NQ Scottish History

The effects of the Union to 1740

The decades immediately following the passing of the Act of Union were difficult for much of Scotland. British taxation and the implementation of new, pro-English duties on manufactured goods led to an increase in smuggling and subversion as Scots tried to find ways to avoid sending their hard-earned money to London.

Uninvolved in the decision-making process, and now without even the semblance of self-determination with relocation of parliament to London, Scots began to feel increasingly alienated from their altered government. Many new policies and laws that were designed to promote unification were highly unpopular in Scotland and people resisted, feeling that decisions made in London really had no bearing on the common individual in Scotland. Many simply chose to ignore the new English rules and stubbornly went about finding ways to avoid the new increased costs of unification.

An example of this is the Malt Tax that was reinstated at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession. In an attempt to normalise Duties throughout the Union, the Scottish Excise Board was established in 1707. Manned by English officers, the board set about the daunting task of bringing whisky production under control in Scotland.

Illicit distilling flourished, many Scots seeing no good reason for paying for the privilege of making their native drink, the tax being viewed as an English imposition. Smugglers peppered the east coast as industrious businessmen sought to avoid paying duty on imports forming a tradition that endured for some 150 years to come. In Glasgow and Edinburgh, attempts at reintroducing the Malt Tax were met with riots and bloodshed.

Other policies were met by similar resistance; as landlords began to close off common lands from use by their tenants. Formerly runrig communities faced unemployment and began taking down the fences that kept them out.

Subversive activities were not only restricted to smuggling and whisky production however; Jacobite sentiments were still very much present in Scotland, and many who had grievances against the new government joined the cause in the hope that under a Scottish king, things might return to how they had been prior to unification.

With the failed rising of 1715, the 1716 Disarming Act was passed banning all highlanders from carrying weapons in public. After the final Jacobite uprising in 1745 and defeat at Culloden in 1746, this Act was broadened to forbid using blunt-edged eating knives, wearing of the tartan, and playing the bagpipes.

While unrest still fermented at home, the long-term benefits of unification had slowly begun to emerge in Scottish economics and international affairs. The Royal Navy provided greater protection for Scottish ships, and trade with the colonies was lucrative. Landlords had the increased benefit of access to improved English industrial and agricultural practises and they were able to become more efficient producers, albeit at the expense of their tenants. There was an increase in investment from England in infrastructure such as banks and land development schemes to smooth the progress of Scottish industrialisation.

From an economic standpoint, the unification was proving to be a great success.