Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Old World Scotland
Chapter XXII. The Union

IN Scotland the accession of James Vi. to the English throne was matter for almost boundless satisfaction. Short of the actual conquest of her "auld enemy," nothing could have touched the nation's vanity to anything like such pleasant purpose. Apparently the problem of the relationship between the two countries had been finally solved, and solved (from a Scottish point of view) in a fashion preposterously felicitous; but it was not long ere the honour done the northern kingdom was discerned to be no more than merely nominal. Except in the rewards bestowed on a few needy courtiers, the real and solid advantages that might have been expected to follow in its train were nowhere visible, while the drawbacks of the new connection were presently a matter of acute experience. Nominally the era of avowed hostility was closed, But the new departure proved as antagonistic to Scottish national interests as the ancient enmity itself. The mere transference of the Court from Edinburgh to London did not involve a great pecuniary loss; but the attention of the sovereign was now primarily occupied with the affairs of the wealthier and more powerful of his kingdoms, and the prosperity of the other became a matter of less vital concern to him. By retaining her legislature Scotland was supposed to retain her nationality, but it was the shadow without the substance, and the privilege was attended by evils as great as those of yore, with none of the old advantages and with no new ones to atone for their loss. Indeed there is no more striking fact in Scottish history than the miserable effect upon Scot- land of the simple union of the crowns her condition was never more gloomy or more desperate than during the century or so that elapsed before the union of the parliaments.

The existence of a separate legislature practically nullified many of the good re- suits anticipated from the advent of a Scots heir to the English throne. As matters turned out the most distinctive result of this arrangement was to foster jealousy between the two countries and to prevent that fusion of sentiment and interest essential to the common and complete welfare of both. In other circumstances, and in an ideal world, it might, could, would, should have been otherwise; but we are here concerned merely with actual facts, not with ideal possibilities. For a whole century-- with the exception of eight years-after the union of the crowns, separate legislatures existed in Scotland and in England, and the effect upon the poorer kingdom seems to have been nothing less than disastrous. Only once in all the seventeenth century did she enjoy a flicker of prosperity, and that was (luring the eight years of Cromwell's Protectorate, when—her legislative independence having been snatched from her by force—she was united to England on terms of Cromwell's own dictation. Under the Protectorate Scotland and England were treated in all respects as one, and immediately the immense advantages to Scotland began to be manifest. But Cromwell's rule was too brief to permit of more than the beginnings of prosperity and at the Restoration she recovered her old independence, and with it all its previous drawbacks and detriments. By the English Navigation Act of 1602 she was debarred from all trade with the English colonies, and could only use her ships to bring goods to England not of Scottish growth or manufacture; she adopted similar regulations for herself; and trade between the two countries was further hampered by enactments made by each in her own supposed or apparent interests. The wisdom of these enactments it is unnecessary to consider; it is enough to note that they were inevitable while the two countries remained separate, and that from their effects it was equally inevitable that Scotland should be the main if not the only sufferer. Not only did she fail to keep pace with the advance of England, but the close of the century found her even poorer than at the beginning. "Partly through our own fault," wrote Fletcher of Saltoun in 1698, ''and partly by the removal of our king into another country, this nation, of all those who possess good ports and lie conveniently for trade and fishing, has been the only part of Europe which did not apply itself to commerce, and, possessing a barren country, in less than an age we are sunk to so low a condition as to be despised by all our neighbours, and made incapable to repel an injury if any should be offered." While England had been laying the foundations of her great colonial empire, and establishing centres of trade and commerce in well nigh every part of the habitable globe, the foreign trade of Scotland, never of any great importance, had gradually fallen almost to zero. Again, the insecurity of the Lowland districts previous to the union of the crowns had seriously hindered the growth of towns and the establishment of manufactures; in a large proportion of the population there had been fostered such a habit of rieving and plundering as made the prosecution of peaceful industries intolerably irksome, while the religious conflicts of the century were strong to distract and divert attention from commercial enterprise. Theoretically at least, by some of the sterner fanatics, the pursuit of riches was held positively sinful ; to the injunction not "to love the world nor the things of the world " they pretended to give a rigid and literal interpretation. No doubt also the fines inflicted upon recusants, and the other hardships incident to the long period of Covenanting persecution, had contributed not inconsiderably to the general impoverishment; but when, towards the close of the century, the nation began to turn from barren (certainly in a material, and it is to be feared also in a spiritual, sense) religious controversy to the promotion of trade and manufactures, some preachers did not fail to predict that for this preference of temporal to eternal interests the wrath of the Most High would sooner or later he made manifest in some signal judgment.

