Additional Info

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Share

Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

The Awakening of Scotland
Introduction


It might not be an easy task to determine with precision the chief points of contrast between Scottish and English history, but anyone who compares the two branches of study, as they are presented to us by their respective exponents, will see at a glance that persons and incidents are most conspicuous in the one case, institutions and movements in the other. What distinguishes the history of England from that, not only of Scotland, but of every other European State, is the evidence it affords of a continuous endeavour to develop the machinery of government in accordance with the spirit of the age. This process can be traced in unbroken sequence to the Norman Conquest—not that it did not begin in far earlier times, but that from that period there has been no cataclysm in the national life. For more than a hundred years after the Conquest we find the Crown, supported by the mass of the people, striving to hold the nobles in check. The nobles, exhausted and chastened, then make head against the monarchy, which Henry II. has raised to unprecedented strength. Succeeding against John and Henry III., they are forced into partnership with the Commons by the statesmanship of Edward I.; and, after attempting for a time to shake off their allies, they make common cause with them, and encourage them to assert their power—to refuse supplies, to allot and supervise expenditure, to impeach the King’s Ministers. The nobles then become too strong for the weakened prerogative—constitutional progress, in Bishop Stubbs’ phrase, has outrun administrative order; and the industrial classes demand a strong ruler, who will put down feuds and riots and secure the public peace. Hence the Tudor dictatorship, established to curb the aristocracy, and maintained in power to cope with external dangers resulting from the Reformation; and this in turn succumbs to revolution when the Stewart kings persist in continuing a system which has outlived its uses. At the Kestoration the Commons keep the King’s purse, but are not strong enough to direct his policy; Minister after Minister is impeached, only to be succeeded by another no less unpopular; and the difficulty is not solved till, as the tardy result of another revolution, the principle is established that the government must be exercised by a committee of the party which is dominant in the House of Commons.

It has been said that the success of Englishmen in developing their political institutions is to be attributed, not to ‘ ‘ some profound sagacity or foresight peculiar to themselves,” much less to luck or accident, but to the fact that their “training in the conduct of affairs” had begun a century or two earlier than that of Frenchmen or Germans. The fact itself requires to be explained; but, if national distinctions are to be ascribed more to environment than to original character, the causes which had retarded constitutional progress on the Continent were equally operative in Scotland. Unlike their more powerful neighbours, the Scots derived no security, no scope for constructive statesmanship, from their insular position. Maintaining a precarious independence between the Border and the Highland line, they were never at peace, and their politics long remained as rude and violent as their social life. Edward I. and Edward III. all but succeeded in conquering Scotland, and, the attempt of the latter having been frustrated by foreign intervention and the outbreak of a continental war, his successors never ceased to molest the northern kingdom —to assail it by force and to undermine it by intrigue— as an outpost of France. In a soil so poor, in a climate so tempestuous, institutions dwindled rather than grew. Questions not unlike the constitutional issues of English history do indeed arise, but they are mere incidents in the rivalry of Crown and barons, and are determined by the balance of power, without reference to principle or usage. Scotland, which Sir John Fortescue, the Chief Justice of Henry VI., cited as a limited monarchy, had its Parliament of three Estates, but this was never more than the King’s feudal court, comprising his immediate vassals and chartered burghs. It is doubtful whether the burgesses were invariably present in Parliament before the middle of the fifteenth century, and by that time all but noble freeholders had practically ceased to attend, and the functions of debate and legislation had been usurped by a committee known as the Lords of the Articles, or briefly the Articles, and including, or soon to include, in its membership the Officers of State. Such a development precluded the possibility of that antagonism of legislature and executive which was so long the mainspring of English constitutional progress, and the Scottish Parliament in all but its last days was little more than an instrument for registering edicts, and for legalising usurpations, of the royal power. At all events, it did not advance. Before the close of the thirteenth century Edward I. had practically reduced feudalism in England to a system of land tenure; but the political organisation of Scotland remained almost wholly feudal, not merely to the Union of 1707, but to the Reform Bill of 1832. In England, before 1350, shire members and borough members, representing the two great interests of land and commerce, had united to form a House of Commons : in Scotland the burgesses sat in one House with the nobles and prelates, and the lesser tenants of the Crown were not represented till 1585. Even this reform, a product of the social changes effected by the Reformation, did not really broaden the constitution, for the county franchise was confined to a class which ought in theory to have attended in person.

