REGULARS will recall I am trying to fulfil a reader’s request for information about the 20 or so main things that Scots should know about their nation’s history. In any case, I had been planning a short series on Scotland in the British empire, the collapse of which is, in my opinion, one of the main reasons why Scotland has been moving gradually towards independence over the last 50 years.

Thus, I can complete my 20-plus primer by considering Scotland in the empire. Strictly speaking, “British” history started in 1707 with the Union. As I constantly point out, the Union did not stop the existence of the countries of Scotland and England, but it did create a unitary state, the “One Kingdom of Great Britain” as stated in Article 1 of the Treaty of Union.

Technically speaking, everything that has happened to our countries since then should be lumped under the heading of British history but, of course, we Scots have retained our nationhood and so this short series is about how Scotland fitted into the creation, maintenance and eventual near-dissolution of the largest empire, in terms of area and population, that ever bestrode the planet Earth.

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Continuing the format established over the last three weeks, I will set myself a series of questions in a bid to complete this Scottish history primer. When did the empire start and when was the name British empire coined? The first use of the word empire was recorded in 1688/89 at the time of the so called Glorious or Bloodless Revolution. This was anything but, given the first Jacobite rising of 1689 when supporters of King James VII and II attempted to restore him to the thrones which had been usurped by William II and III and his co-monarch Mary II.

There was plenty of blood shed in Scotland and Ireland as William and Mary forged their own little empire, and that was first called the “English empire” on a map published in 1690.

The historian Professor CH Firth recorded in 1918 that the term “British empire” was used as early as 1708 but he argued it did not come into common public usage until the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763. Until that time, the words English or British empire referred to the island of Great Britain and its colonies across the Atlantic.

What drove the establishment of the Empire? At the time of the Union, England already had substantial colonies over in North America. Scotland had none, and the failed venture at Darien had bankrupted the country.

Giving Scotland access to these colonies for trade, along with the protection of the Royal Navy, was one of the main incentives for the Parcel of Rogues to vote for the Union which, as I have shown recently, was a corrupt fix.

Another of the main drivers of the empire was religion. Scotland in the 17th century had been riven by religious strife, most notably at the time of the Covenanters, many of whom were martyred for their belief in a more extreme form of Presbyterianism.

I have written extensively in the past about the Covenanters and the Killing Times, and I have no wish to retell that sad story, but one legacy of the Presbyterians in Scotland and the peculiarities of the English Reformation was the massively anti-Catholic nature of the Union which, according to Queen Anne, was more about securing the Protestant succession than anything else.

To this day, as is stated in the Act of Union article No 2, no “papist” can sit on the throne of the United Kingdom. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle could have saved themselves a lot of trouble and removed themselves from the royal succession and thus the royal family by popping along to their local Catholic Church and getting themselves baptised. It is also why I contend that the UK is an institutionally sectarian state. Why criticise the Orange Order when it sees itself as upholding what the Union started as – an avowedly Protestant state?

SPREADING the Protestant faith was a genuine impetus for empire building and, as we shall see next week, Scots were to the fore in the decades of missionary work that accompanied Britain’s imperial conquest and colonisation of what eventually amounted to one-quarter of the world’s population and one-fifth of its land area.

When did Scotland really begin to make an impact in the empire? The first few years of the Union were fragile, and even before Queen Anne died in 1714, there had been a motion in the House of Lords the previous year to abandon the whole project, a motion which was lost by only four votes and which thus reflected the deep divisions in Scotland over the Union – the majority of the people had objected to the Union in 1707, but the threat of military action against the dissenters curbed their protests.

Of course, by the start of rule of the House of Hanover in 1714, there had been the abortive Jacobite Rising of 1689-90 and 1708. The Jacobite Rising in 1715 proved many Scots were unhappy with the Hanoverian succession and the Union and, by the 1720s, even the English propagandist and spy Daniel Defoe concluded that Scots in general were not benefiting from the Union. One group who did profit was smugglers – the crime of smuggling tobacco from America was rife in the 1720-30s.

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The final Jacobite Rising in 1745 showed the fragility of the British state. Prince Charles Edward Stuart promised freedom of religion and the end of the Union if he regained the throne for his family. Yet Scots were already making their way in the expanding empire, most notably in the British Army, as was shown at Culloden in 1746 when the Duke of Cumberland commanded an army replete with Scots.

