On this day in history, as a result of the 1706 Treaty of Union, the Kingdom of Scotland joined the Kingdom of England (which included Wales), to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. (Great Britain added the Kingdom of Ireland to its domain in 1801.)
There was widespread opposition to union among Scots, but proponents believed that failure to agree to the treaty would result in something worse; indeed, English troops were stationed just south of the border and in Ireland as an “encouragement.” Also, significant financial payments were allegedly made to Scottish parliamentarians.
Queen Anne (already Queen of both England and Scotland) formally became the first occupant of the unified British throne, with Scotland sending forty-five members to the new House of Commons of Great Britain, as well as representative peers to the House of Lords.
Although part of the UK’s constitutional monarchy, Scotland’s legal system has remained separate from those of England and Wales and Northern Ireland, and Scotland has its own judicial system. Unlike most western systems, courts can come back with a decision of guilty, not guilty, or not proved.
The continued existence of legal, educational and religious institutions distinct from those in the remainder of the UK have all contributed to the continuation of Scottish culture and national identity since 1707. In fact, many Scots have never given up on the idea of disunion. The introduction in 1989 by Margaret Thatcher’s government of a poll tax in Scotland one year before the rest of the United Kingdom added impetus to the growing movement for a return to direct Scottish control over domestic affairs.
In 1997, a referendum showed Scotland to be in favor of a separate parliament for Scotland with varying tax powers. In response, The Scotland Act was passed in 1998 by the United Kingdom Parliament to establish a devolved Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government with responsibility for most laws specific to Scotland. Nevertheless, the Act specifically declared the continued power of the UK Parliament to legislate in respect of Scotland, thereby upholding the concept of Westminster’s absolute Parliamentary sovereignty.
In May 2011, the Scottish National Party won an overall majority in parliament and scheduled a referendum on independence in September, 2014. The referendum question, which voters answered with “Yes” or “No”, was “Should Scotland be an independent country?” The “No” side won, with 2,001,926 (55.3%) voting against independence and 1,617,989 (44.7%) voting in favor. The turnout of 84.6% was the highest recorded for an election or referendum in the United Kingdom since the introduction of universal suffrage.
Scotland has a reputation for “quick tempers”; studies report Glasgow has more violent incidents per capita than Rio de Janeiro or New York City, although their murder rate is half that of New York City. Gun ownership is rare in Glasgow, so violence occurs face-to-face with knives and fists.
Thus it may seem odd that Scotland’s official animal is the symbol of grace, purity, healing and happiness: the unicorn. The unicorn has been a Scottish heraldic symbol since the 12th century, when it was used on an early form of the Scottish coat of arms by William I.
The Scottish Royal Arms featured two unicorns as shield supporters and after the union with England, in a gesture of unity, King James replaced the one on the left with the English lion. The symbolism was not only potent but portentous, since the lion and the unicorn had long been conceptualized as enemies, vying for the crown of king of beasts.
Today, the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland still has the English lion on the left and the Scottish unicorn on the right, and the Royal Coat of Arms for use in Scotland has them the other way round.