So slight was the direct constitutional influence of a movement which closed the long controversy with England and provided a counterpoise to the power of the great lords. The Reformation was not wholly, or even mainly, a religious force, for it was provoked by the Gallicising policy of Mary of Lorraine as Regent for her daughter, who was to be Queen of both Scotland and France, and was headed by the nobles, who were chiefly interested in engrossing the monastic estates; but the Protestantism which the nobles accepted, and the peasantry conformed to, as a mere form, was received with enthusiasm by many of the gentry and superior townsmen; and this influence, crystallising into a fourfold hierarchy of Church courts, tended both to create and to organise a middle class. “Methinks,” wrote an English observer in 1572, “I see the noblemen’s great credit decay in that country, and the barons, boroughs and such-like take more upon them.” Scottish Puritanism found no scope for its energies in Parliament; and, as statesmen were naturally not disposed to acknowledge the supremacy of ministers as interpreters of Scripture, which was the duty assigned to them by Knox, the two organisations, secular and ecclesiastical, drifted further and further apart, till their independence was adopted, or rather insisted on, by Andrew Melville as the basis of a theory which recognised two kingdoms— the kingdom of Christ Jesus, and the kingdom of his “silly vassal,” James VI.

The Crown had now to reckon with an opposition more solid and persistent than that of aristocratic caprice; but Melville’s policy was aggressive, not defensive; and he might justly be dismissed as a belated Hildebrand, were it not that he was supported by a popular organisation in whose government clergymen and laymen had equal rights. When Sir John Eliot in England asserted that members of the House of Commons were responsible only to that assembly for words spoken within its walls, he was anticipating a maxim of our modern constitution; but when Melville delivered seditious harangues from the pulpit, and refused practically to answer for them to any but an ecclesiastical court, one can only say that the fortifications of the Scottish monarchy were of a less obsolete type than the artillery with which they were assailed. Such extravagant pretensions were the fruit of an enthusiasm which could not long be maintained, particularly at a time when it had not yet penetrated to the mass of the people. Melville had considerable difficulty in rallying his followers after his discomfiture and flight in 1584, when he had rebuked the Privy Council for presuming "to judge the doctrine and control the ambassadors and messengers of a King and Council greater nor they, and far above them.” A dozen years later, a minister named Black denied the right of the Privy Council to call him to account for a singularly outrageous sermon, asserting that the office-bearers of the Church were “placed in their spiritual ministry over kings and kingdoms to plant and pluck up by the roots, to edify and demolish”; and the mass of the clergy, whom Black had previously denounced for their moderation as “leaders of the people to hell,” were so disgusted with this firebrand and the commotion he had raised, that they made their peace with the King; and theocracy, -exhausted and discredited, subsided for forty years into a dreamless sleep.

At the close of the sixteenth century, the only constitutional change which had been effected by the popular spirit of the Reformation was, as we have seen, the presence of shire-members in Parliament; and this change, slight enough at best so long as the Lords of the Articles controlled legislation, was reduced to insignificance by the overthrow of theocratic pretensions, and the union in 1603 of the Scottish and English crowns. Removed to a great distance from the tumults and feudal disorders of his native kingdom, and wielding the resources of a separate and powerful State, James, with no fear for his personal safety, governed Scotland “through the post”; and the Presbyterian democracy, which had once defied his prerogative, was gradually moulded into an Episcopal form. Addressing the English Parliament in 1607, he said: “This I may say for Scotland, and may truly vaunt it: here I sit and govern it with my pen; I write and it is done; and by a Clerk of the Council I govern Scotland now—which others could not do with the sword.” The Estates met less and less frequently during this period, and the restoration of Episcopacy, completed in 1612, made them wholly subservient to the royal will. The spiritual Estate had gained a predominating influence in electing the Lords of the Articles, and, so long as that Estate comprised a considerable number of titular abbots and priors, the usage was not wholly inimical to freedom of choice. When, however, the prelacies long held by laymen had been legally secularised, and the spiritual peers were reduced to thirteen bishops appointed by the Crown, the Lords of the Articles became a mere committee of the King’s friends.

There is no evidence that this system of royal absolutism would in itself have provoked a revolution; for it was never directly challenged on constitutional grounds, and encountered no resistance till it had come into conflict with the three great forces of Scottish politics— aristocracy, nationality and religion. Complaint was made that in the Parliament held in person by Charles I. in 1633 “voices were bought and packed”; but this was merely an indication of the storm that was being aroused by Charles’s interference with the ecclesiastical property of the nobles—their tithes and church lands, and by his persistence in his father’s attempt to introduce Anglican forms of worship. The movement which took the Covenant as its watchword originated in much the same causes—national, social and religious—as the Reformation, but it embraced the lower as well as the upper and the middle class, and had a far greater influence on parliamentary forms. The Committee of the Articles, which the bishops had manipulated, was abolished at their deposition; but Parliament, despite its freedom of debate and legislation, was still much inferior to the General Assembly as a popular force; and it was not till the Assembly donned what it called “the spiritual armour” of Andrew Melville, till it condemned an Act of Parliament and prohibited all persons from obeying it “as they would not incur the wrath of God and the censures of the Kirk,” that the civil authority asserted, and succeeded in establishing, its power. Cromwell, by defeating the expedition in support of the Royalist cause in England, which the Church had vainly opposed, enabled theocracy to retrieve its defeat; but Melville’s spiritual kingdom estranged its great ally by making a Covenanter of Charles II.; and that kingdom, in a year and a half, had become a byword for fanaticism and extravagance when Cromwell in 1650 demolished it for ever at Dunbar.

The half-century, 1660-1707, extending from the Restoration to the Union, is conterminous with the last and most important phase of the Scottish Parliament. Religion was never again, except at one brief crisis, to be the principal factor in politics, for the re-establishment of Episcopacy, violently as it was resisted in certain districts, was accepted without demur in the Parliament House; the General Assembly continued in abeyance till 1690, when it rapidly subsided into a purely ecclesiastical court; and nothing is more noticeable in the public records of this period than the interest excited by questions of industry and trade. Under such conditions, indicating the growth of a secular spirit, the legislature could not fail to gain in strength. The Committee of the Articles, elected in such a manner as to place it once more at the disposal of the Crown, was indeed restored; but overtures, not presented through this medium, could be directly introduced; and the House was no longer content to efface itself whilst the Articles were at work. It met frequently; lively debates and close divisions were not uncommon—divisions so close that we read of a motion being carried by the Chancellor’s casting vote; the Government had to cajole and threaten as well as to command; and it has been remarked as proof of the growing interest in politics that burgh seats were becoming an object of ambition to landowners, and that in 1678 a committee was appointed for the first time to determine controverted elections. When Lauderdale as the King’s Commissioner opened Parliament in 1673, he “met with such a spirit as he thought never to have seen,” and found that a compact party, inspired, as he believed, by Shaftesbury, the English Opposition leader, was determined not only to attack his fiscal policy, but to subvert "that excellent constitution of the Articles which is the security of monarchical government here”; and the common purpose which united the opponents of despotism in Scotland and England received further illustration in the following reign. James VII. opened his direct assault on British Protestantism by attempting to procure a statutory toleration for the Scottish Catholics; and, after a keen contest, which was watched with great anxiety in London, his proposal was reduced by the Articles to a bare concession of private worship, and in this form was summarily rejected by the House.