Latterly the nobles themselves were largely exposed to the stress of indigence. In ancient times their power and influence and consequent prosperity depended chiefly on the numbers of their followers, but with a greatly increased population and altered conditions of society this no longer held good. The poverty which for some generations had preyed upon the general community now began to attack them in turn. Not only were the majority of them unable to do anything to promote agricultural or commercial enterprise, but in London some of them sank so low as hell-keeping and other shifts no whit more reputable. The younger sons of the gentry, finding no sphere for their ambition at home, hired them selves out as mercenaries ; but the fortune they won by arms was commonly no greater than that of Rittmaster Dalgetty; and, if at all, it was only negatively that they assisted to relieve the desperate poverty by which their country was prostrated. By the end of the century she had reached a stage of collapse from which unaided it was impossible to rally. Her only manufacture of any particular importance was linen, and its extension was seriously hampered by the English trade restrictions. Other manufactures—as glass, soap, paper, and wool—had been introduced of late, but their progress was preposterously slow. In the conveniences and comforts of civilised life she was miserably behind the rest of Europe. Her commerce with her sister- nations had utterly failed to keep pace with the growth of her population, so that in 1656 her fleet consisted of no more than 137 barques and brigantines, of 5,736 tons —about a three-hundredth part of her present tonnage. Scientific agriculture was yet unknown to her, and for some centuries her agricultural resources had remained incapable of expansion. From a combination of causes she was burdened with a surplus population over a hundred thousand strong, who followed no occupation and subsisted upon alms as often bestowed upon compulsion as from benevolence. She had missed her golden opportunity of colonising and of commerce; she had been thrown back upon her barren soil and her limited acreage; she had ceased to possess within herself the means of extrication from the state of grinding poverty to which she was reduced. Her desperate circumstances were the more galling in contrast to that magnificent career of adventure and prosperity upon which her rival had entered. That in 1696 she should have embarked with feverish eagerness upon an enterprise so transparently foolish as the Darien Expedition can only be explained by the fact that she grasped at this delusive opportunity as her only hope. Rendered desperate by her pitiable plight and by jealousy of England, she staked her whole fortune on this cast of the dice; and the result was such as made union with England inevitable.

If the Darien Expedition had turned out even a partial success, the chances are that the union would have been indefinitely deferred. But even had the scheme been really rational and wise, the country had no sufficient resources within herself to secure its adequate success. To recover herself unaided after so long a period of extreme hardship was practically impossible. Rivalry with England must have severely hampered her commercial enterprise ; and the sister kingdom had got such a start in the race that competition was vain. The demonstration of this was the priceless practical lesson enforced by the Darien disaster. The conviction was imposed upon thoughtful Scotsmen that the achievement of pros- perity lay not in the discovering of El Dorados, but in being admitted to an equal share in the trading chances of England. This was the chief inducement to union, and the Scottish Commissioners demanded as an essential condition "the mutual communication of trade and other privileges and advantages." There was a certain naďve assurance in this way of putting the case: it was clear to all men that for some time at least the reciprocity must necessarily be all on one side, for though England might not lose—of course she was largely the gainer —by the proposed arrangement, her new partner would at least for many years have much the best of this part of the bargain. Her hope of profit from trade alliance with such an insolvent associate must have been of the slightest, while in Scotland's case the alliance meant practical salvation. In both cases the good results far exceeded expectation. England looked for little, and has profited much; Scotland was reconciled to the experiment chiefly by ambition to share in England's prosperity ; and the minor commercial sacrifices made to attain her purpose were soon discovered to be as nothing compared with the benefits that accrued. Hence the lively and lasting contentment in the union which—after one or two spasms of jealousy—gradually possessed the Scottish nation a contentment scarce broken by so much as a murmur of regret till recent times. Of course the prosperity conferred by the union was somewhat slow in growth. Commercial vitality had sunk to so low a point that the development of some symptoms of returning health was of necessity a matter of years. The earliest indication of a decided change for the better was the establishment of the shipping trade of Glasgow and the Clyde with America and the West Indies. Its advance was wonderfully rapid, and one immediate result was the institution of certain manufactures in several western villages, which were soon transformed into populous and thriving towns. This indeed was the first manifestation of that marvellous industrial energy which has made Glasgow and the west one of the great trading centres of the world. The western capital began to "flourish" to far better purpose by her West Indian connection than she had ever done "through the preaching of the Word" during the years when visionary Covenanters "bore the gree" as the ecclesiastical successors of St. Mungo. The effect of the union on the eastern towns and seaports— which were much less conveniently placed for commercial intercourse with the English colonies and dependencies—was naturally much less instant and extraordinary. But throughout Scotland—even in those districts not directly benefited by the establishment of manufactures—the iron grip of poverty resulting from a surplus population was soon relaxed. Alike by the attention they engrossed, the waste of resources they entailed, and the sense of insecurity they left behind, the distractions of the '15 and the '45 were serious hindrances to enterprise; but after the reduction of the Highlands it was perceived that progress and prosperity were really paramount all over the land.

