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The Scottish Rights Association and the Franchise
From Tait's Edinburgh Magazine (1856)


The tendency to associate is common to the aggrieved; and all men, even very good natured men, being grumblers by nature, a considerable number beoome members, or propose to become members, of some reforming society, in the discharge, as they believe, of one duty of man; and that done, they deem their political purpose in life completed, unless a dinner has to be eaten periodically, and periodically a subscription to be paid. The necessity of satisfying this tendency leads to the formation of numerous associations, for very proper objects; and one in a dozen, from the prevalence of "distressing circumstances” at its birth, by the energy of its management, or the urgency of its object, achieves success, becomes a mammy, and is placed in its pyramid amid a cloud of perfume and a shower of roses.

The Scottish Rights Association was said to have been formed to obtain justice to the Scottish lion in his contest with the English beast. This respectable body desired to have "the right lion in the right place.” They had also something to do with the unicorn, which has commanded our sympathy since our first acquaintance with his form and shape by the aid of engravings, published in certain cheap works of Lumsden and Sons, prior to the comencement of the "Penny Magazine” for the diffusion of useful knowledge, wherein it was set forth that:

The lion and the unicorn
Fighting for the crown,
The lion chased the unicorn
Round about the town.

The unicorn of these days was out of all comparison the more civilised animal of the two in appearance, and every way more amiable than his adversary. Naturalists raised certain doubts regarding his existence at any time, or in any quarter of the world; and wanted to substitute the bulky and ugly rhinoceros in his place, but this scientific pretence was an insult on the Scottish national arms, or insignia, which had no other foundation than the ignorance of its perpetrators. It is even part of the proof of "Our Hebrew Origin,” a very clever work, and interesting that is, although amongst the evidences overlooked by the author, that the horn of the unicorn is mentioned in a position very likely to make it the symbol of the Ephraimites. This passage wonld make nothing less nor more on the subject than the existence of an animal of great strength, whose name was rendered "the unicorn” by our translators. It might be that fearful rhinoceros again. But we have an idea, very like a dream, that somewhere, in the centre of Africa, doubtless, the unicorn still exists—a strong, swift animal, fleeter than the horse, fiercer than the lion in war, gentler than the gazelle in peace, an embodiment of "Nemo me impune laeenet.” Mr. Gordon Cumming, or some other travelling Nimrod, will yet explain the habits and haunts of our national favourite, which they will not find with a hat on its horn. That point must be conceded, and the hat sold.

The Scottish Rights Association had also something to do with the shade of our lion’s skin; and the connexion of Scotland with the unicorn is not more a mystery than the commencement of the red lion, the sign over, in nearly every town, a noted house for convivial and late nights, long remembered from hard drinking, and large spending of money, strength, and time. The red lion will be more difficult to discover than the unicorn.

These small affairs were turned against the association, which was assailed as a subordinate college of heraldry, or a supplement to the Antiquarians’ Museum; and its members were informed that they were a little cracked, while Scotland itself was to be regarded as a large Yorkshire. This was a blunder. Flags represent great thoughts, and we cannot afford to put them down in this Malthusian, or Benthamite, or utilitarian way. The bunting nailed to the mast has a moral and a money value. The latter is little; the former saves a ship and wins a victory. The regimental and the Queen’s colours are not worth many pounds; yet many men have perished in their defence. We are not all strong-minded men, clad in the dense armour of cosmopolitanism; but the majority of us are creatures of weak minds, fond of old ballads, learned in old feuds, proud of narrow nationalities, and must be humoured when we are wanted. Before the Russian war, the suppression of the bonnet, kilt, and plaid, was warmly reoommended in London journals. The idea is never mentioned now. Men are wanted; and hundreds who never wore bonnet, kilt, nor plaid, adopt them on the principle that leads an Irishman to prefer the shamrock to any flower of the field; and we admire his taste, only because it evinces a strong nationality, often misdirected in his own case; for very good feelings may be abused.

We do not quarrel with the Scottish Rights Association for taking care of the pine apples and the strawberries of their case; but they neglected everything else. Some conversation and correspondence occurred respecting the appointment of a Scottish Secretary of State; and the measure appears very reasonable. The Lord-Advocate of the present year is a most accomplished and respectable lawyer, evidently not in haste to be a judge; yet he is a man “of many affairs" as all other Lord Advocates must be in the very nature of things, and he cannot attend on all Scotch business with precision. We are not prepared to name a better man at present, and therefore we quarrel with the Lord-Advocate officially but not personally. No gentleman could discharge all the duties of the office. England cannot dispense with the Home Secretary, although assisted by an Attorney-General and a Solicitor-General. The Secretary for Ireland generally represents that section of the empire in Parliament, although we have an Irish Attorney-General in the Commons, and a distressing number of Irish barristers, all very clever in their own business of speaking by the clock against time. The Home Secretary is supposed to be capable of doing all the work of the three kingdoms by a pretty fiction; for whenever a Scotch bill has to be introduced, he leaves it to the harassed and oppressed Lord-Advocate. The salary of this new official might be some object; but it would be paid by subscription if the exchequer cannot afford the outlay; and the people would still save very considerably by this voluntary taxation.

The centralisation system formed another and a just ground of complaint; for the consolidation of offices may have been carried rather far in this oountry. We do not wish public business to be starved down to the level of incapables; and a very large portion of the public business in Scotland, notwithstanding the eastern railways and the formation of telegraphs, may be better and more cheaply performed in Edinburgh than elsewhere.

The grants from the Exchequer to national objects in England and Ireland cause "innocent envy” to many persons in Scotland. They are said to be much larger in proportion to the revenue from these countries than the votes for Scottish purposes. The expenditure of vast sums on the Royal residences of England contrasts unfavourably with the dilapidation of similar edifices in Scotland. The outlay on the London parks is gigantic, when compared with the economy shown around Arthur’s Seat, incomparably the finest park in the Queen’s dominions. The local police of the Scotch capital are paid by the citizens, and that is not entirely the case either in Dublin or London. Even the comparative state of the Poor-Laws is injurious to Scotland. The Government have yet been unable to concede the means of forming a harbour of refuge on the northern coasts, and all our ports and shipping are defenceless. These allegations form part only of a long list of grievances; and many of them are exaggerated by parties who forget that large sums of public money have been recently voted for Scotch objects; and that neither England nor Ireland is a greedy or selfish partner in pecuniary affairs. They have only to show a clear balance to gain a correction of any little error in accounting. The details are reasons for the establishment of a Home-office for Scotch business; but they need not be nursed into separate examples of oppression; under which the country is tolerably prosperous.

Scotland contributes undoubtedly a large revenue for which no direct equivalent is afforded. The capitalists of Scotland do not directly hold Consols, but the Banking and Life Assurance Companies are creditors of the empire to a considerable extent; and through them the Scotch may draw a fair share of the national dividends. The active expenditure of the state chiefly occurs in England and Ireland. The great naval depots are confined to England. The larger proportion of military payments are made in Ireland. The official payments are made principally in England. From these causes a large part of the revenue collected in Scotland is drawn out of the country, to return no more by any public channel. Men are told that Lancashire and Yorkshire suffer the same operations that Lincolnshire and Monmouthshire are exposed to the same drainage; but these facts are inapplicable until we destroy the nationalities, and uproot the history, poetry, and traditions of the two islands. The legislation of the three kingdoms is distinct. Different acts are passed even to accomplish the same object in the three divisions of the home empire. The union of the three kingdoms has not destroyed their individual characteristics, peculiarities, and privileges. We desire the extension of this principle to the colonies, and seeking the increase of the empire, therefore we seek the preservation of all distinctions that are compatible with its solidity and strength.

The local grounds are not however so important as the Imperial reasons for an alteration of our system. During peace, the Scotch regiments collected their recruits through a few non-commissioned officers, scattered over the country; but when the nation required to double or treble the ordinary strength of these regiments, a recruiting agency did not exist, and delays and difficulties occurred.

The depots of the regiments were in England or Ireland. The military spirit of the nation was not elicited by the pomp of war; yet if the depots of all the Scotch regiments had been permanently stationed in their own country, their roll would have been doubled in one-half of the time already occupied by this operation, which is not even now complete. A small sum may be saved during peace, by employing the depot company and recruits of the Scottish regiments in English and Irish cities; but the money is dearly earned, and the practice should be abandoned now and for ever.

