This House Would Sign the 1707 Act of Union

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There are unionists among us.

On 3 April, the Union Debating Society, in conjunction with the History Society, transformed Lower Parliament Hall into the 1707 Scottish parliament for the annual history debate. Together the two societies re-enacted the Scottish Parliament’s debate on the motion “This House Would Sign the 1707 Act of Union”.

It was a theatrical evening with excellent costumes, “olde English” and a few choreographed interruptions.

Proposing the motion was the Earl of Cromartie, played by Professor Colin Kidd; the Marquis of Montrose, played by David Patterson; and the Duke of Argyll, played by Max Baldi.

Opposing the motion was the Duke of Hamilton, played by Neil Christy; Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, played by Chase Hopkins; and Lord Belhaven, played by Will Lord.

A bit of background for those of you not familiar with the politics of the era. In 1707, England and Scotland shared a monarch but were separate states with separate legislatures.

At the time of this debate, the English parliament had already signed the Act of Union. If the Scottish parliament agreed to sign, the countries would adopt a common legislature and become a single state called “Great Britain”.

The proposition opened their case by arguing that this union was necessary to maintain the balance of power in Europe. They warned that England and Scotland alone would not be able to stand against the Bourbon dynasty, the Habsburg Empire or the Holy Roman Empire.

In order to have any influence in Europe or to be able to defend themselves against these powerful unions, therefore, they must form their own.

The opposition opened their case by denying that this proposed union was in Scotland’s favour.

As put by the Duke of Hamilton this Act of Union would make Scotland become “a slave to England’s interest. We will lose our culture, customs, and above all else—our sovereignty.”

The opposition stressed that Scotland would lose its own parliament in the union and would not be adequately represented in Great Britain’s.

The Marquis of Montrose, speaking for the proposition, responded that Scotland would be fairly represented in Great Britain’s parliament based on their population’s size.

But before he could get to the substance of his speech, some anti-unionists stormed the House demanding that it disassemble. They asserted that the general Scottish people were against joining England and a union would only benefit the rich. The Serjant-at-Arms, Elizabeth Panton, did not recognise their authority and ejected them from the House.

The opposition admired the antiunionists’ zeal but did not contest their ejection. They agreed with the proposition that the Scottish nobles and clan leaders should decide this issue – not the masses.

The Duke of Argyll made a pragmatic case in the proposition’s closing speech. He said that the economic benefits of the union would benefit everyone. The Scottish would have access to English ports, new markets in the Americas and the protection of a world-class navy. In return, the English would be able to sell their wares in Scotland and use Scottish labour. Most importantly, however, the House must pass the Act of Union to prevent a bloody war. He said: “As we speak the English army is amassing on the Scottish border, and if we don’t join them peacefully they will conquer us.”

The Duke of Hamilton appeared to be moved by the Duke of Argyll’s speech and dramatically decided to defect to the proposition.

In the opposition’s closing speech, Lord Belhaven accused the Duke of Hamilton and the rest of the proposition speakers of taking bribes from the English Crown. His main points were that the English could not be trusted and that Scotland would be better off to risk a war than submit to English rule. The English recently undermined Scotland’s attempt to colonise the Americas, resulting in Scotland losing one-quarter of its wealth! And now Scotland would be forced into a union where it would be responsible for helping to pay off England’s war debt.

“If Sweden and the Netherlands can be successful, small countries, then why can’t Scotland?” Lord Belhaven asked.

The unionists clearly passed the motion with 65 in favour, 14 in opposition and three in abstention.

If this debate was any indication, it does not look like St Andrews will be a hotbed for the Scottish independence movement.

Today, 10 April, the Union Debating Society will be hosting its annual Maidens Competition. Come down to Lower Parliament Hall to see St Andrews’ best novice speakers compete! Doors open at 7:30pm, the motion will be announced at 7:45pm and the debate will start at 8pm. As always, gowns are encouraged but not required.

The UDS’s annual general meeting and elections will be held on 17 April in Lower Parliament Hall at 8pm. All matriculated students are eligible to vote and run for any position. Voting must be done in person and all interested candidates must send a short email indicating what position they intend to run for to debates@st-andrews.ac.uk prior to 17 April.

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