Union – the parasite in Scotland’s body


Parasite – hanger on, one who lives at the expense of society or of others and contributes nothing. (Chambers Dictionary 1998)

by Peter Thomson

Over the last six months what started for me as an investigation into one of my historical antecedents has become a journey of discovery of which substantiated my conviction that Scottish independence will be good for Scotland and the rest of the UK.  This essay is a culmination of my research and the helpful guides, suggestions, criticism and encouragement which my previous pieces on Newsnet Scotland have brought me.

My aim is to tie up key loose ends in the other pieces and create a positive argument for the dissolution of the Union.  In turn I hope that readers will understand that passion and conviction are fine things on their own but unless harnessed together for the long haul, they are easily dissipated by reverses, smart talk and naysayers.

So why did the Lords and Church Estate invite this parasitic relationship to be inflicted on Scotland?

Darien is a smoke screen and not the reason why the Union Treaty was hurried through in unseemly haste.  The Union Treaty was after all about trade and economics.  Or was it?

So what was in the Union for the Three Estates?

The Lords Estate:

They had heavily mortgaged their lands to the rising middle class in the Burghs to fund the Darien fiasco and their creditors were wishing payment, or the Lord’s estates in lieu.  The Burghs were gaining in economic, political and financial power in Scotland.  The Claim of Right had forced the Lords Estate onto the political back foot and their ability to manipulate the Scottish Parliament had been weakened.  Further, the change of Government in London from Whig to Tory meant the money that London’s Whigs had been using to pay off the Jacobite Lords was soon to stop and the Jacobite Lords were murmuring about growing unrest amongst their people.  If the Lord’s Estate did not act quickly they could well be divided and many of them impoverished.  The cash on offer from the Tories in London as a one-off became a survival lifeline and a chance to re-establish control over their Scottish lands.

The Church Estate:

They saw the Union as a chance to impose church law on Scotland through being recognised by the Union Treaty as ‘Scotland’s true church’.  They were also worried at the growing secular power in the Burghs that often was directly used to thwart their own designs for a ‘Godly Scotland’ and their sense of being ‘preordained’ to run Scotland.  Their vision was for a Scotland in which God’s Law – their interpretation of course – was paramount and being the ‘Church’ allowed them to squeeze the remaining Catholic Church in Scotland out of existence: a church that still remained dominant in the Highlands. Catholicism was to be ‘weeded out’ for its seditious attitudes.  Without the check of a Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh they could see only a wining scenario as they took power in Scotland.  While on the surface the ‘Church of Scotland’ appeared as one, there was a history of schism with in the church and a number of factions were already squabbling for internal control of the General Assembly to ensure Scotland got their version of ‘God’ post-Union.

The Burgh Estate:

They could see both the advantages and disadvantages of a UK single market.  Their main concern was the influx of cheap English goods and their impact on local producers and manufacturers.  They feared that there was a hidden agenda to undermine there ancient freedoms and privileges by excluding them from the commissioners destined for London.  Further, their contacts in the Hanseatic League and the Low Countries made clear that the proposed Treaty of Union would shut their markets to the Scots – the French would see to that.  The Burghs could not see how exports to England would take up the slack in the Scottish economy this ‘shut out’ would cause.  The East India Company was already petitioning Westminster to ensure their sole trader status with the English colonies would remain and Scots merchants would continue to be excluded no matter what the Treaty said.  The Burghs were also the main centres of population, and the men and women in their streets had no enthusiasm for the Union, as rioting both before and after made clear.


The Union secured their northern border once and for all at a time when they were still concerned about French support for a rebellion of the Jacobite Highlands.  In reality this problem would not be resolved until 1746 and the aftermath of Culloden.  Equally important, the Union ensured the Hanoverian succession by squeezing out the Stuart claim, finally achieving all that Henry VIII’s ‘rough wooing’ aims had failed to accomplish.

