HistorianDr Bill KnoxUniversity of St Andrews

The story so far

In 1707, the Acts of Union, passed by the parliaments of Scotland and England, created the United Kingdom of Great Britain. What has happened to Scotland and England in the last 300 years that has defined and shaped both their identities?


The aftermath of Union

Queen Anne, the first monarch of Great Britain

With the Act of Union, Queen Anne, the last Stuart monarch, became Queen of Great Britain

The Union of 1707 was pushed through against the popular will on both sides of the border.

On the day the treaty was signed riots broke out in Edinburgh and Glasgow as well as in other Scottish burghs. Threats of widespread civil unrest led to the imposition of martial law. A motion in the House of Lords in 1713 to dissolve the Union was defeated by only one vote.

Timeline: Scotland and the road to UnionHow the Act of Union affected Scotland


Jacobite risings

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Dr Tony Pollard explains why the Battle of Culloden was a crucial episode in British history. Clip: Scotland's History Top Ten

In a struggle over the succession to the throne, there were three failed attempts to overthrow the Hanoverian monarchies of George I and II.

The Jacobites supported the cause of the Catholic James Stuart, formerly James II of England (James VII of Scotland). The risings in 1715, 1719 and, more famously, in 1745 were not intended to restore independence to Scotland, but were part of a dynastic struggle between these two royal houses. Scottish clan chiefs did not all support the same cause; some sent their men to fight for the unsuccessful Stuart cause and others for the Hanoverians.

Who were the Jacobites and what did they want?Was 1715 the greatest chance of a Jacobite success? Bonnie Prince Charlie launches the 1745 Jacobite rising

May he sedition hush and like a torrent rush, Rebellious Scots to crush. God save the King.

Excerpt of the National Anthem’s second verse, first performed in 1745 but no longer included


Incorporation of the Highlands

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General Wade builds roads through the Highlands. Clip: A History of Scotland: Let's Pretend

The aftermath of the ’45 Jacobite rebellion led to a wave of murder, rape and pillage in the Scottish Highlands by loyalist troops.

The British state also took steps to destroy Highland culture: the wearing of Highland dress was forbidden as was playing the bagpipe. The Gaelic language was banned in schools. Eventually, it was decided to channel the martial spirit of the Highlanders into what the government regarded as more constructive uses. Highland regiments were formed and played a major part in expanding the British Empire.

HIgland oppression after the Battle of Culloden


Scottish Enlightenment

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James Naughtie on Edinburgh's role as the centre of modern Scottish thought. Clip: Scotland's History Top Ten

Scotland was at the forefront in intellectual thinking with breakthroughs in science, philosophy and economics which were key to the modern world.

But influential thinkers, such as David Hume and Adam Smith, also played a crucial role in reconciling the Scots to their new identity. They saw the Union as the key to the liberation from Scotland’s dark and fractious religious past and economic backwardness. They maintained Scots could be Scottish and British at the same time.

The Enlightenment: Edinburgh's age of genius

We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation.

Voltaire (1694-1778), French philosopher


Industrialisation and Empire

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New inventions power Scotland's industrial revolution. Clip: Scotland's History Top Ten

Developments in industry and the expansion of the Empire further strengthened the dual identity of the Scots.

Scotland experienced an industrial revolution and, by 1850, was the powerhouse of the British Empire: world leader in shipbuilding, engineering, iron-making and coal mining. Scots were also at the heart of the Empire as administrators and soldiers. But the fruits of this success were spread unevenly: poverty, disease and squalor were endemic in many of Scotland's towns and cities.

Glasgow prospers from trade with the EmpireTrade and the Empire19th Century disease and poverty in Scottish cities

The English ruled the Empire but the Scots ran it.

Aphorism, Prof Tom Devine interviewed in Scottish Review of Books interview, 2010


The extension of the franchise

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Why Sir Walter Scott opposed more Scots having the vote. Clip: A History of Scotland: This Land is our Land

An electoral division between Scotland and England was evident even in the 19th Century.

Extensions of the voting franchise in 1834, 1867 and 1884 brought the vote to the ordinary working man. The electorate now numbered millions rather than thousands. It brought men, but not women, into politics. In Scotland these voters largely supported the Liberal Party. England was generally Tory. The growth of a national press and railways allowed the parties to communicate with the extended electorate – it was an age of communication.

