The Act of Union reached its 300th anniversary 10 years ago, having taken effect on May 1, 1707. For the life of me, I cannot recall huge celebrations on the streets of Scotland to mark the tercentenary of arguably the second-most-important document in Scottish history after the Declaration of Independence made at Arbroath in 1320.

It is always a mystery to me that the independence movement in Scotland is generally somewhat ignorant of the Act of Union, what led to it, how it was fiercely opposed, and how it was shamefully achieved. For if any legislation needs undoing if Scotland is to become independent, then this is it.

It is hugely important to know that the 1707 Act was by no means the first attempt to unite the very separate countries of England and Scotland into what is technically a unitary state.

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The first serious effort to incorporate the nation we now know as Scotland into England was made by William the Conqueror. Undoubtedly angered by the Scottish king Malcolm Canmore’s marriage to Margaret, sister of Edgar Atheling who many saw as the rightful King of England, and provoked by Malcolm’s raids on Northern England, William marched north in 1072 and forced Canmore to sign the Treaty of Abernethy. No copy of it exists, but it allegedly contained Malcom’s acceptance of William as overlord.

For several centuries afterwards, various English kings asserted that overlordship, most notably Edward I, known as Longshanks. He was asked to adjudicate the succession to the Scottish crown in the 1290s, a dispute which led directly to Bannockburn and the eventual English acknowledgement of Scottish independence under Robert the Bruce.

Fast forward to Henry VIII, who wanted to unite the crowns of Scotland and England under his son Edward VI in the mid-16th century. The plan came to fruition only after the death of Henry’s daughter Elizabeth in 1603, when it was James VI and I who joined the kingdoms of Scotland and England in his personal union.

It could be argued that from then on, the unity of Scotland and England under a single parliament and political system was inevitable, not least because successive Stuart monarchs wanted it. Yet it took more than a century to bring about, largely because neither country’s politicians really wanted it at first.

The first real suggestion of parliamentary union was made as early as 1607, just four years after the Union of the Crowns. It was the English Parliament that kicked that idea into touch with alacrity.

Further promotion of full union took place in the 1640s when the Scottish Parliament wanted a sort of federal union — again rejected by the English — and the idea continued to raise its head through the following decades.

There were several key times in that 17th century when Scotland was effectively at war with England, principally when Charles I was executed — much to the dismay of most Scots — and when Cromwell’s roundhead forces occupied much of Scotland after the Battle of Dunbar.

When the English Parliament invited William of Orange to replace James VII and II as king in 1688, the Scottish Parliament was not best pleased to have the appointment presented to them as a fait accompli. The result was the first Jacobite uprising of 1689 when only the death at Killiecrankie of their general John Graham of Claverhouse, known as Bonnie Dundee, stopped the Scottish and Irish army of James Stuart from occupying Scotland and probably most of northern England, too.

The fact that the Government forces at Killiecrankie were almost entirely Scottish and that the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692 was carried out by Campbell troops did not ease the ongoing difficult situation between England and Scotland.

For throughout the 17th century, the English Parliament had frustrated many Scottish attempts to improve the economy through trade, sometimes by effectively blockading Scotland’s tiny navy, and just when it looked as though Scotland might be able to prosper in the 1690s, twin disasters struck the country. It is too simplistic to say that the failure of the Darien scheme, coupled with several poor harvests at the end of the 17th century, enabled Queen Anne to raise the idea of full Union when she came to the throne in March 1702, but there is no doubt the poor economic state of Scotland greatly helped her cause.

We know that things were very bad in 1698 because in one of his two Discourses written in that year Alexander Fletcher of Saltoun tells us so: “There are at this day in Scotland (besides a great many poor families very meanly provided for by the church-boxes, with others, who by living upon bad food fall into various diseases) two hundred thousand people begging from door to door. These are not only no way advantageous, but a very grievous burden to so poor a country.”

Fletcher suggested shipping beggars off to work as slaves on the West Indies plantations, so he was no enlightened reformer. He was however, a patriotic Scot and would play a vital part in the opposition to the Act of Union. As well as suffering famine due to poor harvests, Scotland had increasingly seen its trade routes to Europe and beyond blocked by England, which also frequently withdrew trading rights between the Scots and English markets, and with William III at war with Scotland’s ancient ally France, not a few people began to agitate for political union in the late 1690s as a way of solving all the problems.

