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September 17, 2014

Scottish Independence: A Brief Acesplanation of the English/Scottish Union and Its Possible Undoing

As an attempt to provide a completely new form of journalism I call "Acespanlojournalism," I have done something wholly original, which is to imitate Vox, which is to further say, read a few Wikipedia articles and present them as original research.

Here then the Acesplanation. And I really have to stress this comes from Wikipedia-- this is all their work, rewritten. And I have to stress I knew nothing before reading Wikipedia, so this is non-expert and probably unreliable. (Not because Wikipedia is unreliable -- but because a non-expert digesting what are themselves digests is going to result in a superficial accounting that probably emphasizes the wrong things.)

The Scottish Wars of Independence, and Why That Has Nothing to Do With Any of This

Scotland was an independent state before the Wars for Scottish Independence depicted (inaccurately) in Braveheart, too. English control of Scotland was a fairly short-lived affair. The Scottish king, Alexander III, died, and then so did his daughter and heir at a young age, leading to a disputed succession.

Edward I -- who I'll just call "Edward Longshanks," because we all know him from Braveheart -- graciously offered to mediate the succession dispute, and came up with a terrific solution pleasing to all parties: He invaded Scotland and declared himself "Lord Paramount," overlord over whatever king should eventually take the Scottish throne.

Longshanks was depicted as the villain in Braveheart, but you gotta admit: That's a Pimp move, man.

This sparked the First and Second Wars of Scottish Independence, which were fought in rapid succession.

Ultimately, Robert the Bruce became King of Scotland and managed to drive out Edward and his pretender to the throne (a man named Edward Balloi), and Scotland was free once more.

These events are actually pretty much unconnected to the union of Scotland and England, and I only mention them to emphasize that: They're not connected. It's not as if Longshanks' forces continued to hold Scotland to the present.

The actual union of England and Scotland was accomplished by a Union of the Crowns and a voluntary treaty, much later.

There is something currently relevant in all this, though: The Scots had traditionally used the Stone of Scone, also called the Stone of Destiny, as an artifact used to solemnize the crowning of new kings.

England and Scotland have fought and argued over the ownership of this Stone. Longshanks captured it during the wars. By treaty, it was supposed to be returned to Scotland, but, get this, the English ignored the treaty and kept the rock.

In fact, the Stone was not returned to Scotland until 1996, when Scots began grumbling about the terms of the political union with England. But they agreed to lend it back to England, for its own coronations.

There's a reason the English want it for their own coronations -- the English and Scottish crowns soon became tangled up and unified.

King James I, King of England and Scotland

King James VI of Scotland also became King James I of England when the English crown passed to him. Elizabeth I of England, the so-called Virgin Queen, died in 1603. Being a so-called Virgin Queen, she had no children, so her crown passed to her cousin, James VI of Scotland. This resulted in the "Union of the Crowns," both the Scottish and English crowns now possessed by James VI (or James I to the English).

The Crowns themselves were not united, that is, they were not melted into a single crown; there were two crowns, for the two kingdoms. But they both sat on the same head.

However, this suggested the idea that Scotland and England ought to unite politically and become a single unified kingdom, rather than two kingdoms ruled by the same king.

There were various attempts at this throughout the seventeenth century, but they all came to naught due to various objections to such a scheme. For example, English king's power was circumscribed by the Magna Carta and English constitution and Pariamentary power and so forth; James VI, on the other hand, had more absolute kingly power in Scotland. The English Parliament worried that he would attempt to serve as a more powerful king in England, and rejected attempts at political union.

Scotland, too, objected to a union. It is our right and duty to laugh at England for being silly and weak, like a woman, but England was, at the time, pretty big shakes, at least by the feminized standard of the Weak European Male. It was rich and powerful and its navies ruled the seas and it had overseas colonies.

Scotland, on the other hand, was relatively poor and weak, and feared being dominated by their powerful, rich cousins to the south. The worried about the "lesser being drawn into the greater," and that was them talking when they called themselves "the lesser."

So, you know: They were well aware that any union with England would be an unequal one.

And they didn't agree to such a union until they got themselves into a bit of a disaster.

The Darien Disaster

Scotland decided to try its hand at being a world power. In furtherance of that, they established an overseas colony, just like England had, at the Gulf of Darien, in Panama.

It did not go well. You have probably used Context Clues to guess this, given that it is called "The Darien Disaster" rather than "The Darien Triumph, Scotland's Emergence as a World Power."

The colony ("Calcedonia") was established in 1690 and was a money-suck from the start. It was abandoned ten years later after a Spanish siege, but the Scottish were probably relieved to cut their losses.

