The tenets the 1707 Act of Union are as plain as the nose on your face – admittedly part of your anatomy difficult to see from where your eyes sit, unless viewed in a mirror.
The Act states unequivocally:
… “Two Nations”.
It does not state in any manner, way or form that two nations shall become one and lose identity, junk their name, act as one in all instances, indistinguishable one from another.
There is nothing in the Act about one nation taking second place, being the poorer nation and remaining so, or having no place in world affairs.
Nor does the Act contain caveats that one nation shall control all power over the other. It makes clear the two sovereign nations shall remain as before in everything but trade, banking, and the rights of peers.
Gross inequality for Scotland grew out of decisions resting in one parliament, one nation monopolising voting numbers. And in decades of creeping integration, until the smaller nation found itself subjected to unwanted policies imposed by the dominant nation.
I repeat: the Treaty does not legislate that, greater the population in number, greater the say in domestic affairs, and all international political matters.
Equal and Sovereign
The discussions leading to the Act state clearly that “both nations shall be equal and sovereign”. How else would they put it – one nation shall be slave to the other? Hypocritical unionist politicians have ever since corrupted the phrase to “equal partners” as if they meant it.
What it doesn’t record is the brutally honest, self-interested remark of one English member of parliament the day after the signing: “Good. We have Scotland on the wrack now.” The Speaker joined in the chorus, “We have catch’d Scotland and will bind her fast.” He was right, up to a point.
I am reminded of this as we pass the second anniversary of Scotland’s plebiscite to secure genuine democratic representation, to address the glaring, unjust imbalance in power, a movement demanding sound constitutional change in favour of the people, not an elite.
September 18th, 2014, is what I refer to in my darkest moments as Epic Fail Day.
If you twist my arm I’m sure to say yes
Let no one try to convince you that Scotland sold itself willingly. The population weeping in the streets is well recorded by observers of the day, and by painters since. There were celebrations in England, but none in Scotland. Scotland fell silent.
Scotland had a population about one-eighth the size of England, probably the equivalent of Switzerland, and as nothing to the population size of Spain where today Podemos the protest group of Catalonia masses tens of thousands at the pitch of a marcher’s whistle.
After the massacre at Culloden, Scotland had no army one could talk of as a powerful resistance force. Scotland was vulnerable to attack in an age which didn’t have tanks or machine guns or bombs, only foot soldiers and men on horseback dispersed around the countryside, and without leadership or the will to come together.
Scotland’s urge is outward – until now
Though voluntary migration was underway, the infamous Highland Clearances had not begun, a black episode in our nation’s history akin to genocide by forced emigration.
It was a time of English legal ingenuity that contrived successive laws to strip clan chiefs of territorial power, and turn them into renting landlords. British nationalists claim some did so willingly, but then who would not denuded of influence and wealth?
A lot of Scotland’s population still lived in our highland glens. Back then we still had large tracts of land where arable farming could support a decent existence, the grassy slopes of more mountainous areas left to cattle farming. Perthshire today is a much contracted area. Records show about half of Scotland’s population lived north of the River Tay, not as now, where the Clearances caused the vast majority to live one on top of the other in the central belt, crowded in tenements. (English architects are noticeably amused by our five storey tenements built without an elevator-lift.)
The typical Scot was a country dweller, our national poet, Robert Burns, the perfect example. One estimate suggests that in 1700 only five per cent of the population lived in towns. You only need read of the history of our nation to see how Scotland lagged behind more urbanized societies such as those in England, France or even Spain, and was on a par with the Scandinavian countries of the kind we are fond of using as examples to follow for a modern small state.
People forget how much the Scottish population lived off the land, an agrarian society, including fishing communities, in order to cultivate food and store supplies.
The times were ripe for a take-over.
A crime perpetrated on a nation
We are forever reminded that ‘Scotland bankrupt’ was the outcome of the disastrous Darien adventure. This is a lie. To begin with, no British nationalist will remind you that the scheme was designed to establish an international trading post for Scotland, constructively thwarted by Westminster conspiracy to block our trading routes and retain them for England. Banks and individuals were warned against investing in the scheme.
The Darien Scheme is the first line of ridicule by ignorant British nationalists and the media – which is probably one and the same. Bankruptcy has no basis in historical fact. Scotland had enough currency circulating to sustain it. England knew that, that is why it had the luxury of raising our taxes to pay for the loan – it wasn’t a freebie, it wasn’t a grant for “subsidy junkies” – it was a tax guaranteeing the English Treasury would regain what it offered, and with huge interest.
Even so, we only got half the loan, the other half offered in worthless company debentures – England still at war with France was the nation near bankruptcy!