The Darien disaster then all but overwhelmed Scotland. Thescheme will have a column of its own, but suffice to say Darien almost bankrupted Scotland by 1700 and indeed many people did go bust. And it was not just the aristocracy who lost fortunes in the Company of Scotland’s doomed attempt to settle Darien – it was a gamble by a large part of the nation which backfired spectacularly.

There is no doubt that King William not only didn’t back the Scottish attempt to establish a colony in Panama, he may well have sent the English navy to deliberately obstruct the scheme. The Spanish government, too, bitterly opposed the scheme as they considered the land to be theirs, and they sent troops to besiege the Scottish colonists who were also dying from various tropical illnesses.

Almost every family in lowland Scotland was affected by the collapse of the Darien colony. It is reckoned that a quarter of all of the country’s cash was lost.

Scotland took the collapse badly. Three innocent English sailors were hanged in Edinburgh in 1704 in apparent revenge for the seizing of a Company of Scotland ship by the East India Company. Queen Anne personally asked for clemency but the Edinburgh mob made sure the sailors died a gruesome death.

By then it was clear that the Scottish economy effectively needed bailing out, and with English markets again closed to Scottish trade, even while a “British” army was fighting on the Continent – Scottish regiments fought under the Duke of Marlborough at Blenheim in 1704 – the political moves that led to the Act of Union were already under way.

One of these was the Act of Settlement of 1701 which banned Catholics from the throne – an insult to many Scots as that ruled out the surviving Stuarts and meant that Sophie of Hanover was anointed as heir to Queen Anne. Moreover, it meant that, like William of Orange, the English Parliament would have first say on who would be Scotland’s monarch. In response, the Scottish Parliament tried to pass an Act of Security in 1703, basically saying that its members would decide on a protestant successor of Scottish descent unless the English agreed to certain economic and religious conditions. Fletcher of Saltoun summed up the Scottish position in a speech to the Parliament in Edinburgh: “No man in this house is more convinced of the great advantage of that peace which both nations enjoy by living under one prince. But as on the one hand, some men for private ends, and in order to get into offices, have either neglected or betrayed the interest of this nation, by a mean compliance with the English court; so on the other side it cannot be denied, that we have been but indifferently used by the English nation.

“I shall not insist upon the affair of Darien, in which by their means and influence chiefly, we suffered so great a loss both in men and money, as to put us almost beyond hope of ever having any considerable trade. The English nation did, some time past, take into consideration the nomination of a successor to that crown; an affair of the highest importance, and one would think of common concernment to both kingdoms. Did they ever require our concurrence? Did they ever desire the late King to cause the Parliament of Scotland to meet, in order to take our advice and consent? Was not this to tell us plainly, that we ought to be concluded by their determinations, and were not worthy to be consulted in the matter?

Note the echoes down the centuries of English leaders failing to take on board Scottish concerns ... Fletcher could just as easily have been speaking of Theresa May and Brexit.

Fletcher concluded his speech by saying: “It is my opinion that the house come to a resolution, that after the decease of her Majesty, heirs of her body failing, we will separate our crown from that of England.”

That was going too far. The Bill was refused by Queen Anne’s Commissioner, ie the queen herself. The following year, the Act of Security was passed by Anne, but only after the Scots threatened to withdraw their vital troops from Marlborough’s forces fighting the War of Spanish Succession.

Huge political pressure was now put upon Scotland as the English Parliament promptly passed the Aliens Act which made Scots into foreign nationals in England and threatened to destroy Scottish trade with England – valued at about half of Scotland’s total income.

Crucially, the Act specifically stated that its provisions would be suspended if negotiations began for either the repeal of the Act of Security or for an Act of Union. It was the latter option that prevailed. As we shall see, and indeed we shall name names, next week, there were already plenty in the Scottish nobility who were agitating for Union, but even they were surprised at how quickly it came about – in effect, it took less than a year for the negotiations, parliamentary votes and the Act taking effect.

The historian and Scots-born English bishop Gilbert Burnet wrote: “The Union of the Two Kingdoms was a work, of which many had quite despaired, in which number I was one; and those who entertained better hopes, thought it must have run out into a long negotiation for several years: but beyond all men’s expectation, it was begun and finished within the compass of one.”

The shameful dying days of Scotland's independence before the Act of Union

The National:

An 1809 engraving shows Scottish nobleman James Douglas, the 2nd Duke of Queensberry, presenting the Act of Union to Queen Anne in 1707

The full story of the 12 months or so leading up to May 1, 1707, is rarely told to Scots.

No wonder, for the details of how the Act of Union came into being despite the opposition of perhaps 80 to 90 per cent of Scots are truly shameful.

