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Great British Union Day Celebration, Speech 1: Reasons Why the 1707 Union Came About


On Saturday 1st May 2021, A Force For Good held its "1st May, Great British Union Day" celebration in George Square, Glasgow, attended by around 50 people (above). We were celebrating the 314th Birthday of the United Kingdom. On the other side of the Square, a Scottish nationalist group were agitating to destroy it! AFFG Founder, Alistair McConnachie gave two Speeches. The first one, based on the following text, summarised the history of the matter.


Ladies and Gentlemen, we are here today to celebrate a Birthday – a political Birthday – for it was on this day, on the 1st May 1707, 314 years ago that a country was born which would become a giant among Nations, and whose Name was to become Great; a Nation which would stand for Hope, for Courage, and for Peace and Liberty in the World.


We're here to say, "Happy Birthday Great Britain!"


For it was on this day, 1st May 1707, that the Treaty of Union came into effect to join the parliaments of Scotland and England together; and to quote from that Treaty:


That the two Kingdoms of Scotland and England shall, upon the first day of May...and forever after, be united into one Kingdom by the name GREAT BRITAIN...


That the United Kingdom of Great Britain be represented by one and the same Parliament, to be stiled the Parliament of Great Britain.


That all the subjects of the United Kingdom of Great Britain shall, from and after the Union, have full freedom and intercourse of trade and navigation to and from any port or place within the said United Kingdom...

The Union with England Act, 1707


So we are here to celebrate that Great British Union; to give thanks for all it has done for our people; and as always, we are here to give our positive message of solidarity and unity, our Message that we are Scottish and British, we Love the United Kingdom and we will Stay Together!


WHAT HAPPENED IN 1707? A New Nation Was Born!

Let's revisit what happened, because even today, the people on the other side of the Square insist on misunderstanding what happened.


What happened was that two sovereign nations entered into a Treaty together – a Treaty which did not require either to change its culture or religious ways, or legal traditions, but which did require each to give up its own Parliament.


Two sovereign nations joined together and as a consequence, and in addition, a third nation – a new nation – was created!


Scotland and England joined together and...together...these parents gave birth to new life – together they gave birth to Great Britain.


The Union created a new nation called Great Britain which was to have its own political identity represented by its own Parliament.


A new nation which would enable everyone to enjoy a wider identity, and to share in the society, and culture, and economy of the rest of this Island and to claim those things as our own also.


People from Scotland would come to understand England as part of this new country of Great Britain, of which they too were a member – and people from England would come to see Scotland as part of Great Britain, of which they too were a member.


Thus a new nation was born to which people would come to owe allegiance, with which people would come to identify, and indeed love, and even fight and die for.


Understood in that way, this political situation that we are all involved in today, is not just about Scotland breaking away from England (as the nationalists like to emphasise) – but it is about trying to break up and destroy Great Britain as a nation in its own right.


That means that everybody who believes in Great Britain is involved, wherever you may live.


In that regard, the British Parliament has a perfect right, duty and responsibility to do what it can to keep the United Kingdom together on behalf of all the people who believe in it – because that's its job!


Let's look at the HISTORY OF THE UNION – The "Bribery" Smear

You know, the Scottish nationalists do not want to accept that there were some very good reasons for the Union in 1707 – economic, defence, and especially at the time, religious and royal succession reasons, as well as shared identity reasons. They do not want to accept that and so they make up lies about the politicians at the time being "bribed".


Well, let me put that notion to bed straight away!


At the time, there were 227 Scottish Parliamentarians. Out of that number, only around 30 Parliamentarians (and 1 messenger) received any money – money which the majority of them were already owed anyway in salaries and pensions. (1)


Of the overall sum (£20,000) three fifths of it (£12,325) went to one man the Duke of Queensberry, who was already a long standing supporter of the idea of Union – and of the rest, many were already supporters of Union, 4 of them were not able to vote anyway, and the rest voted against! (2)


So there is no substance in the Scottish nationalist claim that the Union was somehow born in sin. It was born with good and noble intentions in mind.


You know, the people on the other side of the Square only push the notion of "bribery" because they do not want to accept that there were good reasons for the Union, so they make up false reasons to try to explain what happened.


GOOD REASONS FOR UNION – Economic, Military, Religious, Dynastic, Shared British Identity

Indeed, it was Scots who had been lobbying for Union ever since the Union of the Crowns in 1603 when James VI of Scotland became James VI of Great Britain. He urged the English Parliament several times to join with Scotland but the English were not for having it. He was a man before his time!


Scottish politicians lobbied for Union in 1670, in 1688, in 1689, and in 1702.


Queen Anne, at the time, summed up the good reasons for Union in her letter to the Scottish Parliament of 31st July 1706 reasons which still strike a chord with us today. She stated:


"An entire and perfect Union will be the solid foundation of lasting peace; It will secure your religion, liberty, and property, remove the animosities amongst yourselves, and the jealousies and differences between our two Kingdoms: It must increase your strength, riches, and trade; and by this Union the whole island being joined in affection and free from all apprehension of different interests, will be enabled to resist all its enemies, support the Protestant interest every where, and maintain the liberties of Europe."


And indeed, many in Scotland saw the obvious benefits of economic access to England's large market and to its overseas colonies – an access which would in time bring Scotland unprecedented prosperity.


