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 The Acts of Union are presented to Queen Anne by the Duke of Queensbury in 1707

The Acts of Union are presented to Queen Anne by the Duke of Queensbury in 1707

In this first extract of three from A People’s History of Scotland, Chris Bambery describes the social conflict that accompanied the elite deal that was the Union of Scotland and England in 1707

The Edinburgh mob was fiercely anti-union but it was the elite who would decide the future of the nation.

The supposed leader of the opposition was the Duke of Hamilton, feted on the streets of Edinburgh but a landowner in England who was secretly in league with the government in London.

In 1706, this rhyme was overheard on the streets of Edinburgh:

Come to the union lett us ryde
Wee shall do great matters there
Scotland shall be England’s bride
Or else be fuckyt by Earl of Stair[11]

There was popular opposition to the Union, including from the country’s small merchant and commercial class, and from the lower classes of town and country. For several months the Edinburgh mob was almost permanently on the streets, demonstrating and rioting.

Their fear was that union would be followed by Anglicisation of the Kirk, the one institution with any element of democracy, and that it would bring higher taxes. The riots and demonstrations did not stop the treaty going ahead but they did manage to get several of the most offensive clauses changed or deleted. In the end, the lords pushed the treaty through Parliament because the English regime was prepared to guarantee the preservation of their feudal jurisdictions and legal system – their class position.[12]

A majority of the nobility sensed that union would open up new opportunities to them: in London, in the army and through being able to sell their cattle and other produce in England. The Earl of Roxburgh explained in 1705: ‘The motives will be, Trade with most, Hanover with some, ease and security with others.’[13]

Why did the English ruling class want a united British state? Apart from closing the back door to invasion and securing the Hanoverian succession, they were at war with France and the army was a British one. Its commander, the Duke of Marlborough, wanted a centralized state and his argument carried sway.

book cover

Chris Bambery, A People’s History of Scotland (Verso), 320pp.

The  English negotiators conceded that the Church of Scotland would be left untouched and the privileges of the royal burghs and their elites left alone. The nobles could keep their private courts and, most important of all, free trade with England and the colonies was granted, something denied to Ireland. This would create the biggest trading area in the world, no small part of the subsequent rise of what was, in effect, the new British state.

By 1705, a joint Anglo-Scottish parliamentary commission had drawn up a draft treaty of union. The Scottish representatives were selected from supporters of the Hanoverian succession, followers of the Dukes of Queensberry and Argyll. Nonetheless, anger was mounting as it became clear that this was an elite stitch-up. In both Dumfries and Stirling the treaty was burned in public, and rioting broke out in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The writer Daniel Defoe reported a ‘Terrible Multitude’ on Edinburgh’s High Street led by a drummer, shouting and swearing and crying ‘No Union, No Union, English Dogs and the like’.[14]

Defoe, there as an agent for the London government, added that the Scots were a ‘hardened, refractory and terrible people’ and the Scottish ‘rabble’ the worst he had experienced. As the vote was to be taken, troops surrounded the parliament building and the royal palace of Holyrood while two more regiments were stationed in Leith and Musselburgh.[15] It was sufficient to allow the vote to ratify the treaty to be held.


[11] Christopher A. Whatley and Derek J. Patrick,  The Scots and the Union, Edinburgh University Press, 2006, p. 11
[12] ‘How Was This Kingdom United?’ Socialist Worker, 2 October 2004, accessed 27 April 2013
[13] Christopher Harvie, Scotland and Nationalism: Scottish Society and Politics 1707–1977, George Allen and Unwin, 1977, p. 64
[14] Christopher A. Whatley and Derek J. Patrick, The Scots and the Union, pp. 11–12
[15] Ibid.

This article is an extract from A People’s History of Scotland  (pp.56-8)

Tagged under: History Scotland
Chris Bambery

Chris Bambery

Chris Bambery is an author, political activist and commentator, and a supporter of Rise, the radical left wing coalition in Scotland. His books include A People's History of Scotland and The Second World War: A Marxist Analysis.

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