There are those who say it was a monarchic fix, who claim the Scottish Parliament was bribed, who argue that Scotland was not treated like an equal partner, and that the Act of Union was a grubby political deal between men of little moral fibre – the evidence is there to prove all those assertions.

Even those in favour of the Union would have to concede that the Act was passed against the wishes of the majority of Scots, and probably a substantial minority of English people, too. It is often said that England’s need for national security and the guarantee of a Protestant succession to the throne were its chief inspirations in seeking the Union, but many in England viewed Scotland as wholly backward and did not see the need for a political union with a poor country they felt would be a drag on English resources, a view that is still extant today in some English quarters.

The first item to note is that the Scottish Parliament was wholly unrepresentative of the nation as a whole. The Estates of Parliament, to give it its proper name, had until 1690 consisted of the three estates, namely senior clerics, nobles and burgh commissioners.

King William and Queen Mary’s supporters in Scotland reorganised the Parliament so that by 1706, there were 154 commissioners (MPs) from 99 constituencies. The franchise, such as it was, was very limited, and only a tiny fraction of the population had a vote, with land ownership the main qualification for being allowed to vote or represent a constituency.

The Scottish Parliament, in other words, was full of vested interests, and records show that after the 1702 election, the Parliament consisted of 67 nobles, 80 shires members, 67 constituent burgh members and the remainder were officers of state appointed by the Queen.

It is wrong to say, however, that the Parliament was just a lap dog for the Queen and her aristocratic supporters in the Government.

It was both a court – the highest in the land – and the setter of tax rates, the body which decided Scotland’s foreign policy and which was very much involved in the affairs of the national religion and the Kirk.

Party politics as we know it was in its infancy in the early 1700s, but there were four defined groups in the Parliament – the Court Party, so called because it formed the administration; the Country Party, which was effectively the main opposition, the Jacobites, who called themselves Cavaliers; and the Squadrone Volante, a group of Presbyterian nobles whose real name was the New Party.

When the fateful last Parliament first met in 1703, the agitation for and against Union with England made for a very fractious gathering. That was still the case in 1706 with a clear split emerging between the two sides for and against the Union – and the “for” side held all the aces. Last week we saw how previous attempts at a Union had failed for a variety of reasons, but it is vital to know that the prime instigator for the successful 1707 Union was Queen Anne, the last Stuart monarch. If any of her 17 pregnancies by her husband, Prince George of Denmark, had led to an adult heir then her fears over her succession would not have existed.

As it was, only one child survived beyond infancy, and Prince William, Duke of Gloucester died at the age of 11 in 1700, the same year that Anne had her final child, a stillborn son.

Such was Anne’s concern over the need for a Protestant to succeed her that from her accession to the throne in 1702, she concluded the only way to stop Scotland from choosing a different king or queen was to have a full union – in short order, a shared parliament under the same monarch.

As we saw last week, by early 1706, the Scots were placed in a massively negative position by the Alien Act that would effectively make them foreign nationals in England despite sharing the same monarch, as well as slashing trade with English markets on which so many Scots depended.

Some in the Parliament were so offended that they seriously discussed another union, this time with the Dutch Republic. The Scottish Parliament’s only way to combat the Alien Act was to agree to talk about Union, and many of the Country Party took the view that when it came to actual union, there would be no way that the Scottish and English Parliaments would both agree to it – a big mistake.

Eventually, 62 “commissioners” were appointed, 31 from each country, to negotiate a Treaty that would eventually become the Act of Union.

That appointment process saw the first serious piece of treachery. Scotland’s most senior peer, the Duke of Hamilton, was supposedly the leading light of the Country Party and an anti-Unionist. But he was also an ardent royalist and on September 1, 1706, at a late sitting of the Parliament, he proposed that Queen Anne appoint all the negotiating commissioners. The proposal passed by just four votes, and Anne duly appointed Scottish commissioners who were all pro-Union.

We now know, thanks to diligent work by historians, that the commissioners from both sides held secret informal meetings, with no minutes taken and no report back to either Parliament for fear of inflaming already high emotions.

In April 1706, the commissioners met officially in London, and were presented with the proposal approved and possibly even written by Queen Anne: “The two kingdoms of England and Scotland be forever united into one kingdom by the name of Great Britain; that the United Kingdom of Great Britain be represented by one and the same parliament; and that the succession to the monarchy of Great Britain be vested in the House of Hanover.”

In just 10 days, sitting in separate rooms in Whitehall, the commissioners hammered out the basis of the treaty and it took just another three weeks to deliver the full treaty. In effect, the Act of Union was negotiated in just over a month.

