refused. The Government brought forward a vote of £15,000 for English and Scotch colleges; and how much of that vote did they think Scotland got? Not a single penny. When they rushed through the estimates at the end of the session, the only thing he could say was, ‘Well, I’m not going to discuss this, but I should advise the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for accuracy, to strike out Scotland all together, for it is obtaining money under false pretences.’ Last year the excuse was that no Scotch school had applied. They sent down information to the colleges at Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, and other places, and they got some £3000 a-piece from this £15,000. This year the Scotch had applied; but no Scotch need apply, for they had not got a penny… He could go through a long list, pointing out things that in Scotland were defrayed out of local rates, and in Ireland and in England either wholly or in part from imperial taxation. In England, part of the cost of registration of births, deaths, and marriages was paid from the Imperial Exchequer; here it was paid entirely from local rates. The same thing occurred with the inspection of certain schools and vagrant institutions; and the expenses of auditors of local boards were defrayed by imperial grant in England, and in Scotland from our own pockets.”14 

Charles Waddie sums it up in a fairly alarming way; 

   “In no year since the Union has there been any generosity shown to Scotland, but the numerical power of the English in Parliament has been used unsparingly to plunder the smaller people. It was only, however, after the rise of the prosperity of Scotland, which began with the first years of the present [19th] century, and took its full flow since 1832, that the English Chancellor of the Exchequer reaped the full benefit of his attention to Scotland. We will take three decades as an illustration of the plundering we refer to – that is, from 1861 to 1891, thirty years in all. The first ten years – that is, from 1861 to 1871 – the average rate of taxation each year per head of population in Scotland was £2, 11s 5¼d, while the English taxation was only £2, 9s 4½d, a difference of 2s 0¾ against Scotland, which in a population of 3,069,404 amounts to £316,532. This, in ten years, comes to £3,165,320. From 1871 to 1881 the next decade, the taxation per head of population in Scotland was £2, 12s 6¼d, and in England £2, 2s 11¼, or 9s 7d more per head for Scotland than for England. This, in a population of 3,368,921, amount to £1,614,274, which in the ten years amounts to £16,142,740. When we come to the year 1881, the first of the last decade, we find that while Scotland contributed per head of population £2, 5s 9d, England’s share of the public burdens was only £2, 2s 4¼d, or 3s 4¾d less, which in a population of 3,745,485 amounts to £635,952, and in the ten years amounts to £6,359,950. The figures are instructive, for in these thirty years of Scotland’s prosperity she has been compelled to pay no less a sum than £25,668,010 more than she was bound to contribute according to the standard of England.”15 

We can hardly believe things got better after oil was struck in the North Sea. It would be interesting to see the financial situation of Scotland laid bare and investigated as it was done at the end of the nineteenth century.  

As a tiny illustration of how nothing has changed; we still remember when Scotland’s representative, Angus MacNeil, stood up in Westminster, prior to the 2014 referendum on Scottish self-determination, and asked; 

   “A poll last week showed that 68% of Scots want oil revenues devolved to Scotland, does the Prime Minister agree with 68% of Scots or does he not?” 

In response to which he received howls of laughter and derision from the opposing Conservative party and the answer from, then Prime Minister, David Cameron, pausing occasionally to allow the hilarity, of; 

   “Well, if you ask a stupid question you get a stupid answer.”16 

In 1894, Dr Macgregor stood up in parliament and asked; 

   “Seeing the difficulty Scotchmen find in getting redress of their grievances in this House, may I ask the Lord-Advocate whether he does not think the time has now come when Scotland might resume control of her own affairs?”17 

He, too, received laughter and derision in response, with no answer returned to him on that occasion. 

How long do we keep continuing this farce of an “equal” union? What will it take to reclaim our rights and self-governance? 

1  W. J. O’Neill Daunt, ‘Home Rule – The Scotch Union – Letter from Mr. Daunt,’ Dublin Weekly Nation, Saturday 25th November, 1871. 

2  ‘National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights,’ ‘Caledonian Mercury, Thursday 14th July, 1853. 

3  W. J. O’Neill Daunt, ‘Home Rule – The Scotch Union – Letter from Mr. Daunt,’ Dublin Weekly Nation, Saturday 25th November, 1871. 

4  Suum Cuique, ‘English Ideas of International Law,’ ‘Scotsman,’ Tuesday 4th March, 1884. 

5  Thistledown, ‘English Jurisdiction in Scottish Cases,’ ‘Scotsman,’ Tuesday 4th December, 1883. 

6  ‘England Versus Britain,’ ‘Dundee Courier,’ Tuesday 8th January, 1884. 

7  ‘“Britain” not “England,”’ ‘Fife Herald,’ Wednesday 30th July, 1884. 

8  ‘Rev. David Macrae on Scottish National Rights,’ ‘Dundee Evening Telegraph,’ Thursday 2nd October, 1890. 

9  ‘Sympathy with Ireland,’ ‘Dundee Evening Telegraph,’ Friday 16th September, 1887. 

10  W. Burns, ‘”The Land Without a Name,”’ ‘Glasgow Morning Journal,’ Wednesday 24th February, 1864. 

11  ‘Rev. David Macrae on Scottish Home Rule,’ ‘Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette,’ Thursday 15th December, 1887. 

12  W. Burns, ‘Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser,’ Saturday 6th August, 1864. 

13  ‘“Britain” not “England,”’ ‘Dundee Courier,’ Friday 12th November, 1897. 

14  H. Gow, ‘Home Rule for Scotland Financial Grievances,’ ‘Scots Magazine,’ Sunday 1st March, 1891. 

15  C. Waddie, ‘How Scotland Lost Her Parliament’ (1891), pp.76-78. 

16  ‘Fury as Laughing Cameron brands Scots “Stupid” – Video,’ ‘ShaunysWorld,’ 12th August, 2014, Link (accessed 30/01/21). 

17  ‘Glasgow Herald,’ Friday 5th January, 1894.

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