The Union that exists today is not fit for purpose

There are a number of factors that suggest that the Union of 1707 was flawed and bound to fail from the outset. The major failing is that the Union was not created with the objective of having the two nations join together in a fair and equal partnership for the benefit of both parties. It was not created to ensure that both nations had an equal voice. As Fry (2006) comments on the early discussions that took place in the commission set up by Queen Anne to negotiate a Union, “the English evinced not the slightest interest in any of the Scots’ alternatives to an incorporating Union … all attempts at compromise over the absolute supremacy of the Parliament at Westminster were to the English wholly immaterial, mere quibbling irritants”. The English commissioners did not give the slightest consideration to the proposals made by the Scottish commissioners for a federal Union. The only Union that England was interested in was a Union that fully incorporated the Scottish Parliament into the English Parliament and ensured that all the power within the Union lay with England. The simplest mechanism that was used to achieve this was the representation of each nation in the new parliament. At the first sitting of the new parliament of Great Britain, Scotland had 45 seats out of a total of 558, and only 16 peers in the upper house. It was not until 1963 that all Scottish peers acquired the right to sit in the House of Lords. Herman (2001) was of the opinion that “by signing the treaty of Union, Scotland’s political class was committing suicide … yet this was exactly what London and the Scottish commissioners expected them to do”.


If there were any doubts about where all power lay in the Union they were finally laid to rest five years after the Union had been created. Many Scots had entered into the Union with the belief that the treaty was an unalterable agreement between England and Scotland. Unfortunately this was an incorrect assumption that was disproved by the passing of the Patronage Act of 1712. As Devine (2006) highlighted “This act confirmed unambiguously that the Treaty of 1707 was not, as many Scots believed, an inviolate, fundamental and supreme law but rather one which could be altered by the whim of any electoral majority in Westminster”.

This inequitable treaty established an unsound foundation for the Union, however, there are other inherent weaknesses in the Union of 1707. One of the most critical of these other weaknesses is that it was not a full and complete Union. In the 18th century the nation-state consisted of a number of key components, the Monarchy, the government, the law, the church, and it can also be argued that education, in the form of independent universities, was another. By 1707 the English and Scottish crowns were already united under one Monarch and the Acts of Union then united the government of both nations. What the Acts of Union did not unite were the law, the church, and education. These three critical elements of the nation-state remained independent of the Union. The independence of Scottish law, in the form of the Court of Session, and the Church of Scotland were protected by entrenched provisions in the Union treaty. Since 1707 the Westminster parliament has challenged, and reduced, the independence of these Scottish institutions but despite this they have all still managed to retain a significant amount of independence.

Having maintained these critical elements of a nation-state, and with the dogged determination of the Scottish people, Scotland has continued to exist as a proud and uniquely identifiable nation. Despite losing political independence the Scots have persevered to maintain their status as a nation, although realistically it should now be considered to be a “stateless nation” (McCrone, 1992) rather than a nation-state. Over the three hundred years of Union, Scotland has struggled (quite successfully many would argue) to assert its own identity. With the creation of the Scottish Parliament, a new momentum has been added to this struggle and today we have an independent thinking Scottish Parliament that demonstrates the ability of Scots to successfully manage their own affairs and to present Scotland in a positive light to the rest of the world. So it appears that after three hundred years we have almost come full circle and we now find Scotland gradually extracting itself from a flawed and failing Union.