Its 25 articles were mainly concerned with financial and economic matters, and there was very little disagreement about such issues as the uniting of the two parliaments, the design of the Union flag and the standardisation of weights, measures and coinage.

The Hanoverian succession was confirmed in Article Two, Scots law was preserved, as was the Scottish education system and its universities, while the Royal Burghs maintained their ancient rights.

The preservation of private rights, and of heritable offices and jurisdictions caused some discussion and there was outright disagreement at first over the number of Scottish peers and MPs to sit in Westminster – 16 and 45 were the eventual numbers – but the biggest cause of friction was taxation. The Scottish side eventually won a series of exemptions on taxable items such as paper, windows, coal, salt and malt.

The speed of action and the proposed scale of the union took everyone in Scotland by surprise. The Church of Scotland was most concerned that the Act did not guarantee that English-style bishops would not be imposed on it, and the Presbyterians became the most vocal critics.

Local councils across Scotland joined the outcry and it can only be stated that there was a nationwide reaction against the proposed Union, with protesters taking to the streets of Edinburgh, Glasgow and most major towns. The demonstrations were suppressed by the local authorities, sometimes with violence, and the use of what was effectively internment to take out the leaders.

We know what the reaction was on the streets because a writer called Daniel Foe, above – he added De to his second name to make himself sound grander – was sent as a spy from London to gauge reaction in Scotland.

Now we all know history is written by the victors, so much of Daniel Defoe’s History of the Union is biased. Yet there were several telling episodes that he recorded and which have been confirmed from other sources, including one Scottish chronicler of the time who reported that Defoe was “a Spy amongst us, but not known to be such, otherways the Mob of Edinburgh had pulled him to pieces”.

Defoe, who would later write Robinson Crusoe, was very fearful of the Edinburgh Mob, that loose association of troublemakers who could rise up in an instant and achieve their ends through sheer weight of numbers and an inclination to violence and intimidation.

At one point in October 1706, Defoe witnessed the Edinburgh Mob attacking the house of Sir Patrick Johnston, one of the Scottish commissioners.

He wrote: “His Lady, in the utmost despair with this fright, comes to the window, with two candles in her hand, that she might be known; and cryed (sic) out, for GOD’s Sake, to call the Guards. . . one Captain Richardson, who commanded, taking about thirty men with him, march’d bravely up to them and, making his way with great resolution thro’ the croud, they flying, but throwing stones, and hallowing at him, and his men, he seized the foot of the staircase; and then boldly went up, clear’d the stair, and took six of the rabble in the very act; and so delivered the gentleman and his family.”

Defoe, as the master of faction, then placed himself at the centre of events: “I heard a great noise and looking out saw a terrible multitude come up the High Street with a drum at the head of them shouting and swearing and crying out ‘all Scotland would stand together, No Union, No Union, English dogs,’ and the like.”

Troops were summoned as Parliament met to discuss the treaty, while petitions sprang up all over Scotland against the Union.

In the Scottish Parliament, opposition to the Union was less violent but no less passionate.

It transpired that the English Parliament was prepared to pay a sum of money to its Scottish counterpart. That sum of almost £400,000, or around £30 million nowadays,was called the Equivalent and was ostensibly to compensate Scotland for taking on a share of the English national debt.

Scotland had no national debt but many people in the country were deep in personal debt due to the Darien scheme disaster, and many of those voting in Parliament were compensated for their losses.

Now at last, in late 1706, parliamentarians had to make their stances clear. John Campbell, second Duke of Argyll, led the Court Party in favour of the Union, with the Duke of Queensberry as the Queen’s Commissioner in charge of proceedings. Their main work was accomplished behind the scenes as peers and other members of the Scottish Parliament were bribed with promises of offices the new set-up and sometimes just plain cash. They were to prove brilliantly effective at buying up what Robert Burns so memorably called a Parcel of Rogues. The Duke of Hamilton came out against the Union, asking: “Shall we in half an hour yield what our forefathers maintained with their lives and fortunes for many years?”

Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun railed against it, as did Lord Belhaven, but the fix was in. In one day, the opposition of the Kirk was ended by an Act rushed through Parliament guaranteeing the “Security of the Church of Scotland”.

Yet when it came to the vote on the first Article, the majority was just 32 with a vote of 115 to 83. All the remaining Articles were voted through by larger majorities.

