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History of Scotland: Union of the English and Scottish Parliaments

Updated on August 26, 2014

Need for Union

In some ways the most important result of the Revolution was the union of the English and Scottish parliaments (1707). As long as the king governed Scotland and kept control of the Scottish Parliament, no one in England felt any need for closer union. Once the Scottish Parliament had escaped from royal control, however, William III (reigned 1689-1702) found himself expected to serve two masters. By adopting the Darien Scheme of colonizing the Panama area in America against the will of Spain, the Parliament threatened to ruin his foreign policy, which required good relations with Spain.

When, under Queen Anne, England engaged in the War of the Spanish Succession while Scotland continued to sympathize witl1 England's enemy, France, political and strategic arguments for complete union became overwhelming from the English point of view. The Scots would have preferred a federal style of union, which England would not accept. Forced to choose between England and France, they thought the interests of the Presbyterian Church were safer with Protestant, though Episcopalian, England than with Roman Catholic France. Also the bribe of free trade with England's colonies tempted Scots merchants, though they realized that economic union with England would mean the ruin of some Scottish industries protected by tariffs. What Scotland felt most was the loss of its Parliament.

The Scots did, however, retain their legal system and Presbyterian Church.

After Union

The union of the parliaments ended the political history of Scotland as an independent state, but facilitated the economic and cultural developments that made the 18th century the most prosperous and distinguished period of Scottish history. Glasgow flourished on the profits of trade with North America, above all in tobacco, and became the hub of Scottish industry. The trade with England in beef cattle prospered. New crops, especially turnips and potatoes, were introduced. Grasses were planted on arable land, and regular rotations of crops developed.

Fallowing, draining, liming, and manuring became normal agricultural practice. Landlords granted long leases to their tenants and showed them how to increase yields. Large-scale forestry, shelter belts, and fields enclosed by dry-stone dikes became features of the Scottish landscape.

Government funds helped to extend the linen industry and herring fisheries. Revenues from estates confiscated from the Jacobite supporters of the exiled Stuarts were devoted to founding spinning schools and encouraging home weaving.

The metallurgical and chemical industries operated on a large scale.

Edinburgh produced or drew to itself leading historians and philosophers, scientists and architects, painters and literary men, doctors and surgeons. The fierce concentration on religious controversies moderated, though the embers still glowed and came to life in such episodes as the anti-Catholic riots of 1779.

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