IF you date it from the announcement that started the whole process, the Union between England and Scotland celebrates its 364th anniversary today. That’s right, not 1707, but 53 years earlier.

For it was on April 12, 1654, that the conqueror of Scotland, Oliver Cromwell, and his greatest general, George Monck, declared the Union between the two countries, with London becoming the capital and seat of government.

There will be those who argue that the Union was even older – the English Parliament had declared three years previously that Scotland would be incorporated into the Commonwealth in the so-called Tender of Union first promulgated in 1651 after Cromwell’s New Model Army smashed the Scots into miserable and abject defeat at Dunbar in September 1650.

Yet that Tender of Union never actually crystallised as the Rump Parliament somehow did not get around to processing the necessary Act.


IN 1649 after the execution of Charles I, the Scottish Parliament had declared his son to be King Charles II of Scotland, despite their misgivings about another Stuart king. That provoked Cromwell’s invasion which led to the disaster at Dunbar after which, among other depredations, Cromwell stole most of Scotland’s public records, a lot of which have never been seen since.

The Scottish Committee of Estates, the Presbyterian Covenanter Government of the country when the parliament wasn’t sitting, withdrew north after Dunbar and in January 1651, they crowned Charles II King of Scots at Scone. In return he agreed to the Covenanter’s demands that Presbyterianism would be the state faith in all his kingdoms.

Big mistake by the Scots. Cromwell’s army invaded Fife and other parts north of the Forth while the Scottish army under David Leslie went south. Cromwell left Monck in charge in Scotland and raced south to Worcester where, on the first anniversary of the Battle of Dunbar, he inflicted yet another devastating defeat on Charles II’s mainly Scottish army. Some 3000 of the Royalist army were killed and 8000 captured Scots were deported or sold into slavery in the New World while Monck ruthlessly “pacified” all but the outermost islands of Scotland.

Cromwell was now in charge of the whole of the British Isles, and he meant to show it. While Charles II fled to the Continent, the Scottish Parliament was summarily dissolved.

After dismissing the Rump Parliament in 1653, Cromwell as Lord Protector was effectively a dictator and he went back to his original project of bringing conquered Scotland under English control, sending mainly English “commissioners” to run the country, though eventually he brought back – after illness and command at sea – George Monck to run things.

On April 12, 1654, Cromwell in London and Monck in Edinburgh pronounced the “Ordinance (a binding legal decree) for uniting Scotland into one Commonwealth with England” and as far as they, Parliament and, it should be said, many Scots were concerned, Scotland and England were united from that day.

They knew that humiliating Scotland would be a bad idea, so there was no outright attack on the Church of Scotland and the Saltire was incorporated into the “Arms of the Commonwealth”, while there would be 30 Scottish MPs in London.

There was an ongoing but brief uprising against Cromwellian rule in the north and north-west of Scotland under the Earl of Glencairn, but when Charles II sent John Middleton, later an earl, to take charge of the Royalist forces, Monck marched north and decisively defeated them at the Battle of Dalnaspidal on July 19, 1654.

Cromwell’s second Protectorate Parliament – with Scottish MPs consenting – ratified the Ordinance to make it an Act of Union in 1657, the year before Cromwell died. According to the Act, there would be no further Scottish monarch or parliament.


THE first Union lasted just six years from 1654 to 1660 when General Monck, no less, marched south and deposed Oliver Cromwell’s son Richard, and then led the Restoration of the Monarchy with Charles II returning as king.

Whisper it, but rather a lot of Scots had prospered during the peace imposed by Monck, who had all but stamped out banditry in the country.

Some Scottish politicians loved it. William Ross of Drumgarland, MP for Dumfriesshire, infamously said: “I think myself at home when I am here.”

How many MPs of various Unionist parties have said that over the centuries?


IT is a period of Scottish history that is rarely taught, and perhaps there are political reasons for that. The conquest – for that is what the first Union was – does not suit the Unionist nonsensical “we’re all in this together as equal nations” narrative, and to be fair it doesn’t sit well with the nationalist “unconquered Scots” myth.

That’s the trouble with history. There are bits you can never deny, but you can always ignore them.

Scotland was conquered, no question, but then if one Act of Union can be repealed ...