James, however, exerted his prerogative in both kingdoms to suspend the penal laws; and, when this step had caused a revolt of his English subjects, the Estates concurred in his deposition, and, in offering the Crown to William and Mary, declared in the Claim of Right that the late sovereign had violated "the fundamental constitution of this kingdom and altered it from a legal limited monarchy to an arbitrary despotic powers; that he had publicly asserted his right to “annul and disable all the laws’’; that he had levied money without their consent; that he had imprisoned persons without cause assigned, and delayed to put them to trial; that he had dictated the decisions of judges; and that he had subverted the third Estate by nominating the town-councils which elected its representatives in Parliament. In another document certain “grievances” were enumerated which could not be called illegal, since all or most of them had received statutory recognition; and first on the list, as might have been anticipated, was the Committee of the Articles. William yielded to both petitions; but he was no less reluctant than Lauderdale to give effect to a reform which would deprive him of all influence in the making of laws except the precarious and very unpopular one of refusing his assent. As Episcopacy had been abolished, the Committee could not in any case have been chosen in the old way, and it was proposed that each Estate should elect its own members; but this concession was very far from satisfying the House; and in 1690 William was forced to agree to an Act which provided that there should no longer be “a standing committee,” and that the King’s Ministers, though entitled to attend such temporary and specific committees as might be appointed, should have power only to propose and debate, not to vote.

Henceforth, during the seventeen years of life which still remained to it, the Scottish Parliament was as completely unfettered as the Irish Parliament was to be for one year longer after the British Cabinet had lost the initiative in legislation through the repeal in 1782 of Poynings’ Law; and the Ministers of George III., when they strained every resource of corrupt influence in Ireland to compensate the Crown for the loss of direct control, were merely repeating a policy which had been pursued in Scotland by William, and, less successfully, by the advisers of Queen Anne. Of the problem which had thus arisen, Union inevitably suggested itself as the only permanent solution—the problem how a legally independent Parliament at Edinburgh or Dublin was to be reconciled with a Ministry which, tacitly in the one case, avowedly in the other, took its orders from the English Court; and Scottish and Irish patriots denounced in almost identical terms the expedients with which this difficulty was temporarily met. “Let no man say,” exclaimed Fletcher of Saltoun, “that it cannot be proved that the English Court has ever bestowed any bribe in this country. For they bestow all offices and pensions; they bribe us and are masters of us at our own cost. It is nothing but an English interest in this House that those who wish well to our country have to struggle with at this time.” “Before 1782,” said Wolfe Tone, “England bound us by her edict. Since 1782 we are bound by English influence acting through our own Parliament.”

This, at least, it may be supposed, was a genuine movement in favour of constitutional reform, but the causes in which it originated, even if we put aside the personal and the religious element, were not really of that kind. We have seen that in the case of a people whose nationality was so intense and so precarious as that of the Scots, it was hardly possible for a crisis to arise in which independence was not more or less involved; and, when we look more closely into the course of events which has just been described, we find that the opposing forces were not merely a legislature and an executive, but a Scottish Parliament and what was virtually an English Crown. The quarrel of the kingdoms, which had lately been religious, was now commercial. During the first half of the seventeenth century, the Scots had been practically free to trade with England and her colonies to the extent of their very limited means; but this boon, which the incorporating union effected by Cromwell formally conferred, was withdrawn by the Navigation Act of 1660; and the Scottish Parliament not only retaliated on English shipping, but exhausted its ingenuity for twenty or thirty years in devising a system of tariffs, exemptions and monopolies to protect the home market, to introduce new industries, and to revive the old. Two abortive conferences were held—one to reconcile Scottish and English commerce, the other to promote a union. When the Estates in 1673 were called upon to contribute to the war with Holland, a member fell upon the war and said it was only for the benefit of England, for their trade and their plantations, wherein this kingdom were made worse than strangers.” A new commission to negotiate a commercial treaty was appointed at the accession of James VII.; and that sovereign, when soliciting repeal of the anti-Catholic laws, declared that “we have made the opening of a free trade with England our particular care, and are proceeding in it with all imaginable application.”

