EVEN before the Scottish Parliament began to debate the Articles of Union in this month of 1706, it was clear that the position of the Church of Scotland was going to be a key issue in the negotiations and settlement of the Union.

Historians still argue about what effect the Kirk had on the rush to Union, but there is no doubt that for some months prior to the debate in the Scottish Parliament, opposition to the Union by the Kirk was widespread and often quite ferocious as ministers and elders could clearly see a threat to the Presbyterian system.

Guarantees for the Scottish legal and educational systems were part of the Treaty of Union, but the position of the Church of Scotland was not. The biggest fears of the Kirk were that episcopacy as per the Church of England would be imposed upon the Church of Scotland, transforming it away from its Presbyterian nature. There was also genuine fear that bishops would then appoint ministers to local congregations.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf’s parents among hundreds at Glasgow pro-Palestine rally

It wasn’t just fear for the loss of Presbyterianism that proved the ire of so many Kirk people. The end of Scottish identity itself was foreseen by the patriotic polemicist and inveterate letter writer the Rev Robert Woodrow of Eastwood who described his opinion in May of 1706, and I quote exactly: “A great many are soe litle mindfull either of religion, liberty or soveraingty… since we want ships and a stock for trading in any considerable way, and quhich is worse, we want honesty one to another in dealing, and a selfish spirit overrunns all, I see noe great things I can promise from a liberty in trade iself, without being a distinct kingdome and Parliament… I have a great many melancholy thoughts of living to see this ancient kingdome made a province, and not only our religiouse and civil libertys lost, but lost irrecoverably, and this is the most dismall aspect ane incorporating union has to me, that it putts matters past help.”

In the drafting of the Treaty, the Scottish commissioners, as one of them wrote, wanted “to make the Presbyterian government and its security the basis of any Union between the two nations”. But the English commissioners feared a backlash against the Union in their parliament if such a promise was made.

It looked very briefly as though the Kirk to which most members of the Scottish Parliament owed various sorts of allegiance might totally oppose the Union, and as recorded in the Mar and Kellie Papers in the National Records of Scotland, the pro-Union Earl of Mar was in some trepidation in October 1706.

He wrote to Baron Sidney Godolphin, Queen Anne’s chief adviser, to inform him about the views of the Presbyterian clergy in Scotland in late October: “I must acquaint your Lordship that the humor in the country against the Treaty or Union is much increased of late and I must acknowledge the Ministers preaching up the danger of the Kirk is a principal cause of it, and the opposing party’s misrepresenting every Article of the Treaty make the Commonality believe that they will be oppressed with taxes.

“These and other byways have altered, all of a sudden, the inclinations of the populace very much as to the Union and most of the Churchmen are not like to behave so wisely nor prudently as I expected. Yet the Union will certainly do in the Parliament but I’m afraid some people may commit some foolish irregular thing either before it pass or after it…”

As I have shown, the vote for Union was a foregone conclusion, and now the proposers and supporters of the Union in the Scottish Parliament acted quite cynically. In November, they rushed through the Act for Securing the Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Government in Scotland. The Act decreed the continuation of “the said true Protestant religion, and the worship, discipline and government of this Church to continue without any alteration to the people of this land in all succeeding generations”.

Queen Anne’s approval was immediate and the English Parliament also backed it, thus removing the greatest obstacle to the Union, the first and most important Article of which was duly passed. The Kirk legislation contained these words: “And lastly that after the decease of Her present Majesty (whom God long preserve) the Sovereign succeeding to Her in the Royal Government of the Kingdom of Great Britain shall in all time coming at His or Her Accession to the Crown swear and subscribe that they shall inviolably maintain and preserve the foresaid Settlement of the true Protestant Religion with the Government Worship Discipline right and Privileges of this Church as above established by the Laws of this Kingdom in Prosecution of the Claim of Right.”

As all his predecessors since King George I had done, King Charles III swore that oath.

The Kirk-preserving Act having been passed, Parliament ordered that a pamphlet – “Queries to the Presbyterian noblemen, barons, burgesses, ministers who are for the scheme of an Incorporating Union” – be burned at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh.

The Scottish Parliament received countless protests against the Union. Even as the debates were ongoing, a new phenomenon of public protest emerged in the shape of petitions signed by citizens across the country. It is surely a telling fact that there were 96 or 97 such petitions against the Union but precisely nil in favour of it.

According to the official website of the UK Parliament, “they were designed to show to undecided MPs the widespread unpopularity of the proposed terms”. It is possible that the petitions and their messages had some influence in the changes made to the Articles. But the Duke of Argyll, one of the leaders of the Scottish Court party, said that petitions were little more than “paper kites” – a revealing insight into how governments of the day regarded public opinion.

Next week, I will show how the campaign against the Union continued.