The Union also rid Malborough of the problem of sending Scottish regiments overseas while allowing English regiments to be legitimately deployed in Scotland. It also permitted the creation of regular garrisons permanently based in Scotland which would be necessary for the subjugation and control of the Highland regions while releasing forces in England, no longer needed on the northern border, for his European campaign.

The settlement included in the enactment Act of Union also plugged a hole in the English exchequer, as the pay out to Scottish Jacobite Lords (approximately £100 million a year in today’s money) can be stopped as it was no longer deemed necessary.  Underlying the Treaty was the English Parliament’s desire to wreck the Scottish economy by flooding it with cheap goods, while in reality excluding Scotland’s merchants from any advantage of trade with the English Empire.  The Treaty makes clear that the English Empire and its future expansion is no part of the Treaty and remains the sole concern of Westminster and English interests.

So the advantages for both the Lords and Church Estates were mainly short term and for their own benefit – it was all about power, control and personal enrichment.  England achieved a major political aim at relatively low cost in money and resources by taking Scotland out of the equation as a source of political and military instability, and so was the only real winner in this settlement.  The impact of the Union on Scotland was disastrous.

The Parasite attacks:

Within 2 years of 1707 the Scottish economy, which had been growing by 2.5% per annum in the decade prior to 1707, was in free fall and by 1710 had collapsed and was stagnating.  The Burghs saw their industrial and trading base wiped out, as their export markets were closed and the influx of cheap English goods (while the quid pro quo of trade with the English colonies was blocked by the East India Company through tariffs and trading restrictions).  The impoverishment of the Burghs meant the increasing poverty of their inhabitants with numerous riots against the Union continuing.  The Jacobite Lords were also unhappy with the loss of their ‘Jock Gelt’ and the stability that England had thought it had gained on its northern border was once more threatened by the Jacobites in Scotland.  Even the supporters of the Union who were now ‘commissioners’ had woken up to the pig in a poke they had bought into.  The 4th Lord Selkirk, in attempt to head off the Jacobite unrest and defuse the powder keg created by grinding poverty in the Burghs, sought to have the Treaty annulled in 1714 but was ‘talked out’ by English MPs.  The Commissioners learnt they were very small fish in a large shark pool and now England had what it wanted they were there to be humoured and bought off for their silence.

For the next 70 years Scotland was derided by Westminster at every turn – Dr Johnson spoke for most London intellectuals and Westminster politicians deriding ‘Scotch’ mannerisms and attitudes at every turn – the idea of the ‘Scotch’ heading for London on the ‘make’ and being whiny, a chip on the shoulder and dependent on English largesse has a long and tedious history.  Yet the growing English Empire was increasingly dependent on these whiny but far better educated ‘Scotch’ to run their colonies.  The sphincter tightening events of 1745-46 changed attitudes in London and Westminster to some extent but the real impact of the ’45 rebellion was to turn Scotland into a defacto colony run by a ‘viceroy’ in London.  A state that did not alter until 1999 and one the current coalition are trying to re-impose with Calman minus.  As Westminster now thought of Scotland, when it did bother to consider Scotland, in colonial terms, it is not surprising that breaches of the Treaty of Union came thick and fast.  All these were to the detriment of the Scottish people and Scotland’s economy but were sold as for the ‘greater good’ of Empire.

Because of the grinding poverty in Scotland the emptying of the land began, first in the central and southern areas with the likes of the 5th Lord Selkirk encouraging landless tenants and others to take ship to Canada where he funded the creation of the ‘Red River Colony’, now Manitoba.  The first and main clearance that occurs in Scotland is by and large forced on the Scots by the crushing of their economy, loss of income and is voluntary, though encouraged by land owners by offers of free transport.  This in turn leads the major landowners to shift land use to more profitable inhabitants – the woolly maggots – a move which comes to a head early in the next century with the violence of the Sutherland Clearances.

The transition of the Scottish language has been better covered in a series of features in Newsnet but there are some linguists who consider the deliberate Anglicisation of Broad Scots was part of the process of colonisation as the middle and professional classes in Scotland became very aware that without the ‘Queens English’ they were not going anywhere in UK society very fast – the plum jobs went to Scots who could speak with ‘bools in their mooth’.  The Scotland of Victorian times was epitomised by the romantic novels of Walter Scott and the paintings of Landseer and to this day many English folk still claim to find the Scottish accent unintelligible – often ironic when the comment comes from some one havering in an estuarine Essex accent.  One social impact on this overt attack on Scottish culture was the increasing insularity and parochialness of the bulk of Scots – represented in their reactionary nature to any change – the ‘aye beens’.  This resentment towards the languages of Scotland – both Gaelic and Lallands – is still alive and well in the letters columns of Scotland’s media but why anyone would want to talk like Malcolm Rifkind, who sounds as if he has a permanent poker up his fundament, I just do not know.

The Church of Scotland’s big hope of a ‘Godly Scotland’ quickly came off the rails and by 1841 yet another schism saw an end to its last vestiges of taking ‘national control’.   The Reform Act returned power back to the middle classes: the bankers, the lawyers, the industrialists and as the Victorian era came and went in Scotland, these worthies rose to run Scotland’s cities.  By the end of the First World War power shifted again in Scotland with the rise of the Scottish Independent Labour Party, the Govan Rent Strike and the real sense of threat that the likes of Hardy, Maxton and Maclean brought to the Westminster Government of the day which once again saw English soldiers on Scottish streets.  The Union was once again under threat: once again Westminster took a colonial attitude to the prevention of any move towards an independent Scotland, one that only a few years later would end in the Amritsar Massacre and begin India’s move to independence.

By the 1980s Scotland was again safely in the thrall of Westminster placemen after the skewed independence referendum of the 70s ensured the Scots were in a no-win situation.  But Thatcherism saw a unification of Scots for a political purpose, the success of opposition to the ‘poll tax’ put a political spine into the Scots for the first time in around 250 years and this time would not be cowed by force or economics.  This resulted in the 1998 Scotland Bill, an attempt to stop the worm from turning and killing off the parasite that had kept it in a weakened state for so long.

The SNP victory in 2007 revealed many things that the Unionist parties in Scotland would have preferred to keep under wraps.  Long held Labour fiefdoms such as East Lothian fell and the levels of Labour excesses and Tammany Hall style activities became public across Scotland.  Purcell along with SPT, City Buildings and Strathclyde Police’s sideways attack pointing out the amount of money West of Scotland councils were feeding organised crime saw the beginnings of the cracks in Labour’s heartlands.  The embarrassment of the revelations of the extent to which Labour MPs and councillors in the West of Scotland had been massaging their expenses and the exposure of links between certain of Glasgow’s crop of Labour councillors to organised crime, and the further revelation that a member of one of the major Glasgow gangs had attended a Murphy election fundraiser – and was known to everybody, according to Murphy’s agent – suggests when Glasgow Labour blows, it is going to be messy.

At the opening of the Scottish Parliament Winnie Ewing made clear that it was a reconvening of the session of Parliament suspended in March 1707.  The impact of this statement was thought ‘quaint’, by the likes of Brian Taylor and other Unionist commentators, and of no real significance to the Union: yet the constitutional reality was not missed by Lord Forsyth who made clear, in a warning in the House of Lords, that Scotland could now secede from the Treaty of Union any time the Scottish Parliament voted to make it so.  The reality is that as a ‘representative democracy’ Scottish sovereignty remains with the people of Scotland, we only lend it to the Scottish Parliament and the duly elected MPs to act on our behalf, for the good of Scotland under the entrenched Scottish Constitution, established by the Declaration of Arbroath.

It is time to accept the pain, take the medicine and remove this Union parasite once and for all from the body of Scotland.  Only with this parasite cleansed from Scotland, can we as a nation succeed.