Although the Act of Union took place in 1707, there had been many attempts made in the previous 100 years since the Union of the Crowns to have full Union. These had all been soundly rebuffed prior to the despicable behaviour of Scottish Lords who had been bribed post Darien. The majority of these Union supporters were really only interested in recouping their losses. Neither they nor even the Company of Scotland were bankrupt as a result of that misadventure, but personal greed achieved what no warlike action had ever achieved in the past.
And so it is that we move on to events past that inglorious betrayal of Scots by their own Lairds.
Scotland did not gain as promised from the Union, in fact the complete opposite occurred over the next 50 years. The Scottish economy which had been stable prior to 1707 suffered badly as a result of the agreements struck at the time of the Act of Union. Life had got considerably worse for Scots, and they had more English Taxes to pay,and constraints were effecting their ability to trade.
It was only later when the British Empire came into being that things began to improve with Industrialisation and the age of Enlightenment, where Scots played a disproportionate part.
The Issue of Home Rule came into play, where Scotland wished for more say over its own affairs, and this all came to pass in tandem with Irish Home Rule.
Thanks mainly to Scottish and Irish votes, the Liberal leader Gladstone was swept into power later in the year. In 1872, as Prime Minister, he introduced the secret ballot for all parliamentary and municipal elections. Scotland finally achieved equal representation with England in the third Reform Act, passed in 1885, that granted manhood suffrage in town and country alike, based on the distribution of population.
The same year saw the creation of a cabinet post – secretary for Scotland. His ministry became “the Scottish Office,” responsible for many departments, including that of education. An act that year also made education compulsory to the age of thirteen, the setting up of school boards in each parish and the admission of all the Presbyterian schools into the national system. As a serious sidelight, in Scotland, as in Wales, such “reforms,” while making the general population more literate helped further the decline of the surviving Celtic languages of Welsh and Gaelic. That was of little concern to the Government.
It was up to concerned individuals to keep the ancient traditions alive. An Comunn Gaidhealach was founded in 1891 in an attempt to preserve Gaelic language and literature, art and music. Its activities included an annual Mod which still occurs to this day.
In the late 1890’s, when Gladstone endorsed the concept of home rule for Ireland, there were many in Scotland who felt betrayed. After all, it was they who deserved home rule because of their loyalty, not the Irish, who were being rewarded for just the opposite. In 1886, the Scottish Home Rule Association was formed to campaign for a Scottish Parliament to be set up in Edinburgh. One of its aims was “to maintain the integrity of the Empire, and secure that the voice of Scotland shall be heard in the Imperial Parliament as fully as at present when discussing Imperial Affairs.”
In the House of Commons in 1889, the matter was put to the vote, but only 79 of 279 M.P.’s were in favor (of the Scots M.P.’s, there were l9 for and 22 against). Similar bills received greater support in the Commons but were never acted upon. In fact, the subject of Home Rule for Scotland was brought up 13 times without progressing any further. The outbreak of World War I ended discussion on the matter.
With the outbreak of the World War in 1914, it was time to put aside the major grievances. In the common cause against the enemy, Scots played a full share in the struggle for survival and victory. We can only imagine the results for subsequent British history had the 27 battalions each raised by the great Scottish regiments, the Black Watch, the Cameronians and the Highland Light Infantry, along with the 35 battalions of the Royal Scots combined in a fight for independence. Be as that may, all ranks of Scottish society were imbued with patriotism for Britain as a whole, and in Parliament, even the long-standing and troublesome “Irish Question” was laid aside in the common cause taken up by a coalition government.
Of particular interest is the creation, in the 1920’s, of a new “language” derived from a mixture of archaic words and Scots vernacular that is called “Lallans.” Writings in this new medium were considered the hallmark of the “Scottish Renaissance” of the first half of the century. It became especially known in the works of Hugh McDiarmid.
McDiarmid and others were very concerned with the integrity of Scottish culture, with the revival of an authentic Scottish language both Lowland Scots and Gaelic, in short, with the rediscovery of a genuine national identity. For these writers, it wasn’t economics or politics that concerned them, but culture and ideology. However, economic hardship was more instrumental in the formation of The Scottish Nationalist Party in 1928. Perhaps Scotland was paying too much into the national Exchequer and receiving too little back. The argument continued up to September 1939. In any case, Westminster had too much say in the allocation of the money.
At the end of the War, so much loss of life made many question just what Scotland’s role was to be in the preservation of an empire in which they had done so much to build. An urgent need for parliamentary reform created the Representation of the People Act (the Fourth Reform Act) that greatly enlarged the electorate. Women from the age of 30 could now add their votes to those of men of 21. Ten years later, the voting age for both genders was set at the earlier figure. Thirty-eight seats were added to the Scottish counties and the number for Glasgow and Edinburgh was greatly extended by virtue of their large populations
Progress towards home rule had been slow, much slower than had been anticipated at the outbreak of the World War. Paradoxically, however, greater control from London had the effect of convincing home rulers it was time to push for action again. They were quietly confident; as radical Liberal J. M. Hogg expressed in the House of Commons:
The experience of war, particularly of the control of the various government departments over Scottish business itself, has probably made more converts to a system of Scottish home rule than all the speeches that have ever been made on Scottish platforms; or by decisions we have taken here.