Bought and sold for English gold​

The National:

William and Mary started the wars that left England in debt

The final days of Scotland as an independent country in 1707 were nothing short of pitiful. The passing by the Scottish and English Parliaments – no-one ever asked the Welsh and Irish – of the Act of Union was, and will forever remain, a shameful blot on the proud history of this country. In the immortal words of Robert Burns, we really were bought and sold for English gold by a parcel of rogues whose high-flown titles in no way disguised the gutter baseness of their actions.

In this, the third and final part of our series marking the 310th anniversary of the Act of Union, we will show how there was opposition to the Union right up to the day the Act was passed into law and for long afterwards. We’ll chart that bitter aftermath and we will name the worst of the guilty.

No matter what the pro-Union historians and apologists say, it is an undeniable fact that most of those who voted an independent Scotland out of existence in 1707 – against the wishes of the vast majority of Scots – were rewarded for doing so, with some of them reaping very rich rewards indeed. They earned for their votes the equivalent of many millions of pounds sterling in today’s money.

That word “equivalent” says it all, for that was the name given to the deal that sealed Scotland’s fate. Scotland had no national debt as it is understood on April 30, 1707. One day later and Scotland had a share of the British national debt which then stood at £14 million.

It is wrong to say that Scotland had no debt at all, for the collapse of the Darien scheme and years of poor harvests as well as loss of trade revenue due to the wars instigated by William and Mary and carried on by Queen Anne had left many Scots considerably in debt – and it was not just the aristocracy and the landed gentry.

It was not a “national” debt, however. The concept of a debt owed by a nation centrally was entirely English as it began under William and Mary to pay for their foreign wars.

As well as the upper class, the Scottish mercantile sector was in dire trouble, and many had agitated for union. The English Parliament was not too pleased to do so, but in order to proceed with the Union, it was agreed to pay the Equivalent, the sum of £398,000, to offset Scotland taking on its share of a joint national debt and also to soften the blow of the higher taxes Scots would have to pay – there were tax exemptions on things like salt and malt but these only lasted a few years.

The Equivalent was also meant to pay for the loss of value that Scots would suffer as the two countries integrated their coinage and weights and measures. Some 25 commissioners were given the task of distributing the Equivalent, and some of them paid themselves plenty.

The majority of the Equivalent – almost 60 per cent – was used to pay the costs of closing down the Company of Scotland which had been the vehicle for the disastrous Darien scheme. Yes, a lot of ordinary investors across Scotland got some of their money back, but by no means all of them and by no means all of their money.

It also took many years to sort out Equivalent claims and counter-claims and further cash settlements were required, with a firm called the Royal Bank of Scotland helping that process. However, some people got their money quickly and got plenty of it. You can guess who … You will recall from last week that the Scottish Parliament was wholly unrepresentative of the nation.

The 154 commissioners (MPs) from 99 constituencies were voted in by a franchise that was very limited, and only a tiny fraction of the population had the vote.

The Scottish Parliament from 1702 to 1707 consisted of 67 nobles, 80 shires members, the representatives of 67 constituent burghs plus officers of state appointed by the Queen.

Let us be generous here. Let us see those Parliamentarians as desperate to do their monarch’s wishes, to bring about a Union that would still preserve the Kirk, Scots law and our schools. But let us also call some of them desperate for advancement and money, for they were.

With the Duke of Queensberry presiding and the Duke of Argyll leading the bribery backstage, swiftly but surely the Court Party, so called because it formed the administration, outflanked the opposition Country Party and the Jacobites who called themselves Cavaliers, while the Squadrone Volante, a group of Presbyterian nobles whose real name was the New Party, vacillated.

Sums of money, peerages, offices of state and pensions were all promised. Even the “expenses” of commissioners, totalling £20,000 alone, were to be paid. There were some deserving payees – staff such as the Queen’s chaplain in Scotland and the keepers of Parliament House got their back pay after years, but outside in city streets, town squares and country lanes, the people protested as news of the Equivalent began to spread.

They were cowed by troops sent by the Privy Council wherever riots threatened, and all the time there were reports from down south that the Royal Army led by the Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, was waiting to invade Scotland if the Union did not proceed. That was cruelly untrue fake news – Marlborough was preoccupied with the War of Spanish Succession, which was not going well in 1707, and in any case he depended on Scottish regiments such as the Royal Scots Greys for the backbone of his army.

Like so many other English leaders, Marlborough wanted the Union to succeed so he could have many more Scots as cannon fodder, or at least have them not invading England while he fought in Europe.

