Scotland: Yearning for Independence-Part I

The Scottish People’s motto could be: me solum relinquatis, which is Leave Me Alone.

Since Caledonia was discovered by the Romans, the people inhabiting Scotland have fought to be independent and left alone.

According to the Roman historian Tacitus, the Caledones (that is name the Romans gave the Scottish tribes with whom they fought)”turned to armed resistance on a large scale”, attacking Roman forts and skirmishing with their legions.  In a surprise night-attack, the Caledones, whom we would call Caledonians, very nearly wiped out the whole Ix Legion which was only saved by the timely intervention of  Agricola’s cavalry.

Later, in AD 83–84, the General Gnaeus Julius Agricola defeated the Caledonians at the  Battle of Mons Graupius (the Battle of the Grampian Mountains).  Tacitus wrote that, before the battle, the Caledonian leader,  Calgacus, gave a rousing speech in which he called his people the “last of the free” people on earth and accused the Romans of “making the world a desert and calling it peace”.   Although the Romans won this battle, within three years that withdrawn from the Highlands of Scotland to the Lowlands, never to come back.

The Caledonians were so fierce that the Romans walled them off from the rest of Roman Britannia with Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall.

About 1300 years later, the Scots resisted the English invasion under Edward Long Shanks after he had conquered Wales.

When Edward I tried to take personal control of Scotland. William Wallace emerged as one of the principal leaders of the resistance to English rule in what became known as the Wars of Scottish Independence (1296–1328).

Robert the Bruce battled to restore Scottish Independence as King for over 20 years, beginning by winning Scotland back from the Norman English invaders piece by piece. Victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 proved the Scots had regained control of their kingdom.

On April 6, 1320 the Scots declared themselves an independent nation in the world’s first documented declaration of independence, the Declaration of Arbroath, won the support of Pope John XXII, leading to the legal recognition of Scottish sovereignty by the English Crown.  The stirring words the Scots used were as follows:

…for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

But even today, almost 700 years later, the Scotland is not an independent nation.

Why is that?

The first fact is that Scotland is part of Great Britain. How did that come about?

We have to discuss how Scotland ‘merged’ with England to become the United Kingdom.

The Kingdom of Scotland  was an independent nation until 1707. By inheritance in 1603,King James VI of Scotland became also King James I of England.  Although he was king of each of these two nations, it was a personal union and not a political union of these two nations.

In 1688, James VII was deposed as King. Why?   Because he was a devout Catholic who did all he could to covert Protestant England and Protestant Scotland  to Roman Catholicism.  His reign of three years was known as the Killing Times, because he killed Protestants who would not convert.  These Protestants were called the Covenanters.  The Covenanters were Presbyterians of the Scottish Kirk founded by John Knox.  The Covenanters had vowed that only a Protestant  in general, and a Presbyterian in particular, could sit upon the throne of Scotland.  Scotland had become a Protestant country in 1560.

James VII’s daughter Mary and her husband, William of Orange, became joint monarchs after James VII was deposed.   They were ‘invited’ by Parliament to be come joint regents, when William’s armies invade England.  Mary predeceased her husband, William.  After the death of William, Anne, the sister of Mary became monarch.   During Mary’s reign, the Acts of Union was passed in 1707, such that Scotland became part of Great Britain.

In Scotland, there were riots and strong opposition to the Union. But nonetheless the Scottish Parliament voted in favor of the Union. Why did the Scottish Parliament vote in this manner?  There are at least three reasons that compelled this result.

Two major economic disasters had befallen Scotland in the 1690s which drove her to the Union.

First, throughout the 1690s, there had been successive famines such that 15% of the population died.

Second, there had been a concurrent economic disaster. In 1698, the Scottish Highland lords attempted an ambitious project to secure a trading colony on the Isthmus of Panama. Almost every Scottish landowner who had money to spare is said to have invested in the  so-called Darien Scheme. Its failure bankrupted these landowners, but not the burghs.

Finally, the English threatened to invade Scotland and plunge it into war. Nevertheless, the nobles’ bankruptcy, along with the threat of an English invasion, played a leading role in convincing the Scots elite to back a union with England.

The union also created a new  Parliament of Great Britain which was seated in London, which succeeded both the Parliament of Scotland and the Parliament of England.  However, England had more votes than Scotland, so Scotland was clearly the junior partner in this endeavor.  So,  the  Treaty of Union was agreed in 1706 and enacted by the twin Acts of Union of 1707, passed by the Parliaments of both countries, despite popular opposition and anti-union riots in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and elsewhere.


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