With the Jacobites sidelined, it was time for Scots to embrace the British empire. As we shall see, legal tobacco imports from the 1740s boosted the country’s wealth just at the same time as the Industrial Revolution began to take its hold here, with agrarian improvements also being a revolution of sorts but one which led people who previously lived off the land having to find new ways of earning a living.

The growing British empire provided that with opportunities across the world ready to be taken by Scots who began to emigrate in their thousands. By the time of the Seven Years War (1756-63) Scottish soldiers, particularly Highlanders, were among the best regiments of the British Army, and the ever increasing size of the Royal Navy was sustained by the numbers of Scots who were serving in it.

The Treaty of Paris in 1763 stopped the war and left Britain well on the way to becoming the world’s biggest naval and colonial power.

What role did the Scottish Enlightenment play in empire building? The second half of the 18th century and first years of the 19th century were a time of extraordinary intellectual achievement in Scotland.

I have written before about the giant figures of the Enlightenment and would urge all Scots to do a modicum of research into this fascinating period in which Scotland’s “school in every parish” approach to education came good.

PEOPLE of genius congregated and exchanged ideas in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and elsewhere, with our greatest poet and greatest author, Robert Burns and Sir Walter, Scott respectively, both products of a culture that encouraged original thinking in science and the arts.

One of the Enlightenment’s greatest thinkers directly influenced the massive expansion of the British empire. Although his actual role in the fomenting of the Empire is often debated, Adam Smith’s book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, contains both a strong anti-imperialist note in regard to the colonies in the USA – he basically proposed a form of devolution for them – and an emphasis on trade as the force which would enrich Britain and other countries.

This was taken to heart by various governments, and protection of commerce by the Royal Navy became the lifeblood of the growing empire.

As well as founding the science of political economy, Smith was also one of the first philosophers – his first love was moral philosophy – to use the term empire in relation to Britain. He wrote: “A great empire has been established for the sole purpose of raising up a nation of customers who should be obliged to buy from the shops of our different producers all the goods with which these could supply them.

“For the sake of that little enhancement of price which this monopoly might afford our producers, the home-consumers have been burdened with the whole expense of maintaining and defending that empire.”

Smith was referring to the colonies in America, and it was he, and not Napoleon, who first coined the phrase that the UK was “a nation of shopkeepers”. He wrote: “To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers may at first sight appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers; but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers.”

Smith showed how the empire was involving massive spending on war, and the two states who were competing and spending most to expand their empires were Britain and France. Many Scots were still romantically attached to the notion of the Auld Alliance with France, but that soon disappeared when France became the British empire’s enemy.

What were the trades in which Scotland flourished in the Empire? In this Black History month, more should be learned about Scottish involvement in the slave trade and the use of slaves on plantations owned and managed by Scots.

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By the 1740s, the slave trade was already established and Scots were involved both as slavers transporting Africans to the Americas and West Indies and as merchants and plantation owners growing rich on the backs of slaves.

Although slavery was declared illegal in Scotland in 1778, it was pointedly not illegal elsewhere in the empire, especially in the American colonies which were key to Scotland’s economic progress in the second half of the 18th century, with tobacco being the fuel that boosted the Scottish economy.

Scottish imports of tobacco were usually redirected to England and ports in Europe – tobacco accounted for more than half of Scottish exports in the 1750s.

It was not just America. Professor Sir Tom Devine in his masterly book The Scottish Nation: A Modern History, states: “Scottish merchants were also pushing aggressively into the Caribbean islands and the British trading enclaves in India.

“Some have seen this thrusting commercial spirit as the result of Calvinist ideology which is said to have promoted the business ethic of hard work, thrift and the confident assurance which came from the awareness of membership of God’s elect.

“But equally the Scottish capacity to exploit the opportunities may also be explained by the long tradition of merchant adventuring in Europe in the 15th,16th and 17th centuries which had broadened horizons, refined commercial techniques and reduced fear of foreign cultures.”

So Scots were in at the Empire’s beginnings and the greatest age of the British empire was still to come, with Scots heavily involved in this biggest of all enterprises.

Find out more next week.