And their losses were tremendous. This seems so unfathomable to me that I worry Wikipedia is leading me astray, but per that source:

As the Darien company was backed by 25%-50% of all the money circulating in Scotland, its failure left nobles, landowners -- who had suffered a run of bad harvests -- as well as town councils and many ordinary tradespeople almost completely ruined and was an important factor in weakening their resistance to the Act of Union (completed in 1707).

The Act of Union

Finally, in 1706 and 1707, the Scottish and English parliaments, respectively, passed the Act of Union, and the independent states of Scotland and England became "The Kingdom of Great Britain."

James I had styled himself "The King of Great Britain" earlier, using that term to refer to the whole of the British isle, but there was no actual singular Kingdom of Great Britain, at least not until the Act of Union.

(Later, when Great Britain extended equal dignities to its possession of Ireland, the collective whole became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and later still, when the Irish free state departed the UK, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.)

The English got the promise that a Hanover would succeed then-serving Queen Anne as regent, upon her death. This was important to England, because they didn't want some foreign Scottish king ruling them; English tradition and pride demanded that they be ruled by a foreign German king.

The Scots got access to English markets, and also a payment of nearly 400,000 pounds, which was called "The Equivalent," and meant to offset the future costs of servicing the debt England had accrued. (That is to say, Scotland was, in joining England, also assuming part of England's debts; the Equivalent was meant as a sweetener.)

This money was largely used to mitigate the enormous losses suffered by the shareholders in the Darien Scheme.

There was also -- again, per Wikipedia -- direct bribery as an inducement to the Scots to join the new Kingdom of Great Britain. This led Scottish poet Robert Burns to grumble:

We're bought and sold for English Gold, Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation.

So the Scottish have never exactly been thrilled about this political union with England. It was voluntary, but it was still under duress, given the enormous financial losses of the Darien Disaster. It passed the Scottish parliament with 106 ayes and 69 nays -- not an overwhelming margin.

Interestingly -- or perhaps inevitably -- all the same reasons for the union, and all the same objections to it, persist to this day, over 300 years later.

Scottish interest in the union is still primarily economic. If they exit the UK, for example, their currency will become the Euro. The UK negotiated for the right to keep its beloved pound, when all other countries had to use the Euro. An independent Scotland would not have that deal.

As the poorer half of Great Britain, they also, presumably, receive more cash from the government than they pay in taxes.

On the other hand, the Scots still chafe at being very much the junior partner in the union, just as they feared they would three centuries ago.

The English interest here still seems strategic and military. England was long annoyed by the Auld Alliance, the combination of Scotland and France against their mutual enemy England. I have to think they worry about what treaties an independent Scotland might strike, and whose naval ships might stop by for refueling in Scottish ports.

There's also the more immediate concern: What happens to the UK's armed forces when all those Scottish servicemen are ejected from the services due to being foreigners? The UK can presumably replace them, over time, but not without a period of disruption and understaffing.

And England still seems to be promising more "English gold" in exchange for a continued union.

The entire question seems to be a combination of national security and national insecurity, simultaneously.

One more thing. I actually got this from Vox:

What happens to the bridge that connects Scotland with Norway? The British paid for this bridge, though it originates, of course, from Glasgow. (Although the British deny the Scottish access to the Bridge, of course.)

The Bridge at Brigadoon, Scotland

So who gets that? Who gets that 600 mile bridge?


Update: Commenters point out that Scotland's entry into the European Union, and thus its adoption of the euro as currency, is hardly guaranteed.

It's unclear if Scotland would want to join the EU, or if the EU would want Scotland.

The EU is not exactly running low on poor countries with potentially unstable economies.

More Thoughts, From "The Political Hat:"

Two interesting things:

If Scotland leaves, there wouldn't be an independent England, there would be a "United Kingdom of England and Northern Ireland." Wales is a part of England, as a constituent kingdom.

If Scotland leaves, it is possible that someone in the EU will claim that both the new "United Kingdom of England and Northern Ireland" and "Scotland" are new countries and both would have to apply anew to the EU.

Considering the hatred on the continent for "Anglo-Saxon Capitalism," their entry would not be assured. I could easily see England (UK of E & NI) out of the EU while Scotland joins in.

Um... I kind of doubt that, because the EU needs some countries that are at least close to solvent (or not going bankrupt this year).

I also think an EU rejection of the UK would be... kind of good for the UK. The EU is not terribly popular in the UK anyway, and if the EU made the UK fight to remain within it, to come a-begging... well I gotta think the UK would take that as its leave to leave.

Additionally, Scotland would align themselves as a Scandinavian country.

The crown lands (which are outside the UK) of Mann and the channel islands, would not be effected, as the continuance of a United Kingdom in some form would continue.

As for the UN, they'd probably keep their permanent seat on the security council much like Russia got the USSR's seat.

Interestingly enough, this means that a majority of the countries named in the UN Charter as permanent members of the security council no longer exist or are not recognized as existing.

digg this
posted by Ace at 11:54 AM

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