After the Revolution, which emancipated Parliament and finally disposed of the religious dispute, the patriotic rather than constitutional character of the agitation in Scotland was soon completely disclosed. Despairing of any abatement in their favour of the English colonial monopoly, the Estates in 1693 passed an Act for the encouragement of foreign trade, and, two years later, established a Scottish East India Company, which, however, formed a settlement, not in India, but on the isthmus of Darien. When this scheme collapsed, mainly, it was believed, owing to English ill-will, they passed the Act of Security, providing that the successor to Queen Anne in Scotland should not be her successor in England unless such conditions of government had previously been enacted a/s should secure from English interference the sovereignty of the kingdom, its legislative power, its religion and trade; and the following were the conditions, only the first of which, in common with the Act of Security, received the royal assent: that the sovereign should not make war or peace on behalf of Scotland without consent of Parliament; that Parliament should be consulted in the appointment of Ministers, privy councillors and judges; that a new Parliament should meet every third year, from which revenue officers were to be excluded, and that Scotland should be represented by its own ambassadors in all treaties with foreign Powers. Alarmed by this threat of separation in the midst of a French war, the English Parliament resolved to treat for union; and the flower of the Nationalist party, realising that England was now offering commercial privileges, and would be less likely than ever to make such a concession if her corrupt influence in Scotland were cut off by constitutional reforms, decided, as one of them ruefully expressed it, cc to drink the potion to prevent greater evils.” Henceforth Jacobitism was the only compact force enlisted against the Union; and it shows how much more the Scots were attached to their religious than to their political constitution that, unpopular as the Union was, no Whig or Presbyterian, with some rare exceptions, was prepared to obtain its repeal at the price of restoring a Catholic prince.

From this survey we are forced to conclude that, whilst the Scots before the Union were anything but a long-suffering or submissive people, their social condition was too backward and unsettled to permit of that development of private rights under the protection of the law which in England had for centuries been encroaching on the royal power. Legal shackles were no real impediment to a Scottish king, who, nevertheless, if he offended any powerful section of his subjects, was not unlikely to be resisted or deposed. Various movements, apparently constitutional, have been reviewed; but they all resolve themselves on analysis into emanations of class interest, of the religious or the national spirit; and there was no continuity in these movements, such as would have enabled the Church to appeal to rights extorted by the nobles, and Nationalists to principles established by the Church. When the representatives of a nation which had developed no constitutional tradition were called upon to take their share at Westminster in adjusting the delicate relations of Crown and Parliament, it might easily have been predicted in which scale their weight would be cast; and in the course of this work we shall have frequent occasion to question, if not to invert, the statement of Buckle with regard to the Scots—expressing what he took to be “the largest and most important fact in their history”—that they were liberal in politics, illiberal in religion.

The Scottish Parliament passed away in 1707, but there was one part of its constitution which survived intact for a century and a quarter, and that was the rules it had laid down for the election of its shire and burgh members. The example of England is sufficient to prove that a high degree of political freedom may be attained without any adequate provision for consulting the popular will; but in this case the representative system was mutilated and anomalous rather than organically unsound. In the English county elections before the reign of Henry VI. serfdom was practically the sole disqualification for a vote; and, even after the Act of 1430, which restricted the franchise to freeholders of forty shillings’ annual value, the county representation was still so liberal in character that its enlargement was the principal remedy proposed by Chatham and the early advocates of parliamentary reform. The urban as well as the rural constituencies had originally been free, but only 59 boroughs out of 203 could claim, or even pretend to, that character at the date of the Reform Bill; for in all but these the right of election accruing to householders had been restricted by local usage or had wholly disappeared. In one group it depended on the holding by burgage tenure of ancient tenements or their site; which might be a ploughed field, as at Old Sarum; a water-course, as at Downton; or a salt-spring which had long ceased to flow, as at Droitwich; in another group it was the privilege of a freeman, in the modern signification of that word as the member of a trade guild; and in a third it had been engrossed by the council. This last group, once perhaps the largest, had been diminished in consequence of efforts made by the townsmen to recover their power; and in 1832 there were only 43 boroughs in which popular rights had been so completely usurped that a member was wont to speak, not of his constituents, but of his corporation. In all these groups, by no means rigidly defined, were comprised places of no importance, chiefly in the south-west, which had been enfranchised by the Tudors as a means of extending the influence of the Crown in Parliament, and places, once prosperous, which had fallen into decay; and these nomination or pocket boroughs—so-called because territorial magnates could dispose of them at pleasure—were so numerous that 84 individuals, “by their own immediate authority,5’ were said in 1793 to return 157 members. Nevertheless, in some of the householder constituencies, and in many of the freeman group, there was a sufficient number of voters to contribute, so far as electoral abuses permitted, a popular element to the House. Whilst half-a-dozen inhabitants elected the two members for Gatton, there were 1300 on the roll of Northampton, 2200 on that of Preston, 17,000 on that of Westminster. Rye, the smallest freeman borough, had only six electors; but there were 1200 at Exeter and Carlisle, over 2000 at Worcester, York and Liverpool, 3500 at Nottingham, 6000 at Bristol, and 12,000 in the City of London.

