In 1707 the Act of Union was passed into law as a political solution to the problem of Scotland.
The possibility of political union had already been raised a couple of times during the previous century, but rejected on each occasion by both sides. When King James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I to the crowns of England and Ireland in 1603, he strongly favoured a political union and attempted to bring it about.
However, Scottish nobility rejected the idea as they feared that Scottish interests would be secondary to English in a London based Parliament, whilst English feared that Scotland would be favoured because of their Scottish King.
The pivotal moment came when the Scottish Parliament passed the Act of Security in 1703 in response to the English Parliament’s 1701 Act of Settlement, which had been designed to guarantee a parliamentary system of Government and to determine that succession to the throne would settle on Princess Sophia of Hanover and her Protestant heirs.
Scotland’s response was to declare its right to choose its own successor to the then Monarch, Queen Anne; but England’s immediate concern was that if Scotland were to do this, the Scottish Crown may be passed back to the Roman Catholic Stuart line of succession, bringing with it a belief in the divine right of Kings.
This could have raised the possibility of Scotland forming closer allegiances with France, who openly supported the House of Stuart’s divine right to the throne, thereby threatening the security of England as they fought against France (indeed, Scotland had been a recruiting ground for the Duke of Marlborough’s armies). To avert this threat, a full incorporating Union with Scotland was deemed necessary and urgent. It was the only solution to the problem created by Scotland’s right to self-determination.
The Act of Union in 1707 therefore had the aim of ensuring that the Act of Settlement was enforced in Scotland, guaranteeing parliamentary authority, rather than monarchical absolutism, Protestant succession to the throne, and preventing any potential French alliance that could have destabilised England’s future security.
A combination of economic blackmail, in the form of the Alien Act in 1705, which blocked the import of core Scottish products into England, and financial inducements secretly distributed to key sections of Scottish nobility, was used to ensure that Union would be achieved.
The latter worked particularly well given that the Scottish Parliament was divided by too many different personal agendas and lacked strong leadership; furthermore the economy was struggling as a result of poor harvests on the back of massive financial losses sustained by the Company of Scotland in the Darien fiasco. The timing seemed right for the governing classes in England and Scotland, but for different reasons and with different levels of national support and dissent.
In return for agreeing to dissolve the Scottish Parliament, thereby adopting the Act of Settlement, Scotland was given access to England’s colonial trading markets. In the first instance, Scotland’s economy remained depressed, and suffered tax increases which many believed were used to support the English war effort and help repay English National Debt.
Eventually, however, the imperial rewards of the Union with England began to materialise, both in terms of the expansion of its core industries and development of new ones, but also in terms of overseas opportunities for Scottish middle class professionals and elite merchant traders. Despite the feeling that Scotland had been forced into giving up its independence, and despite widespread public outrage at the time, clear benefits slowly emerged in certain sections of Scottish society.
Three hundred years later, there is a growing sense that the political, economic and social future of Scotland would be better served by undoing the Union of 1707, in order that Scotland may once again exercise its right to self-determination. Although the benefits of independence are not universally supported, a clear message has been sent to Westminster that there is a very strong feeling that the United Kingdom Government does not serve Scotland in a manner that enables it to maximise its resources and its opportunities.
An independent Scotland would once again be a problem. Not only in terms of weakening the United Kingdom economy by removing significant natural assets and revenue generators from the equation, such as the Oil & Gas industry, and the developing renewable energy industry, with Scotland enjoying an estimated 25% of Europe’s wind and wave potential, and 10% of its tidal potential.
It would also pose a threat to the economies of the remaining countries in the United Kingdom if it were to offer commercial incentives and lucrative tax concessions to attract new inward investment into Scotland, rather than elsewhere in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. In addition, the cost of dismantling the United Kingdom is likely to add significantly to the national debt of all concerned.
The problem of Scotland today is that the transition to independence would have a destabilising economic effect on the rest of the United Kingdom and would likely cost hundreds of billions of pounds to manage. Just as in 1707, when the Union was a political solution to safeguard England’s national security, and perpetuate the Act of Settlement, saving the Union today would be a political solution to avoid economic damage and safeguard international clout and position.
Whilst there would be upheaval on both sides, and there would definitely be no economic miracle forthcoming, it is quite disingenuous of politicians to romantically promote the idea that we would be much better off staying together, when their true underlying motives are driven by lazy convenience, maintenance of position and retention of power.
At root, the problem of Scotland is, and has always been, that its right to self-determination is just too inconvenient, and too much of a threat, to the personal interests and corrupt agendas of certain sections of the social, business and political elite, from BOTH sides of the border, who are firmly in control of our wealth, and who would have far too much to lose on an individual basis.