The Chartist movementThe rise of the middle class

Late 1800s

Nineteenth Century nationalism

Wallace Monument, by Finlay McWalter courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons

The Wallace Monument was built by public subscription during the late 19th Century. Image: Finlay McWalter

There emerged in the late 19th Century a number of fairly small organisations dedicated to fighting for Scottish self-government or home rule.

They argued that the parliament in Westminster was overloaded by the efforts of running an empire and this had led to a neglect of the regions. It was thought a devolved government would lead to greater efficiency in the governance of Scotland. However, they were not in favour of independence. The most important of these organisations was the Scottish Home Rule Association, formed in 1886.

The Irish Home Rule movement

A Legislature sitting in Scotland with full control over all purely Scotch questions

Aim of the Scottish Home Rule Association, est.1886


King and country

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Almost 150,000 Scots were killed in WW1 and there was barely a family left unaffected. Clip: In Search of Scotland: A Century of Pain and Pleasure

During World War One, the Scots, more than in other parts of Great Britain, responded enthusiastically to the call to fight for King and country.

But as the number of wounded and dead grew alarmingly there was a great deal of industrial and political discontent with the running of the war both on the home front and the battlefield. ‘Red Clydeside’ was born during these years. This led workers in the west of Scotland to shift their political allegiances from the Liberals to the Labour Party.

How close did WW1 bring Glasgow to revolution?What was Orkney's crucial role in WW1?12 amazing facts about WW1


Labour and nationalism

Ramsay MacDonald's first Labour government of 1922. Hulton Getty

Ramsay MacDonald and Labour's first government, 1922. Image: Hulton Getty

The Labour movement in Scotland had been enthusiastic supporters of the concept of ‘home rule all round’.

This would transform the Empire into a federation of equal nations linked to the parliament in Westminster. Most of the Labour MPs elected after the 1922 general election had home rule for Scotland in their manifestos. But, like earlier nationalistic organisations, they did not call for a separate, independent Scotland.

Ramsay MacDonald – Labour’s first PM


Economic depression

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Economic hardship leads to high levels of Scottish emigration. Clip: A History of Scotland: Project Scotland

The inter-war economic depression not only brought hardship to millions, it profoundly changed the political landscape of Scotland.

A new form of politics emerged based on a firm commitment to a British national identity. The extent of the difficulties undermined support for self-government. Many Scots concluded that the answer to their problems lay in the construction of a strong British state committed to economic planning and state control of ailing industries.

What was the General Strike?Labour's Home Rule tradition


Foundation of the Scottish National Party

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Hugh MacDiarmid helps spark a Scottish renaissance. Clip: A History of Scotland: Project Scotland

During an age where other nations around Europe wrestled with ideas of their own identity, the SNP was formed by a merger of two existing parties.

Born out of frustration with the inability of the Labour Party to deliver on home rule, the small membership of the SNP was made up of intellectuals, poets and Celtic mystics. Some were level-headed politicians, others had flirted with fascism, some were anti-Catholic Irish, but all were agreed on independence rather than devolved government. The SNP contested its first general election in 1935 polling less than one percent of votes cast.

Who was Hugh MacDiarmid?

Instead of our leaning on England and taking inspiration from her, we should lean and turn to Europe, for it is there our future prosperity lies.

Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978), author and founding member of SNP


War and welfare

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After the horror of WW2, Scotland dreams of a prosperous post-war country. Clip: A History of Scotland: Project Scotland

During the Second World War, feelings of Britishness were heightened by the shared experience of hardship, suffering and loss.

But they were also intensified by the post-WW2 construction of the Welfare State, providing cradle to grave social security as a right of British citizenship. Massive strides were made in reducing inequalities and providing greater opportunities for all British people. Many Scots, when asked what their identity was would, in the 1950s, have replied British first and Scottish second.

BBC History: World War TwoFormation of the welfare state


End of Empire

Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohandas Gandhi. AP Max Desfor

Pictured with Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru was the first Prime Minister of independent India. Image: AP, Max Desfor

Historians have argued that the Empire was the economic and political glue that held the UK together.

However, it had become too expensive to run as fighting two world wars had brought Britain to near bankruptcy. The British government embarked on a fairly rapid process of decolonisation beginning with India in 1947 and the African colonies in the 1950s and 60s. There is now little left to remind us of the Empire, but it is thought that its demise began a process that was to lead to the unravelling of the British state.

The end of Empire


Discovery of oil and the rise of the SNP

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How the discovery of North Sea Oil changed Britain forever. Clip: Crude Britannia: The Story of North Sea Oil

The recent story of the rise of the SNP began in Hamilton in 1967.