We paid for the loan in onerous taxation – a sure fire way of keeping a population indebted and meek. You could argue we paid for the sale of our own country.
You can also argue we paid for it a second time when Westminster grabbed oil in Scottish waters to spend on its own interests, and squander on eradicating democratic institutions it still dislikes, such as collective bargaining by unions.
Unionism tried and failed
Besides the need to refill their empty bank accounts, two things swayed the Scottish nobility that negotiated and signed the Act of Union.
The first was, the notion of a Union was not an alien idea. We were in a union of sorts when Cromwell swept north of the border, putting resistance to the sword, (over 2,000 in Dundee) and swathes of Scotland under English placemen. Our English cousins are apt to overlook that little skirmish in our history, telling us we never had it as bad as Ireland.
The origin of Cromwell’s appearance lay in the Regal Union of 1603 when James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I to the crowns of England and Ireland. (I live close to the brig where James V was attacked by robbers and driven off by a farmer, but I digress.)
James was eager to go all the way, and in 1604 commissioners from England and Scotland discussed a union of parliaments and a scheme of common citizenship. Anybody who wants to study that period will be surprised by the comparisons with Alex Salmond’s vision for an autonomous Scotland, one conjoined with England’s Crown, and its trade, one without borders.
Despite James’s keen support, the idea foundered. The Scottish nobility feared a loss of influence in a London parliament, while the English were concerned that the Scots would be favoured in the new arrangement by the presence of a Scottish king and master. Let no one say Scots resentment is a one-way street. English parliamentarians have always been wary of a Scottish accent in their corridors of power.
There’s little difference between that attitude and today’s English votes for English laws.
Westminster rule sucks, okay?
It might seem odd to us in this age that there existed a time when rule from Westminster was considered practically, bureaucratically, and politically, impossible to institute.
Professor Tom Devine puts it succinctly in his history of Scotland: “The difficulties of ruling Scotland from Westminster soon became apparent in the latter stages of James VI’s reign – and even more so during that of his successor, Charles I, when they were instrumental in provoking the crisis that led to the outbreak of the Civil War. Union was enforced between 1652 and 1660 by Oliver Cromwell, but at the Restoration of 1660 and the return of Charles II it was dissolved, to the relief of the majority in both countries.”
The second weakness for Scotland lay in its harvest. We depended on a good crop. A bad harvest meant buying food from others, hence the need to find new avenues of trade and barter. The Damien Scheme was an attempt to alleviate that predicament. Faced with the proposal of a union, the population still susceptible to tales of the devastating famines of the 1690s when food prices rocketed way out of the pockets of ordinary folk, a union seemed an okay proposition for trade.
Also several landed estates were devoted to producing substantial quantities of grain for export not for internal consumption. Scotland could easily feed itself, but our economy was not organised to do that.
An alien Act
There is one other aspect of our history worth remembering when asking why Scotland submitted to English rule. On 5 February 1705 the House of Commons in London passed legislation which would alter the landscape of relations between Scotland and England. The Alien Act recommended to Queen Anne that commissioners be appointed to negotiate for union between England and Scotland and, if the Scots did not comply and if discussions were not advanced by Christmas Day 1705, severe penalties would be imposed. [My emphasis.]
All Scots, except those living in England, were to be treated as aliens. (How different is that from the spiteful warning made during the Referendum that Scots would be ‘foreigners’ if independent.) Our exports would be blocked. You don’t get a more naked piece of economic blackmail than that designed to bring the Scottish parliament to the negotiating table.
“Leave the United Kingdom and you leave the pound” warned the effete chancer and chancellor George Osborne. English politicians enjoy using force to gain advantage.
Those days are gone.
If anything came out of the national debate over self-governance regained, it was the truth that an autonomous Scotland can be self-sustaining, given that it retains links with other nations. Trade is open season for all countries. Domination by a neighbour state, told what to do and how to vote, is a forced choice we can jettison in the 21st century.
It has nothing to do with free will. And free will includes deciding or not to remain part of the European Union.
British nationalists have their ambitions arse over tip. They are ruled by a colonial mentality they cannot shake off; they revel in the past and the dubious benefits of a British Empire, slave trading and all. Today they want employees on no hours contracts, profits stored far away to avoid legal taxes, and the right to raid your company funds and pension and sail away. England has voted to reject the rest of the world that does not share its values, while happily remaining under the thumb of the United States of America.
Meanwhile small nations prosper, none screaming independence is a bad thing.
Let gatherings of the like-minded celebrate freedoms to be won, freedoms to come, and dignity regained, not commiserate about lost opportunities.
I, for one, refuse to believe we’re so craven, so fearful of tomorrow, that none of us feel ownership of our country is worth fighting for, regardless who suffers.