Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Selected Thoughts on the Anniversary of the Act of Union.

As today is the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union, I have gathered a few quotes from the House of Lords debate (25 January 2007) about the Union to share with you today.

My Lords, what better time to debate the importance of the Treaty of Union than in this, the tercentenary year and on the birthday of Scotland's national bard, Robert Burns? He may have denounced the Scottish negotiators as

"bought and sold for English gold",

but he also confessed that he was devoted to the British constitution, "next after my God".

By the time of Burns's death at the age of 37, the union had brought prosperity with the opening up of free trade, and the country was pulling together in the war against France. The age of enlightenment was in full swing. Scotland was leading the world in philosophy, economics and architecture with men such as Adam Smith, David Hume and Robert Adam. Our historic partnership literally changed the world, and Scots have been in the front line of national endeavour from the thin red line to Tumbledown, from Alexander Graham Bell to John Logie Baird.

We in Britain are more fortunate than we know. We have the oldest and most stable constitution in Europe. The sea is our timeless frontier. In 1603, Scotland inherited the English throne, and in 1707, by sovereign treaty, the union of Parliaments made us free and equal partners in the United Kingdom. We take a lot of things for granted—our prosperity, our freedom and our stability under the Crown—but what we take for granted most of all is the privilege from which all those advantages derive: the privilege of being British. There is no one prouder to be Scottish than I am, but I take equal pride in being British. There is no contradiction, no clash of interests or allegiance that disrupts that dual identity. It is our birthright to be Scots, English or Welsh; our good fortune to be British; and, I believe, our duty to be unionists.

The United Kingdom is greater than its individual parts. Unity is our instinct and our strength—unity that has been forged and tested in peace and war. We are a nation united under the Crown by common interest, by history, and by destiny. We must never relinquish that precious inheritance, and must fight to preserve our United Kingdom for generations to come. I

-- Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

In some ways I am almost representative of the union. I was born in England of Scottish parents. My brothers and my sisters still live in England, where they brought up their children. My brothers divide their loyalties between England and Scotland. Their children see themselves as English, while my sons see themselves very much as Scottish. I have lived for45 years in Scotland: I know many people would not believe that on listening to me—although I may look it. I have brought up my family in Scotland; I holiday in Scotland; and I support any Scottish team or Scot taking part in any sporting activity. I suppose, in the words of Jim Sillars, that makes me a 90-minute patriot.

However, along with the majority of Scots, I cannot understand why anyone should propose the break-up of the United Kingdom. Of course, there are times when people should declare their independence from a dominant power. On these Benches, we have supported throughout our political lives the struggle of oppressed peoples for freedom throughout the world. But, despite the sometimes strange rhetoric of the SNP, no comparisons can be made between Scotland and those oppressed peoples. I have heard Alex Salmond compare the struggle of Scotland's independence with the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. What an insult to the people of South Africa that is.

Except for history and sport, what divides us from England? We are not divided by religion; we speak the same language; and we are of the same race and colour. There is not even a natural geographic divide between the two countries. When I was driven north by my parents, we believed that we were in Scotland when we crossed the Solway. I now notice that the border is about a mile further up the road nearer to Gretna.

Scotland is not an oppressed colony seeking freedom. As the noble Lord said, Scots played a dominant role in the discovery, settlement and administration of the British Empire. They played a major role in the growth of the British economy. Even today, Scots play a leading role in the government of the country. Our present Prime Minister was born and went to school in Scotland. The next Prime Minister, who will be there for as long as he wants, is Scottish. The leader of the Liberal Party is a Scot and I am sure that, given his name, David Cameron has Scottish ancestors somewhere.

It would be a major blow to both England and Scotland if the bond between them was broken. Devolution has created some anomalies but, as I have said, they are no greater than the anomalies that were there when the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth and Lord Lang, were Secretary of State. The British constitution is riddled with anomalies; this House is, after all, probably the biggest anomaly of all. We amend these anomalies when necessary. I do not believe that the present relationship between England and Scotland needs any amendment at this stage. Let us celebrate and enjoy throughout the United Kingdom the benefits that the union brings—personally, socially and economically—and let us, on all sides, stop harping on about the few problems and grievances that exist.

-- Lord Maxton

The truth is that, whatever the political settlement agreed between the different peoples of these islands, we are bound together by an entanglement of history and the realities of geography.

-- Lord McNally

The union of our country is too valuable to be left in this dangerous state of instability. We have no option but to return to the proposition so admirably presented by my noble friend Lord Baker. I press the point of the social reason that I referred to earlier: the family ties that bind us. A few years ago I wrote a family history. I concluded the introduction with the observation that,

"the intermingling of English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish blood (and the history of those nations) that has produced my children and grandchildren is a characteristic of families that is ... unlikely to be exceptional. That fact appears to me to be significant when confronted by the current wave of nationalist sentiment and at a time when the unity of the United Kingdom is under threat ... My grandchildren have every reason to take pride in their common heritage from all four nations in the British isles".

A vast number of others on these islands are in the same position.

Let us join battle to defend the union, not on the grounds of personal ambition, however honourable that ambition may be, but because we are all members of a family with a shared history, shared interests, shared values and shared hopes.

-- Lord Crickhowell

The United Kingdom, of course, had been created in 1603, when James VI inherited the English and Welsh throne. Lord Mar was one of the ambassadors who came to London to negotiate that dynastic union. His great grandson would have seen in 1706 how the dual monarchy was not working. English Ministers had too much influence over the Crown. This was after all a period of personal regal government. The Parliament of Scotland did not have a clear run at the Crown. The parliamentary union was an expedient—workable but not necessarily just.

Now, the parliamentary union is unnecessary. Scotland and south Britain should seek a new treaty. To spell it out, I want to retain the Union of the Crowns 1603 as a substantial symbol of the British social union, forged over so many years.

-- The Earl of Mar and Kellie

It is, of course, a fact that England and Scotland are side by side but I believe that since the Act of Union we are one nation, comprising two peoples, or indeed three or four peoples, and that is what has made us stronger. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, might wish to include the Cornish as an additional distinct people. But if we are to revert to being two nations or more, by definition we would be apart and, as the Chancellor says, weaker. I believe that Scotland's contribution to the United Kingdom has been, and is, far bigger than one based on its proportion of the population of the country.

-- Viscount Trenchard

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