In contrast with this representative system, the shrunken embodiment of a worthy ideal, we have now to consider one which was illiberal in theory, and in practice had become unspeakably worse. When the first Earl of Stair was called to account by the Estates for having said that an Act of theirs was "but a decreet of the Baron Court,” he excused himself on the ground that “the representation here was feudal”; and the words were as true in 1830 as when they were uttered in 1701. The Scottish Parliament, which the British legislature absorbed, was not a national institution, for its elected members and their constituents were alike dependent on fiefs or charters derived from the Crown. If the election laws and usages had been the same in Scotland as in England, it might indeed have been of little practical importance whether the Parliament at Edinburgh represented the King’s subjects or only his immediate vassals; and for a considerable period the two codes had something in common. When the Scottish county franchise was introduced in 1585, it was based, like the English, on a forty shilling freehold; but the Scottish freeholders, who did not include in their ranks the poorer gentry and the yeomanry, were a far less numerous body than the same class in England; and this small electorate was made a great deal smaller by an Act passed in 1681. Of two alternative qualifications which were then established, the first was “a forty shilling land of old extent held of the King.” The words "of old extent" referred to a general valuation which had been made, nearly four centuries earlier, in the reign of Alexander III.; and the difference thus inaugurated between the real and the nominal value went on increasing till in 1793 the rent of land rated for election purposes at forty shillings was computed at from 70 to 130 sterling. Thus, whilst in England the county franchise fell automatically with the decrease in the purchasing power of moneyi in Scotland it rose. Where a freeholder could not appeal in support of his claim to the “old extent,” he might nevertheless acquire a vote if his property was assessed in the books of the land tax Commissioners at the actual value of 400 Scots, equivalent in 1793 to 400 sterling; and the qualification required under this clause was thus nearly four times as high as that established by the other.

Custom soon perverted, and in many cases even extinguished, the very small representation permitted to Scottish counties by the Act of 1681. Nobles and other great proprietors multiplied freehold qualifications on their estates, and assigned them to their dependents in temporary and conditional grants. At the first general election after the Union, Queensberry, the Government manager, was accused of "splitting freeholds and making fraudulent sales of them with clauses of revocation”; and this practice, which had probably begun in still earlier times, continued till 1714, when the British Parliament prescribed an oath to expose such conveyances in trust. The legislation of 1681 now suggested a more subtle device to those whose evasion of the law had thus been checked. As the Act of that year admitted as a qualification property or superiority, or, in other words, superiority whether or not accompanied with proprietary rights, it became usual to transfer parcels of land valued at not less than 400 Scots from the Crown to subject-superiors, and thus to create votes by a mere manipulation of tenure." No bond or trust was needed, the superior being entitled to only a nominal rent. With a view to putting down this abuse, the trust-oath of 1714 was re-enacted in 1734, with the addition of a stringent clause in which any person claiming to be enrolled as an elector might be called upon to swear "that my title to the said lands and estates is not nominal or fictitious, created or reserved in me in order to enable me to vote for a member to serve in Parliament.” But ‘‘naked superiorities,” worth a penny or sixpence a year, continued of course to be a perfectly legal qualification; and very few of those—frequently non-residents—who had acquired them for political purposes scrupled to take an oath, the falsity of which was so difficult to detect. In the course of this work we shall find that further and little more successful attempts were made to exterminate “these nominal esquires, these barons of shreds and patches.” Meanwhile, we may content ourselves with a glance at the county electorate as it existed after the Act of 1681 had been in operation for more than a century.

