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Progress in Parliament
Once the Articles of Union were released, the next step for the government was to persuade the Scottish Parliament to agree to them and pass or ‘ratify’ the Treaty. At the start of the 1706 session of Parliament there was no guarantee that union would be approved. All the politicians recognised that something had to be done to resolve the situation with England. There was also genuine concern to improve Scotland’s position – the country at the time was poor and getting poorer.
The Treaty was debated article by article in the Scottish Parliament from October 1706 until January 1707. Each of the 227 members had to consider the arguments for and against union and make up his mind as to whether he would vote in favour of the Treaty or not.
On 14 October 1706, the Earl of Mar wrote to Godolphin to update him as to how matters were progressing in Edinburgh.
… The opposing Party found themselves so weak that they were afraid to hazard much, so they proposed severall things to get a delay for some days & amongst other things a fast, to pray for God’s direction in this great affair that is before us. But they were forced to let it fall & yield to the reading of the Articles of Union & Tuesday was appointed for taking them into consideration & proceeding on them.
If they make any effort then, it will be by proposing that the elective members shou’d have time to consult their constituents before we proceed to the affair of the Union, by which they think to put it off for this session of Parliament. But the Union has taken so much that there will not be a party sufficient to do this, as I believe, so perhaps they will not attempt it, but endeavour to alter some of the Articles, tho I believe they will not have strength to do that either. Therefor I hope your Lordship may reasonably expect success in the wholle affair.
(National Records of Scotland, Mar and Kellie papers, GD124/15/462/4)
On 6 October 1706, the Duke of Hamilton wrote to his mother with news that the Squadrone Volante had decided to support the union. He supposed they would all be rewarded in some way. Hamilton himself played a devious game during the debate. He was very popular with the crowds as an anti-unionist, but he let his party down on several occasions, most notably when he proposed that the Queen should choose the union commissioners. He had a claim to the throne of Scotland and had dabbled with France, leaving himself liable to charges of treason. He had extensive English estates which would have been threatened had the Alien Act come into operation. He was also deeply in debt and open to offers of reward.
My heart is Broke for the Business of this nation surpases all that was ever known or heard off.
The Squadrone have keep’t up their sentiments with great cautiousnes till this day they have declared them selves all as one man for the union… Roxburghe is to be a Duke of Brittan imediatly, what Tweedall & the others are to have I know not. It’s wonderful men should goe soe much against their own Light…what this new acquired force may produce I can’t tell but had it not been for this I think wee might have gained a delay. Ther is some trick in this which I can’t yet penetrate into.
(National Records of Scotland, Hamilton papers: GD406/1/7854)
The Earl of Mar kept Godolphin informed about the views of the presbyterian clergy in Scotland who were opposed to union as they feared that the Church would come under English control. He wrote this letter in October 1706.
…I must acquaint your Lordship that the humor in the country against the Treaty or Union is much increased of late & I must acknowledge the Ministers preaching up the danger of the Kirk is a principal cause of it, & the opposing party’s misrepresenting every Article of the Treaty make the Commonality believe that they will be oppressed with taxes.
These & other byways have altered, all of a sudden, the inclinations of the populace very much as to the Union & most of the Churchmen are not like to behave so wisely nor prudently as I expected. Yet the Union will certainly do in the Parliament but I’m afraid some people may commit some foolish irregular thing either before it pass or after it…
(National Records of Scotland, Mar and Kellie papers, GD124/15/462/6)
One of the most famous anti-union speeches in the whole debate was given on 2 November 1706 by Lord Belhaven.
In highly emotional tones, Belhaven described his vision of Scotland after the union and included a side-swipe at the Squadrone for supporting the terms. His speech was reported widely, was printed and became very popular.
…I think I see the Honest Industrious Trades-man loaded with new Taxes and Impositions, disappointed of the Equivalents, drinking Water in Place of Ale, eating his saltless Pottage, Petitioning for Encouragement to his Manufacturies, and Answered by counter-petitions…
(National Records of Scotland, Ogilvy of Inverquharity papers, GD205/Box39/Portfolio 9. By kind permission of Francis Ogilvy of Inverquarity)
A fellow commissioner described the speech.
At last Belhaven gave us ane studyed speech, which continowed near ane hour, and in which there were a great many beautifull things, with abundance of flummery and stufe… and towards the conclusion he fell a-weeping and cryed out ‘Shal we not find a tounge to emplore mercy in behalfe of our dying mother country?’…
(National Records of Scotland, Yule papers, GD90/2/172)
The image above right shows John Hamilton, 2nd Baron Belhaven, 1656-1708, by an unknown artist, after Sir Godfrey Kneller, from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery Collection.
James Douglas, Duke of Queensberry, her Majesty’s Commissioner, wanted Parliament to vote in favour of union but was concerned that the issue of taxation under a British government could prevent fellow members of Parliament from supporting the vote.
Queensberry recorded his views in a letter dated 10 December 1706.
… So the greatest difficulty realy lies on the matter of impositions on salt and malt. …The opposers of the Union have so frighted the people about these Taxes, in representing them in some cases three or four, and in others at least 5 or 6 times as heavy as they realy are, or possibly can be, that there is hardly any persuading of them to understand, or hear the truth, and had it not bin for this Committee of Parliament to have taken such hearty and unwearied pains to inform themselves, and others, it had bin impossible to bring them to so good an issue as I still hope we shall.
(National Records of Scotland, Marchmont papers, GD158/1153. By kind permission of Lord Polwarth)
The image on the left shows James Douglas, 2nd Duke of Queensberry, 1662-1711, by an unknown artist, from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery Collection.