Furthermore, some of those who were able to travel outside of Scotland were able to see that parts of England, and the Continent were moving ahead of Scotland, economically and socially, and they believed that Scotland could progress similarly through Union with England. (3)


Militarily, there was the correct belief that (what was then) the English Royal Navy would be able to better protect Scotland against its continental enemies.


For example, the Marquess of Tweeddale saw the danger of an attempted conquest of Scotland by a Stuart pretender, and believed that the Navy would be needed to stop it. (4)


This was part of a desire to maintain the Glorious Revolution of 1688, to keep out the Young Pretender James VIII who was living in France, and to ensure the succession of the Monarchy would pass to the Protestant House of Hanover after Queen Anne would die.


In fact, around a quarter of the Scottish Parliament at the time consisted of Parliamentarians who had previously fled to Holland to escape persecution from the Stuarts (5), and so they were keen to ensure that when Queen Anne passed away that the throne would pass to the Hanoverians.


Which indeed it did, when Queen Anne died in 1714.


At that point, it passed to George I of the House of Hanover. Indeed, this very Square in which we are standing, is named after George III. Over there is North Hanover Street named after the House of Hanover. That street is South Frederick Street, Frederick being the son of George II, and the father of George III.


SHARED BRITISH IDENTITY

Moreover, by 1707, there was a sense that Britain was coming together as a nation in its own right.


After all, Britain had already been regally united for over 100 years – sharing a common Monarch since the Union of the Crowns in 1603 when the Scottish King James VI became James VI of Great Britain.


James VI who created this wonderful Union Jack flag!


So by the time 1707 rolled around, the Scots and English had been developing a sense of shared identity, and to an extent living a shared experience, for over 100 years already.


That meant that by 1707 there was already, among some, a shared British patriotism extending to all of these old Islands.


For example, one of the Parliamentarians for the Union, the Earl of Cromartie stated at the time that there was "Nothing" which would "alter me from being a Scotsman and a Brittain, and for the union". (6)


Already, an example of a "Scottish and British" identity existing by 1707!


TO CONCLUDE – The Best is Yet to Come

False notions of "bribery" do not account for the Union.


Only around 30 out of 227 Parliamentarians received payments which they were already due – one of whom received three-fifths of the overall payment. So such nationalist notions do not come close to explaining why the Scottish Parliament voted for Union.


Other more compelling reasons for the Union related to the economic benefits of joining together, to a concern to maintain defence against external opponents, to religious reasons to maintain the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the succession of the Monarchy, and to a growing loyalty to the idea of Britain as a nation, and to the idea of being British; an idea which had been developing over the previous 100 years of shared Monarchy and experience.


And from at least James VI and the Union of the Crowns in 1603, through the seventeenth century many Scots had been enthusiastic advocates for Union.


In that sense, we could even say that the political Union which began on this day, 1st May in 1707, 314 years ago, was another...Scottish Invention!


A journalist in the Sunday Telegraph summed it up recently. To quote Daniel Hannan, he said:


"Scotland's past is far nobler than the Alba/Braveheart myth. A small nation at the edge of the world bred an enterprising and inventive people. Seeking an outlet for their genius, they joined the kindred nation to their south, a nation to which they were already bounded by blood and speech and faith.


"In doing so, they created a new nation, the most powerful and influential humanity had known, a nation which used its strength to spread parliamentary rule, private property, free inquiry, limited government and personal liberty. Isn't that the most inspiring story of all?" (7)


And so it was 314 years ago on this very day that a Great National Mission was begun, and now, on this 1st May 2021, it is a good day to repeat and re-dedicate ourselves to those fine words of the Treaty of Union that brought us together:


"That the two Kingdoms of Scotland and England shall, upon the first day of May...and forever after, be united into one Kingdom by the name GREAT BRITAIN."


So, Happy Birthday Great Britain, today 314 years Young!


The Best is Yet to Come!


References:

1. Christopher A. Whatley, The Scots and the Union, (Edinburgh University Press, 2007), at 267.

Whatley writes that "the salaries or pensions of some seventeen of those who were paid from the fund were demonstrably in arrears, and usually much more so than the sums they actually received."

Also see Christopher A Whatley, 'Bought and Sold for English Gold'? Explaining the Union of 1707, (Economic and Social History Society of Scotland, 1994), at 16-17.

The full list of the payments and recipients is in PWJ Riley, 'The union of 1707 as an episode in English politics', English Historical Review, lxxxiv (1969).

2. Lorna Martin, "Betrayed? No, Scots wanted the Union" The Observer, 24-9-2006.

3. Whatley, The Scots and the Union, at 5.

4. Ibid at 91.

5. Ibid, at 78.

6. Ibid, at 267.

7. Daniel Hannan, "Sturgeon and Salmond like to play the victims, but it was Scots who made the UK", The Sunday Telegraph, 18-4-21, at 28.


A Force For Good published a 6-part Series on the "Scottish Desire for Union" on our Legacy Site between December 2015 and May 2017. We also published a 7-part Series on "Scottish Origins of British Unionism" from January to October 2015.


You can read our second Speech of the day, "Reasons Why we Love the Union" here.


If you appreciate our research, like what we say, and value our work, please consider becoming a monthly 'Union Supporter' from as little as £1.15 a week (£5 a month) via Donorbox (no need for a Donorbox account) or via PayPal or GoCardless via the links on this page.


Letter in The Sunday Telegraph, 25-4-21:


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