From a very careful estimate3 printed in 1790, it appears that there were then 2655 voters in the counties of Scotland, and that 1318 of these, or nearly one half, were fictitious. The proportion of fictitious to real voters varied greatly in different districts, but, on the whole, it was lowest in the east and south, and highest in the west and north. In Midlothian, the purest county, there were only 10 nominal freeholders out of 93, in Perthshire 19 out of 147, in Fife 32 out of 185. In Argyll, Aberdeenshire, Caithness and Orkney the two classes were about equal; but the “parchment barons ” were either a considerable or a great majority in the counties of Ayr, Lanark, Renfrew, Dumbarton, Inverness, Moray, Banff, Nairn, Cromarty, Sutherland, Kinross, Clackmannan, and Bute. Of 123 voters in Banff only 19 were real, of 114 in Renfrew only 32, of 83 in Inverness only 20, and of 12 in Bute only 3.

If the Scottish people in rural constituencies were not wholly excluded from the franchise, in the burghs that result had long been attained. In accordance with the constitution of the Scottish Parliament as the King’s feudal court, representation was confined to the “free burghs royal,” whose charters of erection were derived from the Crown. Corporate election of burgh members, which prevailed to a limited extent in England, had always been universal in Scotland, but till 1469 the town-councils were chosen by the burgesses at large. In that year, on account of “great trouble and contention "occasioned yearly" through multitude and clamour of common, simple persons, "an Act was passed which provided“ that the old council of the town shall choose the new council; and henceforward the people had no voice in the election of burgh members, with the exception—if exception it can be called—that in burghs possessing trade-guilds (37 out of 66) a fraction of the council was elected, to some extent, by these bodies. All the royal burghs except Edinburgh, which returned one member, were bracketed at the Union in groups of four or five, in order to reduce their representation from 66 members to 15. The council of each burgh in a group elected a delegate, and the delegates in conjunction elected the member. At the date of the Reform Bill the total burgh electorate numbered 1303, whilst in the whole of Scotland, with a population of nearly 2 millions, there were little more than 4000 voters. A much larger total was to be found on the roll of many English counties, and there were several towns in England where a single by-election took more voters to the poll than a general election in Scotland.

The Scottish contingent at Westminster was completed by a body of sixteen peers, who were supposed to represent the nobility who had sat in the national Parliament, whilst the forty-five commoners gave countenance to a similar fiction in regard to counties and burghs. Legally the nobles were quite unfettered in their choice, but in practice they almost invariably accepted a Government list.

It remains only to point out that the political subservience which resulted from these conditions was as fully developed in the first half of the eighteenth century as we shall find it to have been in the second. Called to take part in politics more English than British, inheriting no constitutional spirit, and confronted with a representative system in which such a spirit, had it existed, could have found no expression, the Scottish upper class looked to a parliamentary career chiefly as a means of earning the spoils of office; and, having a sufficient equivalent at command, they seldom failed to obtain their reward. With reference to the general election of 1708, the first after the Union, Bishop Burnet remarks that Ministers had “laid it down for a maxim not to be departed from, to look carefully to elections in Scotland that the members returned from them might be in an entire dependence on them and be either Whigs or Tories as they should shift sides”; and the policy thus initiated was steadily pursued. In 1711, after another general election had brought the Tories into power, the opening of Parliament was believed to have been delayed in order to allow time for the arrival of the Scottish members, who were “all of the Court party”; and, more than thirty years later, when it was proposed to exempt Scotland from the imposition of certain Catholic fines, an English member of the Commons said that he knew of no reason for such exemption “unless it was because forty-five Scottish representatives in that House always voted as they were directed.” When measures affecting their own country were introduced, the Scottish members were by no means unanimous, and might even oppose the Government, as, with one exception, they did in the case of the Porteous Bill; but on all other questions their conduct on the whole,4 in both Houses, was such as fully to justify their reputation as “a dead Court weight.”

Politics, at all events Westminster politics, do not bulk very largely in the development of Scotland during the latter half of the eighteenth century; but the conclusions we have arrived at in the course of this Introduction may prove to be of service in a much wider field. From the Union of 1707 till the area of representation was immensely enlarged in 1832, the spirit of a defunct legislature was never exorcised, the grasp of its lifeless hand was never relaxed, from Scottish public life; and a knowledge of what this influence involved may help us to understand how it was that in the ecclesiastical and in the social sphere intellectual liberality and practical repression were too often combined.


Return to Book Index Page