For some time after the union much of the Scottish trade was carried on in English vessels, for the simple reason that Scotland had neither ships of her own nor money wherewith to build them. The first Scots trader that crossed the Atlantic was launched on the Clyde as late as 1718; and forty-two years after, the national tonnage, which in 1712 is stated to have been only 10,046, had increased to 53,913, which was more than trebled before the end of the century. At the union the linen (the staple manufacture until the introduction of cotton) made for sale did not exceed 1,500,000 yards; but in 1727 it was 2,183,978 yards, in 1735 it was over 4,500,000 yards, in 1760 it was over 10,000,000 yards. Before the union the Bank of Scotland, founded in 1695, was the only one in the country, and its existence even was a symptom rather of national poverty than of national affluence —its chief business being the lending of money on heritable bonds. An attempt to widen the scope and improve the quality of its operations by the establishment of branches at Glasgow, Montrose, Dundee, and Aberdeen turned out a complete failure, the parent institution soon finding it impossible to maintain them ; but after the union the banking business began gradually to show unmistakable signs of expansion, the Royal Bank being established in 1727, the British Linen Company in 1746, the Aberdeen Bank in 1749, with two more at Glasgow in 1749 and 170. As for agriculture, the union was the signal for the publication of treatise after treatise upon husbandry and kindred topics, and for the foundation (1723) at Edinburgh of the Society of lmprovers; while towards the latter half of the century many Scots merchants came home from the West Indies with large fortunes, and according to Dr. Somerville, invested these in the purchase of estates, where they further turned their capital to account in stimulating agricultural improvement. Of course it is true that the progress in industrial and commercial enterprise during the years immediately follow- mg the union is not to be compared to the extraordinary advance effected by the introduction of machinery towards the end of the century, when, also, was discovered a source of wealth beyond the dreams of avrice in the immense supplies of coal and iron lost until then in Scottish ground. But at the time of the union all that was a century away, and how without the union, and the consequent relief conferred by admittance to equality in trade with England, could Scotland have tided over that century? All things come round to him that can wait; but could Scotland have waited? The attempt it is clear would have entailed an ordeal of hardship and misery almost too terrible to contemplate. This at least she in great part escaped by the union, and it seems equally clear that but for the English connection her industrial effort, even after the introduction of machinery, would have been badly hampered. Indeed it is difficult to understand what stimulus she would have had to mechanical invention while debarred from all trade communication with English colonies and dependencies. Throughout her history she has owed much to the strength of her own right arm, much to the perseverance and hardihood developed by her long struggle with poverty and England. Since the union the richer and stronger nation has also gained in many ways by its partnership with its neighbour's enterprise and skill; but yet in the later accompt between the two the gods have so willed that the balance of benefit is immensely in Scotland's favour.

Return to Book Index


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus