Next Wednesday the people of Scotland will be voting on a referendum to separate from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and to regain their status as an independent nation. I do not have any idea how the details of the separation will be managed if the referendum passes, particularly how the division of economic and military assets will be managed. I suppose there will be a lot of hard negotiations ahead if Scotland separates. Here is an article in Yahoo News which goes over some of the questions and likely outcomes. An independent Scotland would undoubtedly quickly become a member of the United Nations and it would very likely join the EU and NATO. They would keep the Pound as their currency, if England lets them, and they would retain the monarchy. I imagine, then, that Scotland will revert to the status it held before the 1707 Act of Union, an independent country with its own Parliament which shared a king or queen with England.
Before 1603, Scotland was entirely independent with its own king. Scotland and England were rivals and often enemies in war. Scotland was poorer and less populous than England and by itself, the kingdom was more often a nuisance on England’s northern borders than a real threat. The Scots and the French perceived they had a common enemy in England and in alliance against England, they could divide English strength, and make England’s frequent wars against France more difficult to pursue. The Scots and the English shared the island of Britain and spoke the same language, the Scottish dialect of English had been slowly replacing Scottish Gaelic over the centuries, and by the sixteenth century, it seemed a shame that the two kingdoms didn’t have better relations. In 1503, the Scottish King James IV Stuart married Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of the English king Henry VII, and the two kingdoms formed an alliance. This alliance lapsed when Henry’s son, Henry VIII became king in 1509 and when Henry went to war against France, Scotland fought on the side of France. The idea of a British alliance did not completely fade away.
In the later years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, the question of the succession became critical. Elizabeth had never married and had no children, nor any surviving siblings. Her closest relative was King James VI of Scotland, the great-grandson of James IV and Margaret Tudor and so when Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, James VI became James I of England and he dutifully moved to London rule his new kingdom, founding the Stuart line of English monarchs. At this time England and Scotland were legally separate kingdoms and nations which had the same monarch. In fact James I would have liked to unify the two kingdoms he ruled, but neither the English nor Scottish parliaments showed much enthusiasm for the idea. Oliver Cromwell also attempted to form a united republic of Britain, but that didn’t survive the end of his rule.
The two kingdoms remained separate for as long as the House of Stuart remained on the thrones of England and Scotland. The last male Stuart, James II, grandson of James I was removed from the throne by Parliament in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and replaced by his sister Mary II and her husband William of Orange who reigned as William III of England. William and Mary had no children and while her sister Queen Anne had many children, none survived into adulthood. There was another succession crisis looming, and a real possibility that Scotland and England would have different monarchs. The English Parliament had decided to recognise George of Hanover, a grandson of James I as Anne’s successor. There were a number of Stuarts who had a better claim to the throne,but they were barred from the English succession because they were Roman Catholic. The Stuarts were still popular in Scotland, despite being of the wrong religion and for the next century Stuart pretenders could always gain a following in Scotland.
While the English motive to propose the union was largely political, to keep an independant Scotland from allying with France or Spain against England, the Scots had economic motives for joining with England. By 1700, England had become a major power in international trade and had established colonies in North America. Because Scotland and England were separate countries, the Scots were excluded from participating in this trade and from emigrating to the colonies. Scotland was still a poor country compared to England and its finances were in some disarray. The prospect of joining in English prosperity and empire persuaded many Scots to support union with England and so in 1706 the two kingdoms negotiated a Treaty of Union which was ratified by the English and Scottish Parliaments the following year. The separate Kingdoms of England and Scotland were merged into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, although Ireland was not merged into Britain until 1800.
Well, that was the past and next week we will learn if it is the future of Britain. Personally, I hope the Scottish people decide against independence. Scotland is still a poor country compared to England, though well off by international standards. With England, Scotland is part of the second rank of world powers. Without England, Scotland would have as much influence and power as Denmark. Besides, I would hate to lose the Union Jack.
- Scots Must Vote Nae (nytimes.com)
- Good-Bye To All That, Too? (citizenship.typepad.com)
- Scotland and England: a tale of rivalry and unity (rappler.com)
- An independent Scotland would be less safe (telegraph.co.uk)
- Scottish independence: Queen Elizabeth II urges Scots to ‘think carefully’ on … (abc.net.au)
- A Scottish ‘Yes’ also means exit from EU, NATO (sfgate.com)
- Scottish independence: Lets not go back to Cnut | Tom Holland (theguardian.com)