The marine building, engineering, and manufactures of Aberdeen and Glasgow, have placed them in the first rank, some way in the van of other ports, for quality in their respective departments of sailing ships and steam vessels; while the Clyde is A1, for quality and quantity both, of steamers. The east and west coasts present admirable advantages for one or more naval stations. A naval arsenal on the Frith of Forth, above Edinburgh, would be defended more easily than any English depot, from Pembroke to Portsmouth and to the Thames. The upper banks of this Frith present all the natural advantages required for this purpose. And yet, the national ship-building business is neither submitted to competition, nor is any part of it removed to Sootland or Ireland, although it might be better and cheaper done; while the Cove of Cork is our first harbour for the Atlantic or the Mediterranean, almost equal to Lisbon. We are exposed to the charge of supporting local interests by these statements; but must Imperial objects suffer because those who advocate them may possibly hear that they are tainted with local prejudice? The more genera] distribution of the naval arsenals and shipbuilding would obtain for the people’s service a greater number of boys and seamen than are now found from the outports, and would secure them upon better terms than those now paid, in an exigency; for the service has various advantages not often realised in the mercantile marine. After including the risk of battle, it is less hazardous; for the ships are better found, and the men have better clothes, food, lodging, and medical attendance than npon the average of mercantile ships; while, if the discipline of some naval officers be severe, that of mercantile officers is also often severe, and a little over on the wrong side.

These local movements must not always be considered as narrow-minded grumblings alter a share of fat things. They may be based upon the opinion that our general business is more costly because it is centralised, than it would be if it were more generally diffused; while the same choice of men is not practicable in one locality that could be procured in all the kingdoms three. This opinion is natural. We believe it is sound; for it is supported by facts that cannot be controverted. The greater arsenals will always exist in England from a variety of causes; but are they not monopolised in one quarter from those looal prejudices which are said to be the cause of all the clamour in Ireland and Scotland, respecting equal justice, and similar terms? Local objects may as readily actuate those who receive as those who want; while ws believe that a sincere regard for the best interests of the empire will thoroughly meet every reasonable demand that the most intense looal ambition can advance, and all that is unreasonable will sink under discussion like stones in the ocean.

The Scottish Rights Association endeavoured to live on these matters, and overlooked more important subjects. Scotland suffers from political disabilities, which should be removed. As advocates of an extended and rectified suffrage, we want a new reform bill for England—and probably, also, for Ireland. As supporters of equal representation, we have the same want in reference to both countries. But Scotland has a more powerful claim than either of them, because her representation is in arrear. The electors are qualified by a fifty pound occupancy in county constituencies, a ten pound occupancy in burghs, and a proprietary value of ten ponnds annually in counties or burghs. The occupiers of premises renting for ten ponnds yearly in the numerous small towns and villages that are thrown into county constituencies average more intelligence, moral respectability, and wealth, than the ten pound occupiers of parliamentary burghs; because property in their localities is of less pecuniary value than in large towns, and a smaller proportion of a man’s profits or wages is expended upon his dwelling, or his shop or warehouse. This circumstance is so well known that it was overlooked only to conciliate the landed interest, who considered the feuars and inhabitants of towns and villages in the light of natural political enemies. The great landowners find these men nearly as they make them; for in all non-essential points the influence of a useful landowner is paramount in his district; and a useful man will be also a sensible man, who will concede the right of private opinion claimed by himself, for himself, to all his neighbours. The feuds of classes are disappearing. The exertions of many men, influential in land, to improve the intellectual and moral welfare of the community, are superior to any exclusive privileges, in protecting their prestige among the people. England and Scotland, however, enjoy this grievance of which we complain in common; and therefore Mr. Locke King’s bill may pass in the next session, and make in the ten pound tenantry of counties a valuable addition to the constituencies.

An indirect reason exists in Scotland for this reform, from the activity displayed in uprooting the small tenantry of many counties. The doom of the Highlands has become epidemical, and advances rapidly to meet the practice of the Lothians. In the north-eastern counties the coalition of farms is popular with many factors and owners. After all the agricultural arguments on the topic, and all the lectures and treatises on high farming, we do not believe yet that very large farms produce a greater return of food than those that are cultivated by families with the assistance of one or two servants. We scarcely think that large food manufactories are managed with greater assiduity and care than more limited occupancies; and the application of capital to the soil has a limit easily approached. The small farmers, we fear, are not extirpated from economical reasons only, but because a landowner with one thousand tenants, paying each forty-five pounds annually, would not have a single voter amongst them. By good management he might have nine hundred electors upon the same land, and beoome an influential man at county meetings. This suspicion is not verified by the combination of two or more farms paying a rental of over fifty pounds each, into one, but that arrangement occurs less frequently than the expulsion of industrious labourers, whose toil made out of heath the land on which they lived.

Two principles may be, and one of the two always is, applied to agriculture; which may be conducted with the view of supporting the largest possible population, or of selling off the land the largest possible amount of produce. The latter plan may consist with a smaller return of food than the former; because it measures returns by their bulk, after feeding all the persons necessary to procure them. The former scheme may consist with an occasional dearth of food; but the latter ensures a perpetual famine of men. Bell’s reaping machine cannot be employed for the defence of the country in danger. A county crowded with sheep is a burdensome and helpless district. If we persist in manufacturing food on a large scale, the more industrious and skilful farm labourers, seeing no means of rising in the world at home, will emigrate, and leave our land to its machines and less capable men, who, if not content with their level, want energy to surmount the obstacles at its edge. The extension of electoral rights to ten pound house or shopbolders in counties would be an act of simple justice, and to farmers of ten pounds an act of wise policy.

The Irish franchise is much wider than the Scotch, and the English is diluted greatly by the forty shilling freeholders, who now form a numerous section of many county constituencies. The great extension of their number in recent years has been effected partly for political objects. Many of the English investments within ten years were denounced broadly by one party as unconstitutional; and many were unprofitable. The party who were, however, so tremulous for the constitution, thought better of the matter, and literally followed their rivals into the fields, and cut them up in self-protection. The Conservative Land Society makes more rapid progress, we believe, than its senior neighbour,.the National Reform; and both are accomplishing a greater social than political object. The avowedly political land societies have also, probably, less business than the aggregate of investing companies, formed with no object except to confer on small capitalists an interest in the soil. We can see no reason against transforming parts of the soil into a people’s saving bank. If the landed interest of our islands have ever been beaten in anything calculated to serve them, they must ascribe the defeat to their numerical weakness. Tenants-at-will, and labourers without hope, feel uncommonly small interest in the material on which they toil. The yeomanry of the country were gradually bought up, and the entailing system provided that great estates should never be sold down. The application of the forty-shilling freehold, politically, will not prevent the forties from being converted into sixties, hundreds, or thousands; and we can see no obstacle in England to the purchase of small estates by one or two hundred men who have saved a little money, and who prefer the most solid investment.

The Scottish Rights Association, if they would discharge their duty, and seek power and popularity, should deal with this subject. The want of this forty-shilling freehold is more important than anything associated with the lion, or even with the unicorn. It is a substantial, and not a symbolic grievance. We sympathise with the heraldic claims; but in comparison with the political, they rank no higher than the restoration of an old palace when contrasted with the sanatory reform of a great town. This "Rights” Association may be composed of all political parties in the State; but none of them will say that the Scotch population may not be entrusted with privileges conceded to their English friends. They are entitled to plead equality, and anything more is bad taste, anything less is scant justice; and as all parties combine to carry out the forty-shilling system in England, none of them can consistently, from political causes, oppose its extension in Scotland. We suggest to the members of this association the road to popularity and power. This inequality is obvious. Its injustice is undeniable. Its removal is a matter of right, every way worthy of the association to secure. If the Scottish Rights’ friends will not throw their hearts and purses into the business, they should stand aside and leave a dear way to sterner and wiser patriots; but with the grievance before them, a really good grievance, and considerable, we may reckon upon their shoulders at the wheel until the Scottish franchise be lifted out of this deep rut. Justice to Scotland, in this particular, will find a host of warm friends in England.

We are not certain that the next job which we propose to the Scottish Rights confederates, will meet equal favour from their southern contemporaries. The share of Scotland in the Upper House is very small; but as many Scotch noblemen sit as British peers, it may be better to say little on a subject which is chiefly interesting to the unfortunate peers of Scotland who are neither British nor elected, and seem to occupy the forlorn state of outlaws, except for two or three days at intervals of three or four years.

The Scotch representation in the Commons is more important, and still more out of joint than the similar business of the Upper House. The population of Scotland is perhaps three millions now, or scarcely one-half of Ireland—probably, rather under one-sixth, of England and Wales. These proportions may, however, be employed for our practical purpose, to economise the printer’s figures, and our own statistics. The number of members in the Commons is 658, of whom Scotland sends 52, and England 500. The relative numbers would be correct if England and Wales contained thirty millions, or Scotland only eighteen hundred thousand; but as neither of these suppositions is true, the representation is so far fictitioos. A new reform bill should increase the Scotch members to 83, or reduce the English to 312. We dislike the idea of reduction; and yet, after expending millions unutterable, with patience befitting sober men, we have no house for the Commons capable of containing all the members; and an increase of their number would necessitate tbe migration of the legislature eastward to Exeter Hall, or some similar place. Mr. Barry has designed—not a hall wherein the Commons may assemble, but a satire upon their habits of business, which consist, on the part of fifty per cent, of our elective knowledge and sagacity, in its utter neglect. The house is too small on two or three evenings of each session, and on all the others it has unoccupied sittings. He may allege, therefore, that the chamber is equal to the average attendance; but the excuse may be architectural, while it is illogical. If the members are not in their places, they should be in these places during their business hours, and they should have seats to be upon. One man cannot plead another person’s blunder as an excuse for his error. “England expects every man to do his duty,” no doubt; but here, because three hundred representatives have hitherto habitually neglected their duty, one architect renders its performance by them impossible for the future. Very probably the professional gentleman at whom so many jibes and sneers have been flung, respecting the grand pile of buildings at Westminster, has an excellent reason, tied up in red-tape, for every hole and corner, niche and turret, carving and gilding in the panels, which, in the meantime, it would be inconvenient for the public service to produce. That publio service is perpetually in the way of any effort for its own improvement or reform. But as the nation has offered so magnificently for an edifice to be seen, perhaps fifty thousand ponnds could be afforded for a house to be used; and the “additional number” difficulty might be got over in that way.

We remember that London, with its population within half a million of the whole of Scotland, is still worse represented; but scandals care not each other by contrast. Scotland is not better because London has worse than even its own starvation fare. The north gains nothing by the wants of the metropolis. And while the metropolitan representation needs enlargement, yet all the members of Parliament dwell there for six. months in each year, while one-half of the Commons and three-fourths of the Peers are permanent householders. The local interests of London are not likely, therefore, to suffer neglect; yet we not only admit, but specifically assert, its claim for enlarged representation.

Cases less flagrant than that of London could be found in England, and none more so anywhere; bat three-fourths of the English people feel that the anomalies of the representation are not maintained for their benefit, or out of consideration to their influence. In 1832, the British public were eager for the bill. They were wound up to a state of political intoxication, and they could not, or would not, see the clever contrivances whereby rotten boroughs, subservient to certain interests, were confirmed in the possession of privileges to which they had no right, not for the good of ibeir citizens, but of the proprietor; who, having always a given number of leases nearly run ont, and influences equally urgent, returns the member, or the couple, out of his own household, for these family seats.

We have placed hard, plain work before the members of this Scottish Rights Association — good solid fare and substantial, which they may take, survive, and even thrive upon, without overlooking the unicorn, or even the red lion, at convenient seasons; but if they will attempt to live upon the bride’s-cake and confectionary of agitation, they will pass away in their confederate and official capacity, as they have been passing for some time, from any place in the world’s recollection.

These statements respecting a local application for reform, limited in its character and purpose, interfere in no manner with the necessity for a more general measure. If we are to have peace in the East of Europe, the time has come for arranging this subject. If we are to have war, still the time has come to infuse more spirit and vigour into our institutions than the family parties display. In either case, the duty is urgent of giving the Imperial interests to the care of new men, or of placing a number of new men in a position to spur the old, of bringing the Commons more into harmony and sympathy with the stern spirit and strong will of the people than its thorough slavery to the stereotyped leaders and "Upper Ten Thousands” of the period has exhibited during the last two years.


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