On January 16, 1707, after another piece of treachery by the Duke of Hamilton – he was supposed to lead the final protest by leading a walk out from Parliament but cried off with toothache – the Act of Union was passed by 110 votes to 67, a majority of 43.

The Duke of Queensberry was rewarded with the Dukedom of Dover and a £3,000 annual pension, and the Duke of Argyll was made Duke of Greenwich.

A century later, that great Unionist Sir Walter Scott wrote of the events of that month: “Men, of whom a majority had thus been bought and sold, forfeited every right to interfere in the terms which England insisted upon, and Scotland, therefore, lost that support, which, had these statesmen been as upright and respectable as some of them were able and intelligent, could not have failed to be efficacious.

“But, despised by the English, and detested by their own country, fettered, as Lord Belhaven expressed it, by the golden chain of equivalents, the Unionists had lost all freedom of remonstrance, and had no alternative left, save that of fulfilling the unworthy bargain they had made.”

FOR once, Wattie got it right. He later added: “Owing to all these adverse circumstances, the interests of Scotland were considerably neglected in the Treaty of Union; and in consequence the nation, instead of regarding it as an identification of the interests of both kingdoms, considered it as a total surrender of its independence, by their false and corrupted statesmen, into the hand of their proud and powerful rival.

“The gentry of Scotland looked on themselves as robbed of their natural consequence, and disgraced in the eyes of the country; the merchants and tradesmen lost the direct commerce between Scotland and foreign countries, without being, for a length of time, able to procure a share in a more profitable trade with the English colonies, although ostensibly laid open to them.

“The populace in the towns, and the peasants throughout the kingdom, conceived the most implacable dislike to the treaty; factions, hitherto most bitterly opposed to each other, seemed ready to rise on the first opportunity which might occur for breaking it; and the cause of the Stewart family gained a host of new adherents, more from dislike to the Union than any partiality to the exiled prince.”

How true that was about the “exiled prince” James Stuart, above: the Scottish Parliament held its last meeting on March 25, 1707, being adjourned for 292 years, after the English Parliament voted through the Act in a single sitting. As the Scottish Parliament was dissolved, the Earl of Seafield lamented: “There goes the end of an auld sang.” Within a year of the Act taking effect 310 years ago yesterday, on May 1, 1707, a Jacobite uprising almost threatened the whole project.

The forgotten rising of 1708 followed the first sitting of the united Parliament on October 23, 1707. There were 45 Scottish MPs able to sit in the House of Commons compared to 513 from England and Wales.

Sir John Clerk of Penicuik recorded that they found themselves “obscure and unhonoured in the crowd of English society, where they were despised for their poverty, ridiculed for their speech, sneered at for their manners, and ignored in spite of their votes by the ministers and government”.

At the start of 1708, popular feeling in Scotland against the Union was running even higher, as people found that their coins were being put out of tender – the Scottish national mint couldn’t cope and closed within a few years.

The forced introduction of English coinage, weights and measures wreaked havoc, and all the time Jacobite sympathisers were planning another attempt to take back the throne of the United Kingdom, with spies reporting that Scotland was ready for rebellion against the Union and Queen Anne.

King Louis XIV of France had sheltered the Stuarts and now he sanctioned an invasion force of 5,000 troops and 20 ships to take “James VIII and III”, as Louis called him, to Scotland, where spies said 25,000 men were ready to rise. There’s little reason to doubt that figure.

The Royal Navy intercepted the French force even as it prepared to land near Burntisland and despite James’s pleas to be set ashore, they all returned to Dunkirk save for one ship lost during the flight from Fife.

We will never know how much the history of Europe would have been changed if that rising had been successful.

By 1713, the Union was so unpopular that a call was made for the repeal of the Act in the House of Lords, the Scottish peers having at last seen what the Union really was – a takeover and not a genuine union of equals. The resolution was lost by just four votes. The hoped-for benefits of the Union just didn’t happen at first.

The writer and English spy Daniel Defoe came north in 1726 and concluded that the improvement in trade and the economy hadn’t happened – it was “not the case, but rather the contrary”.

Walter Scott himself wrote: “Nor was it until half a century had passed away that the Union began to produce those advantages to Scotland which its promoters had fondly hoped, and the fruits of which the present generation has so fully reaped.”

No historian can deny that Scottish involvement in the British Empire in the late 18th and 19th centuries enriched more than a few Scots. Whether the Enlightenment would have occurred or not is a moot point, but the fact is that the Act of Union certainly changed these islands and its peoples.

It was a shabby, underhand anti-democratic deal, and as is often said about history, those who do not learn from it are condemned to re-live it.