Tuesday, January 16

1707 And All That

..... Or a brief history of the Union.
Today's the day, three hundred years ago, that the Scottish parliament voted to abolish itself. The Act of Union which led, on 1 May 1707, to the formal establishment of the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

The background to this momentous event is, like most British History, complex, interesting and not all that it first appears upon detailed examination.
The background, in summary, form the time of the Union of the Crowns in 1603, England and Scotland had one monarch but two Parliaments. While this worked most of the time there were occasions when the two institutions parted company. One such example being when the English Parliament executed King Charles I (much to the distress of many in Scotland and some in England) and became a republic for 11 years. Scotland's governing body decided (in defiance to Oliver Cromwell) to appoint King Charles II as their monarch.

Fifty four years later following the Glorious Revolution of William and Mary the Parliaments in Scotland and England were freed from Royal management (and interference) and could take an independent line against the Crown. The Scottish Parliament did this big style in 1703 when it passed The Act of Security which in short meant that following the death of the then Queen of England and Scotland, Anne, Scotland would Crown, once again, its own separate Monarch.

Well, from the perspective of the leaders in London these situations were becoming, to use an English understatement, annoying and seen as hindering Economic growth. In order to concentrate the Scots on favouring ever closer union the English Parliament voted to close their markets to Scottish cattle, coal and linen and for good measure declared that all Scots would be treated as aliens. In addition Scots was excluded from England's colonial territories.
So there we have it (the first Union Flag left) on 16 January 1707, after three months of clause-by-clause debate the Scottish Parliament voted decisively for its own extinction. The Scottish people themselves were for the most part less than impressed - a mob held the City of Glasgow for a month and the Parliament in Edinburgh was attacked by rioters. As time passed and the economic transformation of the 18 th century would show the Scots probably, in fact, got a better deal than the English from the new Union.
As History moved on the legal entity of Great Britain established in 1707 actually ceased to be in 1801 when it was superseded by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, brought about by the Act of Union of 1800 which had been enacted after the suppression of the Irish Rebellion in 1798. That then changed again, just as we were getting the hang of all this Union business, in 1922 with the grant of independence for the Republic of Ireland, after the partition of six of the nine counties of Ulster. These remained in the UK, formalised by the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 6 December 1921, although the current title of the UK – the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – was not officially adopted until 1927.
Well now we come to modern times and the limited devolution settelement (a bribe by new Labour) introduced by the Scotland Act of 1998, which reintroduced a separate Scottish parliament and which have created no end of inconsistencies in England, not least the so-called "West Lothian Question" - have led to calls for a similar parliament in England.
What is rarely mentioned is that other great act of union which, coincidentally, has its fiftieth anniversary this year - Treaty of Rome, creating a European Economic Community, a proto-European state. This the UK joined in 1973, (most Britons did not notice) with our own act of union, the European Communities Act 1972, which effectively signed away our independence.
That, in the view of many, including this blog, renders nugatory any discussion about devolution and separate parliaments in England, Wales and Scotland – and Northern Ireland when and if they can get their act together.
As long as the bulk of our law is made in Brussels (and Strasbourg) it matters little whether we have additional talking shops in the provinces of a greater European Union. Genuine devolution would be the return of powers to local authorities, the central government acting more properly as a supervisor and guarantor of fair play than as ruler and administrator.
What is so remarkable though is the willingness, apparently, of some in Scotland to accept the yoke of Brussels while rejecting the rule of London. Scotland's economic and political well being will be much better (as was often repeated by the editor of this blog in Scotland in 2004) as a country within the United Kingdom not as a region of the European Union.


Penny said...

Please put this on your website.

ITV Teletext are running a debate
on whether Britain is better off our of the EU. It will show viewers arguements for both points of view. this week only. Those without computers and mobiles can use snail mail, but please get them to use a first class
stamp and post it quickly:


or P O Box 32549, London, W4 5TX

or Fax/Text to 0870 731 3085 for 25 pence, plus standard tariff.

Stewed Cabbage said...

Nice one. Peter