Guide to Scotland
   Gateway to the British Isles since 1996
A Brief History of Scotland

Presented by Peter N. Williams, Ph.D.

Chapter 10: Scotland Resurgent

Apart from the occasional riot, usually occurring then as now, at the imposition of some new tax or other, political apathy was the norm in Scotland. The 45 Scottish M.P.'s seemed to be content with their lot; after all, they were sharing the largesse of what was becoming the largest and wealthiest empire on earth. It was convenient as well as lucrative for them to largely ignore the desperate needs of the constituencies of their own country. The native Scottish spirit of independence, however, broke through with the widespread support of the American cause in the War of Independence, a sympathy for basic political rights that was repeated during the French Revolution.

The authorities responded with cruel reprisals. Two outspoken Scots, Thomas Palmer and Thomas Muir were exiled to many years of servitude in Botany Bay for their support of what they considered the natural rights of man. In Parliament, anti-Scots feeling was stirred up by the notorious and nasty fop, John Wilkes, whose Scottophobia was based on his conviction that the English were a superior race. The spoils of victory in the Seven Years War, he preached, were for England. His invective and the winning of the war in America by the patriots had the effect of once more stirring up feelings for Scottish independence.

Wilkes no doubt felt his scurrilous attacks on his northern neighbors were justified. There were many attempts on the life of this arrogant, chauvinistic Englishman. In many Scottish cities, he was burned in effigy. In England, on the other hand, he was popular as an exemplar of "little English patriotism" with all its bigotry and narrow-mindedness. Such were the convictions of the scoundrel Wilkes, former felon, that he defended frequent death sentences and public executions in his own country as helping accustom brave Englishmen to a contempt for death.

For Wilkes, the Scots were inherently, unchangeable aliens "never, ever to be confused or integrated with the English." He insisted on using the term England to describe the entire island (a fault of many ignorant Americans to this day); and he gave his unqualified support to those who would warn the great Scottish Lords and even the King himself, of "melting the English name down to Briton." I do not know what he thought of the Welsh (who continued to think of themselves as the true "Britons"), but I can imagine that his complete lack of knowledge of their Cymric language put them completely out of reach of his and most Englishman's ken.

Naturally, there was a strong reaction in Scotland to the scandalous charges of Wilkes and his ilk, especially since the culmination of his attacks came in his assertion that the American rebellion had been fomented in Scotland. "The ruin of the British Empire," he complained, "is merely a Scotch quarrel with English liberty, a Scotch scramble for English property." Alien men and alien attitudes from North Britain, he said, had infected those in the seat of power in London, forcing other Englishmen in North America into rebellion.

On one hand, Wilkes was expressing long-felt English contempt of Scottish civilization. On the other, he was expressing the very great fears of increasing Scottish influence, especially in the seats of power. George III, in particular, had welcomed the Scots as loyal Britons. He intervened in a case involving the mistreatment of a family of Scottish tollgate keepers by a party of English dragoons. He insisted the culprits be tried in a Scottish court and be severely reprimanded. In official eyes, particularly those of the King, Scotland was no longer the old enemy but a useful, loyal and British domain. More important, perhaps, in view of Britain's overseas commitments, the Highland regiments of the army constituted the bulk of Britain's arsenal. Such loyalty had to be rewarded. London had to open itself up to increasing Scottish participation in its affairs.

More opportunities for Scots meant fewer perks for Wilkes and his Englishmen. In fact, only one year after Culloden, the Prime Minister, Henry Pelham had conceded that "Every Scotch man who had zeal and abilities to serve the King should have the same admission with the administration as the subject of England had." Thus Scots were allowed to compete for advancement in the state on favorable terms with the English (and Welsh, who had been flocking into London in such great numbers since the time of Elizabeth to pick many a juicy plum from the veritable forest of lucrative government positions). Wilkes' very invective was a sure sign that the old barriers between Scotland and England were no longer extant, power and influence within Great Britain was no longer confined to the English.

The tail was beginning to wag the dog. One sure sign of this was the choice of Scotsman John Stuart, the Earl of Bute as the principal architect of King George III's plan to rule as well as reign. Bute's determination to end the war with France led to the resignation of William Pitt. Under Bute's guidance, the Treaty of Paris (1763) gave Britain possession of Canada, many island colonies and Florida, as well as strengthening its hold in India. Sad to relate, many Englishmen then reviled Lord Bute as not gaining more from defeated France and loyal Scots were treated with mistrust (ever contempt and derision) in the streets of London. The reasons are not hard to find.

Chapter 11: Transformation