At Versailles, whatever was prevented by the stubbornness of the conferees, some of their more prudent decisions showed that small nations could have more control over their own affairs. In addition, home rule for Scotland had been one of the staple policies of the labour movement before the war and Labour was getting stronger all the time. Some union activity had persisted in Scotland as in other industrial areas of Britain even during the war when high employment and the need to unite in the common cause suspended most union activities and made people feel joining them was unpatriotic
In a further move towards Labour and away from the ideas and policies of the Liberals, Roland Muirhead reorganized the Scottish Home Rule Association in 1918, giving it a stable base and making home rule a serious political priority. Labour continued its advocacy of home rule; many of its Scottish members wanted to see the establishment of a free Socialistic Commonwealth freed from “aristocratic, English ridden” influences. The idea of home rule also temporarily united the disparate factions of left-wing politics.
When the minority Labour Government acceded in 1924, it seemed that the time had come. The Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald had been president of the London branch of the SHRA before the War. Expectations were high for passage of the Private Member’s Bill on Scottish home rule introduced by George Buchanan of Glasgow. Unfortunately, no enthusiasm was shown by Scottish Secretary William Anderson who could have done so much more to ensure passage. Ramsey MacDonald himself worked tirelessly to bring his Labour Party to the forefront of British politics. Like Lloyd George of Wales, however, any enthusiasm he might have expressed for Scotland home rule was lost in his greater concern for the political life of the United Kingdom.
The House Speaker refused to move the motion to a vote and entreaties to have the debate and motion rescheduled fell on deaf ears. Another problem had surfaced; many Scottish M.P.’s regarded themselves as socialists first and nationalists second (a problem that bedeviled Welsh hopes for home rule during the same period). Labour would not have home rulers dictating their policies!! The golden chance was lost in Labour’s fear that the best interests of their party were being impeded by home-rule advocates.
Because the campaign for a Scottish parliament was now in direct competition with British national political priorities, another avenue of approach became necessary. The National Party of Scotland was formed to press for some form of devolution from England that would satisfy the majority of its members. These members had come from the Scottish National league, the Scottish National Movement, the Glasgow University Nationalist Association and the Scottish Home Rule Association, all of whom had different aims and different ways of achieving them.
For many years, the party simply existed as a way to spoil the candidacy of Labour hopefuls, having no successes of its own. In the economic and social upheavals of the Great Depression, the Labour Party argued that the aspirations of nationalists (in Wales as well as Scotland) were far removed from the interests of the working class. Accordingly, the NPS had to convince the electorate that it was not just a “spoiler” party, but that it was carefully and judiciously formulating policies that could raise their standard of living in an independent Scotland and address the chronic problems of poor housing, inadequate health services, lack of educational opportunities and high unemployment. In 1932, it was jolted by the formation of a more moderate, home rule movement, the Scottish Party.
Extremism was out. Scotland had been part of the United Kingdom and had contributed so much to its empire for too long. The SNP was forced to moderate its views and to state publicly that it did not seek separation but “self-government with the British group of nations.” Parties had to appeal to the majority of the Scottish electorate to which, considering their loyalty to the British Crown, republicanism was anathema. By 1933, the fundamentalists had been purged from the NPS and it was ready to join with the Scottish Party to further more moderate aims.
The Scottish National Party thus came into being in August 1934. For many years after, it was plagued by internal squabblings (in true Celtic fashion) and failed to make any noticeable impact on Scottish electoral politics. Only after 1945 did the SNP attain the necessary degree of internal discipline and coherence to create an effective political organization.
There were other efforts, however, that had begun to pay off. One significant gain in the march towards the overwhelming decision of 1997 was the creation of a Secretary of State for Scotland in 1926 by the Baldwin administration out of the former, much weaker position of Scottish Secretary. In 1939, these powers were extended when the Secretary took over the functions in Scotland of the Department for Home Affairs, Health, Agriculture and Education with offices in Edinburgh. In 1951, a Minister of State, based in Scotland, was created to act as deputy to the Secretary. As had happened in 1914, however, further measures of political independence came to a complete halt with the outbreak of the World War II in September 1939.
In April 1945, at Motherwell, Scottish Nationalist Robert MacIntyre was elected to Parliament, and though he was defeated shortly after in the General Election, it was clear that a new spirit was afoot in Scotland. A reaction to the vast increase in the central power of the State that had accumulated during the war was inevitable now that peace had returned. By 1948, there was a resurgence of Scottish Nationalist feeling. A Scottish Covenant of that year containing hundreds of thousands of signatures called for a Scottish Parliament.
