Aliens Act 1705 – yes that’s us Scots. The Union bludgeon.

On 29 November 1704 the Lord High Treasurer of England was at the House of Lords explaining to a no doubt hostile audience why royal assent had been given to the Scottish Act of Security.

This Act was drawn up by the Scottish parliament in response to the terms of the English Act of Settlement of 1701 in which it was determined that the protestant House of Hanover would provide a successor to the British throne.

(In 1604 the crowns of Scotland and England were joined in a union under James VI. There was not at this time a union of parliaments and so were separate governments in both Scotland and England.)

The more quick-witted among you will have noticed therefore that an English parliament took a unilateral decision over the future of the monarchy not just for England but for Scotland as well thereby assuming its right to determine aspects of political control for both, presuming that Scotland, if indeed Scotland ever came into its consciousness at all, would fall into line.

It is not as though there were no Scots at Westminster then. In fact several were there representing (I use that term loosely) Scottish interests; men in key positions willing to go to any lengths to enhance their ambitions and augment their personal fortunes irrespective of the impact on home-based Scots.

The Scottish Act of Security was drawn up amidst a storm of protests within Scotland over how the liberties of the nation might be preserved. At stake the Scottish economy and wider Scottish liberties of religion and law which were seen as being under threat from an overpowering parliament in England that had taken no cognizance of its Scottish counterpart with its unilateral pronouncement over the crown successor.

While not in a union of parliaments, legislation from Edinburgh had to have approval of the monarch – in London. The monarch’s representatives, Lord High Commissioners, carried out this role until superfluous- following the Union in 1707 when the Scottish parliament was subsumed into England’s.

With publication of the Act of Settlement alarm bells were ringing across Scotland over what might be imposed here and led to the Scottish Act of Security which asserted Scotland’s right to determine its own monarch and not accept one imposed on it by England.

Reaction in Westminster was fast and furious. A further act was introduced by it to neutralise what it regarded as a threat from Scotland; possible withdrawal of Scottish troops (arguably England’s favourite and most sought after commodity from north Britain) and Scottish taxes which would weaken England’s involvement in the War of the Spanish Succession.

I’m not going there – sufficient to say think of that war as the 18th century equivalent of superpowers in the 20th and 21st centuries establishing power blocs across Europe and the world.

There were two ways the English politicians, Tory and Whigs (later materialised into Liberals) – little to choose between them then and now – could handle their tricky situation with Scotland- either as good cop or bad cop.

The good cop approach was to open negotiations with Scotland’s parliament and offer a free trade agreement.
The bad cop one was to label the Scots as aliens and bully them into submitting to a political union and Hanoverian succession on threat of a boycott of all Scottish goods throughout England and the English colonies along with the confiscation of property held by Scots in England.

For the point of clarity I should say there were plenty Scots included in England’s governing elite, content to wallow in the trappings of power while selling their own country short – the yoke of bondage as it was interpreted in Scottish circles. Any brave or stupid enough to show their faces back in Scotland were more than likely to have them pelted with stones. This happened quite a lot. Sounds barbaric doesn’t it? The other side had guns and swords – perhaps you find them more acceptable – some of a reactionary disposition do. Stones were the weapons of the poor – or the mob as history dubs them – used as a derogatory term for those not in power challenging those in power.

The mob disapproved of Scotland being bludgeoned and kicked into a political union. There is a trend among our current politicians to suggest the union was welcomed by Scotland’s people as the saviour of the country. This is not true. In fact it is a lie.

Anti-union feelings ran strong in Scotland. Protests over English high-handedness following the union of the crowns in 1604 were commonplace. By the start of the 18th century there was strong opposition to a political union. The Worcester incident is an unfortunate example of the degree of resistance to having Scotland absorbed into the English realm.

Recent transfer of 6 000 sq miles of Scottish water in the north sea to England by Blair’s government in Westminster was an audacious piece of Westminster imperialism. Back in 1705 emotions were high when an English vessel was captured off Burntisland. The captain and most of the crew of the English ship Worcester were hanged in front of 80 000 people for their incursion into Scottish water; a foreign vessel in a hostile act.

Amidst an atmosphere of such serenity and friendship, brimming over with trust, honesty, even-handedness and sacrifice the union was born. And from that point the term Scotland has become largely superfluous so much so that you’ll find in the majority of the histories of Great Britain dispensed with any mention of it whatsoever in favour of the term Britain or England.

It was surely the Alien Act 1705 that threatened to classify Scots as aliens (foreign nationals) – even while sharing a monarchy – whose property might be confiscated and whose trade would be embargoed which persuaded many of the Scottish nobility to agree to a union of parliaments. The lessons have surely not been lost on those who are happy to adopt threats, bullying and hostile posturing, with a not inconspicuous dose of outright lies, to ensure that very unequal union stays put.

6 Comments to “Aliens Act 1705 – yes that’s us Scots. The Union bludgeon.”

  1. We have all been taught at school the propaganda and lies. The Scottish Act of Security is the first I and millions of my Scottish nation have heard of this.I haten to add that I am 70 years old.

    • History teachers depended on resources available to them as to what they taught and they learned their history from textbooks written from the perspective that the Union was good for Scotland because that was how the UK state propaganda machine told it. Most history taught in Scotland’s schools from the 1960s used England as the centre of change and even Scotland’s industrial revolution was largely taught from English examples of production. Irish nationalism was taught from the perspective its nationalists were mainly mad although the poor Irish had a poor life but that was the fault of a system of land division that made agricultural improvement impossible. As for Scottish nationalism that was not taught until very recently and then it hardly looked at the basis behind it, instead made it into a purely political movement of weirdos – the nationalism is all the same – all bad nonsense that ignored the British state is all about pomp and nationalism and built on a pack of lies. Thanks for reading the blog. L

  2. Some things never change – they will now, though.
    Vote YES.

  3. 300 years of North British propaganda have been superseded by the Yes campaign seeking to re-establish Scotland’s place in the world. That the machinations to bring about the Union in 1707 are little known is a consequence of much of those 300 years of history. I have also written about this period – see

  4. Some things never change, especially when it comes to politics. And yet, depute the lies and misrepresentations, so many Scots are happy to carry on, blindly believing we are better together, too wee, too poor… Anger and despair has had a long time to mature.

  5. The Act of Security was an almost revolutionary document, it’s really incredible that it is barely known in Scotland, especially considering its importance in relation to the Act of Union.

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