With the Scottish Independence Referendum on September 18th looming, I thought I would take this chance to reflect back on the last 307 years, since England and Scotland formed one of the most successful Unions in history, to form the Kingdom of Great Britain (later to become the United Kingdom). Whilst the two nations had been enemies for centuries, they came together to peacefully co-exist as one Kingdom, as one people, as a new state, the Kingdom of Great Britain!
This post won’t be about politics, but a celebration of what has made this country as great as it is today. Whatever people may think about the various Governments in power in the UK since the 18th century, and in Scotland since the end of the 20th, we remain one of the most respected nations on Earth, known for our equality, fighting spirit, patriotism and most of all, our camaraderie, and whichever way the referendum goes, we shouldn’t forget what brought us together. It is fixed to the start of this blog from now until the Referendum, so that, especially for people from other countries, the Union itself is explained and examined.
The union of Great Britain was formed on the 17th April 1707, one year after the agreements reached between the English and Scottish Governments in July 1706. Both Governments agreed to the plan, and on the aforementioned 17th April the Duke of Queensberry, James Douglas (1662 – 1711, who was a major part of the Union Treaty signing) arrived at Kensington Palace in London to cheering crowds.
Reasons for the Union?
England was a very wealthy country, and owned various territories around the world, and was also an economic powerhouse. Scotland however was in a slightly different position, it was relatively poor with little infrastructure, so the two countries joining up was seen as a way to help Scotland prosper. Scotland also didn’t have a Navy to speak off, whereas the English Navy was a great fleet, so this helped increase the security of both nations.
Another reason for Union was the Union of the Crowns, which both countries entered into in 1603, which combined the Monarchies of England and Scotland. James I (and VI) became the first joint monarch of both countries, and the ultimate catalyst for the Union was also to do with the Monarch, albeit the later Charles I. When the English Civil War started in 1642, Oliver Cromwell eventually took control and created a realm that brought England, Scotland and Ireland into a Union together. When the Monarchy was eventually restored, and Charles II became King, Cromwell’s Union dissolved, but both England and Scotland remained in overall favour of what had been (at the time Ireland was also part of the Union). The monarchs at the time were Queen Mary and William II (and III) who jointly ruled until Mary died in 1694. William ruled alone until his death in 1702. Queen Anne took over and saw the Union arrive.
Devolution was granted to Scotland in 1999, after the 2nd of two referendums yielded a yes vote for Devolution. The previous one had been rejected in the 1970’s. Donald Dewar became Scotland’s 1st ever First Minister and the first head of Government in the country since 1707, when the Scottish Parliament met for the final time to approve the Union.
Since The Union
James Thomson (1700 – 1748, Scottish Poet) wrote a poem called Rule Britannia, the lyrics of which were put to music by Thomas Arne (1710 – 1778, British Composer). The song went on to become the most patriotic song in the Kingdom at the time and is still in wide use today. It united the English, Scots and Welsh as the British people, beyond their old distinct cultural identities.
The first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to hail from Scotland entered office this year, John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713 – 1792) and there were at least 8 Scottish Prime Ministers between 1762 and 1964.
James Watt (1736 – 1819, Scottish Inventor) and Matthew Boulton (1728 – 1809, English Businessman) entered into a partnership to sell James Watt’s revolutionary new design for the Steam Engine which vastly improved the existing models. Matthew helped Watt enter the market with the new Steam Engine and made him a very wealthy man. Scottish inventiveness combined with English business expertise joined forces to forge a path through the Industrial Revolution.
King George IV (1762 – 1830) visits Scotland, and in doing so became the first reigning monarch to visit the country since 1650, before the Union itself. The visit was organised by Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832). The King appeared in Tartan, which had long been the symbol of the Highlanders. He decreed during his visit that any man not in uniform must appear in Tartan, so the rest of Scotland obeyed and it quickly became the National Dress of Scotland, not just representing the Highlanders but the Lowlanders as well.
Many artists have contributed to the many fabulous Church buildings around the UK, with a notable figure being Edward Burne-Jones (1833 – 1898) who not only created fine Stained Glass windows for Churches in England, from Brampton to Birmingham, but also created a window called Miriam in 1886 for St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.
Scottish Soldiers stood proudly side by side with English, Welsh and Irish soldiers during World War I, defiant against the Germans and defending our great nation from invasion. In fact, during the war Dundee had one of the highest proportion of serving citizens of any city in the UK
Once again Scotland took up arms with its British comrades, this time against the Nazi Powers across Europe, and was invaluable against the war effort. The shipbuilding yards on the River Clyde in Glasgow were an important part of Britain’s Naval campaign and sustained heavy bombings, but they didn’t give in or surrender, they kept on fighting for their country. Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt (1892 – 1973, Scottish Pioneer) invented the Radar during the War which would go on to become an important tool during the Battle of Britain, out of which the UK emerged victorious. The head of RAF Fighter Command during this particular battle was also Scottish, a man by the name of Hugh Caswall Tremenheere Dowding (1882 – 1970).
Scottish born Prime Minister Tony Blair comes to power as leader of the UK, and his immediate successor, Gordon Brown, was a true Scot. One of Tony Blair’s policies was devolution for parts of the UK, including Scotland, which eventually succeeded.
In a 2nd referendum on the issue, voters approved the creation of the Scottish Parliament, as voters had also done in Wales a year earlier. The various parts of the United Kingdom (aside from England which is still ruled directly from Westminster) came together to share ideas, and work as a team, giving their respective countries the best of two Governments, a local and a national one, to help them take Britain into the 21st century.
London hosted the 2012 Olympic Games, and Athletes from not just Scotland and England, but Wales and Northern Ireland came together to break the British medal haul for all Olympic Games since 1908, as the different countries used combined teams in various events to prove Britain’s sporting ability. Scottish athletes won gold in various events, from Andy Murray in the Tennis, to Chris Hoy in the Cycling, and they stood as part of a larger team who showed the world that Scotland, and Britain as a whole, has the talent and the aspirations to be sporting champions. At the same time they inspiring a whole new generation of British talent, who will represent us in the future and new Olympic Games.
The 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy were held at Normandy in France, as a thank you by the French and the rest of Europe to not just the English/Scots/Welsh/Irish soldiers who helped to expel the Nazi’s from their soil, but to all the other soldiers from other countries, and France itself, who were instrumental in the defeat of Nazi Germany.
The last major event Scotland was involved in before the referendum was of course the Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014, where the Commonwealth, most members of which are former British Territories and Dominions, came together to show how Britain has influenced cultures all over the world, and to celebrate the peaceful co-existence between these realms and to compete in the noblest form of competition, sports. Whilst it brought a sense of Scottish patriotism, it was also a time of reflection for the UK, on where it would be by the end of a sensational year…
So whichever way this referendum goes, history shall always remember the proud partnership between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, throughout War Time, Peace Time, Sporting Events and much more. We were the forerunners of democracy, industry and I shall always be proud to say I was/am a citizen of the United Kingdom, and I have enjoyed my travels throughout Scotland just as much as I have through the other parts of the UK. I may be English, but at the moment I feel I am British first.
Whatever the United Kingdom becomes, whether it be stronger united, or part of an enduring friendship divided, may all four countries, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales prosper.
Please don’t use this post to start a debate, or comments will be closed.