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on 3 February 2012
I bought this book in January 2012, when Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, announced that there would be a referendum on Scottish independence, probably in 1314, the anniversary year of Robert the Bruce's great victory at Bannockburn. Yet it was published in 2006, in advance of the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union in 2007. The author is a former Conservative Party candidate but he has since announced his conversion to the SNP. He is also an excellent historian and the book is well-researched and very well written.

Some years ago, an English historian called Riley wrote a series of articles and books which portrayed the Act of Union in a very bad light, purporting to show that the votes of the majority in the old Scottish Parliament which voted for the Union were bought and paid for by the English government. This seemed to confirm the worst fears and suspicions held by opponents of the Union in Scotland, at the time and since; but Fry shows that there was a lot more at work in 1707 than English money. The Scots had several powerful reasons for voting in favour, though many still could not bring themselves to do it.

More importantly, Fry shows that the old Scottish Parliament was in no sense democratic; and it is therefore pointless, in any event, to base arguments about the voting on the assumption that it represented the popular will. Scotland was a semi-feudal kingdom, where the people were in no sense `autonomous'. The nobility had the most important voice. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was probably more representative of majority public opinion than the Parliament, which incidentally was unicameral, so that the lairds controlled it all the more. A majority in each place was in favour of the Union, once an Act of Security for the Kirk was secured.

For the Kirk, the pursuit of virtue was more important than the pursuit of happiness. Economics was not really the issue, though the merchants, in so far as they had a voice, wanted free trade with England and access to the English colonies, especially after the failure of the Darien Scheme. On the other hand, England wanted to secure the Hanoverian Succession in Scotland as well as in England. A Jacobite restoration would have threatened her security, at a time when she was still locked in war with Louis XIV's France.

It is fascinating to be told that Union did not necessarily involve the dissolution of the Scottish Parliament. Fry discuss the alternative schemes which were canvassed between 1702 and 1707, as well as the various ways of merging the Scottish Parliament in with the Westminster one at Westminster, once this was decided upon in principle. At all events, the deal was done - and it was very much a deal, rather than a grand statement of principles. It would seem to this Englishman that the terms which were finally agreed upon were very generous to the Scots both economically and politically, but it is also clear that many Scots felt that the loss of independence was too high a price to pay.

There were 25 articles in the Treaty or Act of Union. They explain a lot. For example, why does the Englishman ask for a pint of bitter to this day, while the Scotsman asks for a pint of `heavy'? The answer is in the legislation. I was also interested to see that Scots and English, over the centuries, have been equally inventive when it comes to verbal abuse of each other. I did not know that we English were called `pork-eaters'.

What does the book tells us about the forthcoming referendum? At the end Fry hints at his conversion, by stating that the period between 1603 and 1707 (when there was a Union of the Crowns but no Union of the Parliaments) was `by any standards the most wretched era of Scottish history'; and in his view, devolution merely re-creates that unhappy time. The logic of this is that the Scots should go forward, by going back `to the place where we started', which means full independence.

An excellent read and it makes you think. As an Englishman, I should be sorry if the Scots do vote for independence; but I am also clear that if they do, that is their business; and the decision will have little to do with economics.
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on 12 February 2016
Not an easy read but made it to the end. Learned quite a lot too. The meaning of the word "treaty" at the time meant "negotiating proposal", "union" meaning "partnership" or "joint undertaking". About Daniel Defoe's spying on the Scots for the English, about Queensberry's (James Douglas) self-interest and dirty tricks, James Hamilton's to-ing and fro-ing between being pro and anti union, leading and misleading groups of Scots MPs. Intimidation, bribery and lying (what a surprise!) by the English side, betrayal of Scotland and its people by the Scottish side.The Aliens Act (English act defining Scots as foreigners and aliens), Jacobites, Covenanters.......... And about the weighting of the Acts of Union in favour of the English system of government.

A lot, if not the majority, of the Scots involved were in their twenties - hadn't known that. So many things worried people at that time - religion, the royal succession (German vs Scottish), free trade, (English) wars in Europe, bankruptcy of the nobility following the Darien Scheme failure. Lots of toadying on both sides.

Throughout the book, Fry quotes directly from primary sources on both sides. The English consistently express their view of Scots as an upstart but inferior race who need to be 'brought to heel' and under (English) control. Not an easy read nor a particularly comfortable one, given the way that these "Scots" handed over the country and her independence to a foreign power with hardly a backward glance or objection. The MPs were lucky they got away with as little as stoning by the people in Edinburgh and that there wasn't more rioting.
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on 4 January 2014
A detailed book, written by a supporter of Scots independence, which shows the complexity of the politics behind the Union within Scotland. The title is disappointing as there's much more detail and analysis on Scotland than England, so that the references to England and the English give the impression of a monolithic pro-Union nation. Also, Mr Fry seems incapable of referring to England or the English without a pejorative preface to either word. Basically it would be more honest if 'England' was omitted from the title.
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on 16 October 2007
Chapter by chapter, year by year from 1702 to 1707, Scottish historian Michael Fry shows how the Union was made. He puts this historic achievement in the context of its time, a period of state-building and wars between rival empires.