Winnie Ewing took Labour’s safest parliamentary seat in Scotland for the party. From there a movement was evident which coincided with the discovery of oil in the North Sea and the promise of a wealthy independent state. The SNP took over a third of Scottish votes in the October 1974 general election and 11 seats. The main Westminster parties agreed to a referendum on Scotland’s future in 1978.

North Sea oilNorth Sea oil facts and figures

Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on.

Winnie Ewing, MP, 1967


1979 Devolution Referendum

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The 1979 Scottish Devolution Referendum. Clip: A History of Scotland: Project Britain

The Devolution Referendum of 1979 was the moment that the groundswell of support for devolution was dashed.

In a late change, the pro-independence campaign had to achieve a minimum 40 percent of the total electorate rather than a majority of votes cast. This they failed to do. The political fallout was catastrophic for the SNP. They joined with the Conservatives in a vote of no confidence in the Labour government. In the election that followed the SNP was reduced to two parliamentary seats.

A perspective on the 1979 Referendum


Scotland's Tory vote collapses

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The legacy of Margaret Thatcher, inspired by Scotland's Adam Smith. Clip: A History of Scotland: Project Scotland

The election of the Thatcher government in 1979, committed to cutting public expenditure, alienated much of the Scottish electorate from the Tories.

The appeal of the Union in 20th Century Scotland was based on Protestantism, Empire and Patriotism. All of which failed to resonate with voters after the 1951 general election. The Unionist vote began to haemorrhage and the SNP were initially the main beneficiaries. The Conservative party was seen by many as being an ‘English’ party with no mandate to govern in Scotland.

Thatcherism and the end of the post-war consensusAdam Smith studies Glasgow's 18th Century Tobacco Lords



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The demolition of Ravenscraig steelworks. Clip: Thatcher and the Scots

The collapse of heavy industry began in the 1960s but it gathered pace under the Thatcher government in the 1980s.

Many famous industrial landmarks disappeared. A new economy based on electronics, banking and retail took its place. The political ramifications were profound. The bedrock of the Labour Party, the skilled male worker, was fast disappearing and being replaced by workers with no fixed political affiliations or connections to the trade unions. A political vacuum was opening up in Scotland.

Scotland's experience of the Miners' Strike


The Claim of Right

Labour MP Tam Dalyell

Tam Dalyell, MP for Linlithgow, an anti-devolutionist, was famously the only Scottish Labour MP who refused to sign the Claim of Right

A group of politicians and public bodies signed a declaration of sovereignty.

The Claim of Right was signed on 30 July 1989 in the same room that the National Covenant had been signed more 400 years previously. The document was signed by politicians, with the exception of the Tories and the SNP, and other representatives of civil society. Referring to the 1689 Claim of Right that asserted Scotland’s sovereignty, the signatories in 1989 claimed that the Scottish people had spoken and that Westminster had to listen.

Scotland's original National Covenant drafted 1638SNP hail 1989 Claim of Right

The sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs.

The Claim of Right, 1989


The Scottish Parliament

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The first Scottish Parliament for over 300 years was opened by the Queen in 1999. Clip: BBC Scotland News.

A referendum to establish a parliament for Scotland and an assembly for Wales was held by the incoming Labour government.

This time the result was a resounding ‘Yes’. Scottish political identity had undergone a massive transformation. The first elections were held in 1999 and led to a Labour/LibDem coalition. In 2007, in a landmark victory, a minority SNP government was elected.

The opening of the Scottish Parliament, 1999

[Devolution is] a motorway to independence with no U-turns and no exits.

Tam Dalyell (b.1932), MP


SNP form a majority government in the Scottish Parliament

Inside the Scottish Parliament

Inside the Scottish Parliament, the first on Scottish soil for over 300 years

In an electoral system designed to produce coalition government, the SNP surprised many by achieving an outright majority in the Scottish Parliament.

Its breakthrough was against a backdrop of voter disillusionment with Westminster politics and the economic policies of the UK coalition government. The result raised the question of Scotland’s place within the Union. The SNP government now had the mandate to hold a referendum on the future of Scotland within the UK and pushed the UK government to recognise that result as binding. The referendum was scheduled for 18 September 2014.

How did Scotland change so much in 40 years?

We will give Scots the opportunity to decide our nation’s future in an independence referendum.

SNP election manifesto, 2011