Two years later, in a daring midnight raid, the Stone of Scone, the ancient symbol of Scottish royalty (upon which the medieval kings of Scotland had been crowned) found itself kidnapped from under the Coronation Chair at Westminster Abbey, where it had rested uncomfortably since 1297. The daring deed, student prank or not, showed only too well that it was high time the Government at Westminster paid more attention to the needs of the Scottish people.
Following the interruption caused by World War II, in which all areas of Britain once again united in the face of a common, slow resentment at the strengthening of Westminster’s grip on Scottish affairs continued to smolder. After the bloodletting and economic hardships of the war, it was taking too long for things to return to normal.
The loss of Empire that followed the heady victory celebrations, and the period of austerity and gloom that lasted for years in the so-called Welfare State created by the Socialist government did much to cancel the general euphoria created and sustained by the very idea of “Britishness.” The Labour Government of Clement Attlee came into power mainly because of war weariness. All areas of the country, including Scotland (where the Liberals did not gain a single seat) supported it, at the expense of the Conservatives. During its tenure, in which thousands of Britons sought for a better life overseas, the nation was forced inwards, to re-examine both its own role in history and its role in the future. It had been the Empire, under its portraits of a benevolent monarch, as often as not weaning the tartan, that had welded Britain into a nation state. However, the Empire was disintegrating rapidly.
All over the globe, former colonies were seeking and gaining independence. Maps that showed almost one third of the world colored red for British now had to be redrawn and recolored and countries renamed. The birth of new nation states overseas now raised the question of nation states at home. At first this was subdued, even hidden, in the carrying out of the generally well-supported socialist revolution of the Labour Government in which “the Welfare State” replaced much that had been traditional in all areas of British life. In these times, socialist leaders from both Wales and Scotland abhorred the thought of separation.
Gradually, the struggles of the war years began to dim into distant memory, but the promised Utopia of the Labour Government did not come about.
Westminster’s promises began to fade rapidly in the light of harsh economic competition from abroad; nationalist feelings and the accompanying demands for recognition began to emerge once more. In Parliament, some heed was taken of these demands when the powers of the Scottish Standing Committee, practically moribund since 1907, were greatly enhanced, giving Scotland something like a parliament within a parliament.
When the Conservative Churchill Government replaced Labour in 1951, denationalization of major industries took place. Several constitutional changes affected Scotland. To serve under the secretary of state, a minister of state was added who was free from parliamentary duties at Westminster. A year later a third under-secretary of state gave Scotland even more autonomy, but continued successes by the Conservative party, an arch-foe of devolution in any shape or form, meant that both major parties were officially opposed to a separate parliament for Scotland. It was as if the government was doing everything it could to keep the Scots happy, but the idea of devolution wasn’t even considered. The British Union remained unchallenged.
One problem was the attachment of many Scottish M.P.’s to “the best club in London,” the Parliament at Westminster. To leave such cozy surroundings and such convivial company to return to work in their own constituencies was a horror not worth contemplating. It would mean relearning the knack of self-government, lost for centuries and being directly responsible to the wishes of those who elected them in the first place. As James l had realized centuries ago, it was much easier to rule Scotland from London. The Capital had been skimming off the cream of Scotland without too much protest.
Yet in Scotland in many ways, old resentments continued and winds of change were beginning to blow strongly north of the border. Though very much a minority party, and still suffering from the stigma attached to the very idea of nationalism during the war years, the SNP began to build its organizational skills and to work on political strategy; its share of the vote steadily grew.
Defenders of the status quo were a small minority; nine out of ten Scots were in favor of some form of constitutional change. Ambivalence as to the nature of this change, meant that the overwhelming vote in favor of devolution in 1997 and the desire of the Scots to have their own parliament once more reflects a sea change over the situation that prevailed in the 1960’s and 70’s. However, the seeds had been deeply planted. Again, we can use a favorite American expression to justify the changes: “it’s the economy, stupid!”
Support for the SNP was greatly increased by the British government’s failure to fulfill the aspirations of the Scottish people. As succinctly expressed by historian Richard J. Finlay, “the economic history of Scotland in the sixties is a woeful tale of missed opportunities, bad management, poor productivity and under achievement.” “It is the under achievement, I believe, that needs more emphasis.” Overlooked by many chroniclers of the period is the stranglehold that trade unions began to exert on their members and the self-defeating practices in which they engaged.
From the 1960’s onwards, the story becomes even more interesting with the Ups and Downs of Nationalism, The Thatcher Years, and many shenanigans by the Unionist parties as they realized that their time of comfortable living in London was under grave threat.
I will address these events in Part3.
But it could easily be said, that the World Wars had been catastrophic to the aspirations of Scottish Independence and Home Rule, along with dreadful disproportionate loss of Scots life.
The concept of Britishness and of being British had gained popularity during the War years, when we were all in it together.
It took the austerity and mismanagement of the years following the second world war and the business as usual attitude of Westminster to stir the people of scotland once more.