In 1688-89, the Scottish Convention, in its Claim of Right, listed the offences committed by James VII of Scotland (James II of England). They resolved that he had violated `the fundamental constitution of this kingdom and altered it from a legal limited monarchy to an arbitrary despotic power'. They ratified the 1688 revolution.

Building on this, the Scottish parliament of 1706-7 progressed towards the Act of Union. This was a Union of states without a union of churches, against the age's prevailing practice of `cuius regio, eius religio'. Which means, `Whose the region, his the religion'. That is, the religion of the ruler of a state determined the religion of the people of that state. Britain became a single state, with not one but two established churches.

The Act of Security for the Kirk established the Church of Scotland, away from the absolute sovereignty of the British parliament. This won Presbyterian support for the Union. The Union forbade the Church of England to establish Anglicanism in Scotland (as Charles I had tried) and forbade presbyterians to establish Presbyterianism in England (as the Solemn League and Covenant had tried). It ended wars of religion in Britain.

The Union also guaranteed the independence of Scottish law and education. It was no one-sided dictation, no simple incorporation.

The Union also gave Scotland unprecedented economic opportunities. As Scottish MP William Seton said, "This nation being poor, and without force to protect its commerce, cannot reap great advantage by it, till it partake of the trade and protection of some powerful neighbour nation, that can communicate both these ... By this Union, we will have access to all the advantages in commerce the English enjoy."

There were other good reasons for Union. Many Scottish presbyterians urged their countrymen to support the Union to save Britain from the joint threat of Catholic France and the deposed Stuarts. Englishmen and Scots united against `Popish Bigotry and French Tyranny'. In 1708, the Royal Navy foiled a French invasion force of 6,000 troops, and the pretender James Stuart.

The Scottish parliament discussed the Act of Union clause by clause from 12 October 1706 to 16 January 1707. In England, by contrast, the Act was rammed through a Commons committee in a single sitting. The Scottish parliament ratified the Treaty of Union and the Act of Security for the Kirk in tandem as the Scottish Act of Union by 110 votes to 67.

The Scots had negotiated their survival; they were not crushed by force like the Catalans. Fry writes, "the vigour of the Scots' existing traditions and institutions let them shape the Union too, for good or ill. The Union was a genuine choice in 1701, not just a factitious product of English expansionism." He has disproved the old lie that "the Scots were bought and sold for English gold."
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on 13 May 2008
When you look at the characters in the Scottish parliament now, you cannot help but be struck by the lack of charismatic characters. With the exception of Alex Salmond and Maggie MacDonald. If you want true politicians you go back to the parliaments of 1680's to 1707.

Within schools and society as a whole - the period of union is one which is poorly understood. What a pity that is. For within Fry's book there comes to life a world where politicians entered parliament with swords. Disputes were to be solved by the duel and not by an appearance on Newsnight. Just as quickly as you rose in the political life in Scotland - one false move and you could end up at the bottom.

Fry is a masterful writer - intermixing raw politics with colourful descriptions of the key characters of the time. Its a good sign when you have a chuckle about people who have been dead for a little under 300 years. Within the pages you will be introduced to the likes of the Duke of Queensbury who would probably have sold his grandmother if it advanced his interests. Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun who went from impassioned speeches to random rants (Wendy Alexander perhaps?). The Duke of Argyll whose response to petitions from around Scotland was that the paper should be used to make kites! A particular favourite of mine is when Fry writes that the Parliament wanted to hear from "Braveheart Hamilton" and not "Bookish Setton".

After reading the book - you are struck by a number of things. How exciting the politics of late 17th and early 18th Scotland were. Also what the country lost when the parliament ceased to be.

I won't go into the historical merits of this book. What I will say is that its a rip roaring read and shamefully - I think its made me a nationalist?!


As a side note - the Parliament of Scotland records (for up till 1707) have been published online - they are worth a read alongside this book.
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on 26 March 2014
A solid and thorough read. Takes a bit of persistence but plenty of good scholarship and informative writing here. If you want to know about the Union of 1707 this is a good place to start.
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on 16 December 2013
An enjoyable and easy to read book. Fry guides the reader through the various threads of Scottish politics before and during the legislation on union. Very helpful for the non historian.
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on 15 September 2014
This has help in some ways to decide how to vote in referendum. l previously new nothing about the union. I would recommend the book to anyone.
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on 15 August 2014
A very important story, told with considerable wit, essential reading in the run up to the referendum on Scottish independence.
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on 27 November 2014
The book was exacly what I wanted and its condition was like new so much so that it could have been. Very pleased
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