I AM currently reading Scotland: The Autobiography by Rosemary Goring, which contains snippets of written evidential information about Scottish historical facts and events. The following articles (edited by me) attracted my interest given the current Brexit and independence climate. It is about one Daniel Defoe who, as well as being an author, was also a government agent for the English Crown.

In 1707 he was sent to Edinburgh, in the run-up to the Union, to spy on the local people who were up in arms when they heard about the prospect of the unification of the Scottish parliament with the English parliament. His observation was as follows.

“I had not been long there but I heard a great noise and looking out I saw a great multitude come up the high street shouting and swearing and crying out all Scotland would stand forever. No Union. No union. English dogs, and the like. The mob fell upon a gentleman who had discretion enough to say something that displeased them, just under my window. The city by this time was in a terrible fright. The Guard was insulted and stoned as they stood.”

A more comprehensive observation was contained in a letter from Stirling Town Council to the king.

“Although we desire true peace and friendship be perpetually cultivated with our neighbours in England, yet we judge your going into this treaty that lies before you will bring an insupportable taxation upon this land, which all the grants of freedom of trade will never counterbalance being so uncertain and precarious while still under the regulations of the English in the parliament of Britain. Thus it will prove ruinous to our manufacturers, that it will expose our religion, church government as established by law, our claim of right, laws, liberties and consequently all that is valuable. Our parliament is the vcery hedge of all that is dear to us, extinguished and we and our posterity brought under a lasting yoke which we will never be able to bear the fatal consequences of which we tremble to think upon.”

This could well have been a description of the Brexit consequential effect that might be upon Scotland. The council’s fears eventually came to pass.

In 1723 Daniel Defoe travelled through Scotland and found that the influence of the Union of Parliaments had not been as universally beneficial as he had expected as in his description of Kirkudbright.

“I take the decay of all the seaport towns, ‘tis evident have made a much better figure in former times, to be owing to the removing the Court and nobility of Scotland to England: for it is most certain, when the Court was at home, they had a confluence of strangers, residence of foreign ministers ... and consequently their nobility dwelt at home and spent the means of their estates and product of their country amongst their neighbours”.

Defoe continues with reference to “the return of their coal, salt, corn and fish, brought them in goods from abroad, and perhaps money. They sent linen to England, wool to France and lead to Holland. Sheep and cattle also went to England which brought in £100,000 per annum”.

Daniel Defoe provided much more evidence of what was before the Union of the parliaments as to the prosperity of Scotland compared to what had happened subsequently. So far as Kirkudbright was concerned “it was a pleasant place but nothing pleasant there. A harbour without ships, a port without trade, a fishery without nets, a people without business, and the self-evidence of the will to survive financially taken away”. The opportunities and materials were still available for trade but not the will or drive to follow as before 1707.

He continues: “It is true, the reason is in part evident, namely, poverty; no money to build vessels, hire seamen, buy nets and materials for fishing, to cure the fish when it is catch’d, or to carry it to market when it is cure’d; and this discourages the mind.....’tis the poverty that makes them indolent.....and far from what it is in England, you hear no oaths, or profane words in the streets; and if a mean boy should be heard to swear, the next gentleman in the street, if any happen’d to be near him, would cane him, and correct him, whereas in England nothing is more frequent or less regarded now ... ”

You can see some similarities here to what is happening to the UK and in particular Scotland. I hasten to think that, what was Scotland over the many years following 1707, as described by Daniel Defoe, and what we read of the Clearances a 150 years later, could anything anywhere resemble what is taking place right now as a result of the Westminster Tory majority. Least of all that same parliament’s ignorance of even the very existence of what Scotland is about and the prosperity it has grown for itself over the past hundred years or so.

We need our independence if we are to continue and grow and better the lifestyle Scotland has at this moment in time. Scotland is definitely bigger and better and stronger. Scotland can survive bigger and better and stronger without the English prefect to lord over us, as they have these past 300 and more years.

Alan Magnus-Bennett