IF there is any point in writing about Scottish history it is to learn from the past and apply that knowledge in our present and future. So today I am completing a short series on the Union of 1707 and its after-effects.

I will show that it has not always been a “precious union” and has certainly never been perfect.

We all know the Union was achieved by a privileged few in both countries, and that the Scots who brought it about were rewarded well for voting the Scottish Parliament out of existence – the parcel of rogues really were bought and sold for English gold.

There was no true democracy back then. If one person, one vote had applied and there had been universal suffrage, then the Union would not have happened. Yet the acts of union were passed by both parliaments and there can be no argument about this – judged in the context of those times, the Union was entirely legitimate. Morally corrupt, anti-democratic, achieved by cheating and bribery, yes, but in legal and constitutional terms, it was legitimate, and remains so – note I wrote “legal and constitutional”, but that takes no account of politics and morality.

Unionists will tell you quite happily that the Union remains legitimate because it is a consensual arrangement and both the Conservative and Labour parties parrot this nonsense, which reminds me of the famous words of Dr John Arbuthnot (1667-1735), personal physician to Queen Anne, who said: “All political parties die at last of swallowing their own lies.”

We have no equivalent of the VAR system to go back and check on the facts of the history of the Union, so therefore we need to consider what people did, said and wrote at the time and since then, and a picture emerges which is at variance with the typical Unionist view that the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England is the best thing that ever happened to either country.

Remember that the Union only survived by four votes in the House of Lords just a few years after 1707; that it was threatened by numerous Jacobite uprisings in the 18th century – Charles Edward Stuart specifically said he would end it – and that critics pointed out that it took many years for Scotland to get any benefit from the Union, whose founding acts had been breached on numerous occasions.

You may say what does history matter? Can’t we all accept the Union is a fact and past problems have no effect on the present situation?

Here’s one example of why we need to consider the whole issue of the Union. Reader Gavin Brown, the man who exposed the ludicrous nonsense in the UK Government’s citizenship test, told me about challenging one person’s accepted view of the Union: none other than Jeremy Paxman.

Gavin wrote: “My experience began with a slightly tongue-in-cheek complaint to the BBC about University Challenge. Its substance was: ‘During the programme this week Jeremy Paxman, when telling a contestant that his answer was wrong, added, ‘The English Parliament has never been abolished although many have tried. This is historically incorrect. Both the English and Scottish Parliaments passed acts of union that created at that time the Parliament of Great Britain. It was not the simple absorption of Scottish MPs into an English institution.’”

The BBC eventually took Gavin’s complaint seriously enough to have a member of the “executive complaints” staff reply to him.

They stated: “The original Parliament of Scotland was technically prorogued, not abolished, in 1707. Similarly, although the English Parliament was transformed into the Parliament of Great Britain, it was Scotland which sent a limited number of new peers and MPs to London. The Palace of Westminster remained the seat of power.

“I can see an argument that this amounts to the effective abolition of the English Parliament but not, given the circumstances, that this is the only view it is possible to take. Certainly there appears to be some historical evidence that this was a matter of dispute at the time.”

The state broadcaster backed their man and his Anglocentric view but, legally and constitutionally, Paxman was wrong and Brown was right. The acts of union created a new Parliament of Great Britain but, as history shows, the new Parliament from 1707 carried on much as the Parliament of England had done, just as was feared by many Scots.

I promised last week to publish more of the thoughts of those critics of the Union down the ages, so here’s a small selection culled from my research into the subject.

The Kirk minister and historian Robert Wodrow (1679-1734), about whom I shall tell more soon, wrote at the time of the Union: “I have a great many melancholy thoughts of living to see this ancient kingdom made a province and not only our religious and civil liberties lost, but lost irrevocably, and this is the most dismal aspect an incorporating union has to me, that it puts matters past help.”

One of the great propagandists for the Union was the English spy and author Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) but when he toured “The Whole Island of Great Britain” from 1724 to 1727 to pen one of the earliest and greatest pieces of travel writing, he found the Union had not benefited most of Scotland except Glasgow.

He blamed the Scottish nobles – the very ones who brought about the Union – for what he found in Fife and elsewhere, writing: “Now their Court is gone, their nobility and gentry spend their time, and consequently their estates in England. The Union opens the door to all English manufacturers, and suppresses their own, prohibits their wool going abroad and yet scarcely takes it off at home; if the cattle goes to England, the money is spent there too.

“The troops raised there are in English service, and Scotland receives no premio [reward] for the levies, as she might have done abroad, and as the Swiss and other nations do at this time.”

Defoe had to conclude: “The Scots hate the Union but they hate each other more.”

Later in the 18th century, James Boswell, the lawyer and biographer of Dr Samuel Johnson, was with a party of Scots making the Grand Tour of Europe when they came across a copy of the Declaration of Arbroath in Leipzig University.

Boswell recorded: “They were struck with the noble sentiments of liberty of the old Scots and they expressed their regret at the shameful Union. I felt true patriot sorrow. Oh, infamous rascals who sold the honour of your country to a nation against which our ancestors supported themselves with so much glory. But I say no more, only, alas, poor Scotland.”

So how did Scots come to acquiesce to the Union? Greater trade – no. Empire – yes.

The late, great Paul H Scott explained it succinctly: “By about the middle of the 19th century, belief in the Union was virtually an article of religious faith, largely because partnership in the Empire had become a substitute and compensation for the independence that was lost. It was therefore necessary to find a respectable explanation for the way in which the Union had come about.”

How could it be explained that a country which had courageously defended her independence against a larger neighbour for more than 300 years had suddenly appeared to yield without much of a struggle? You can see the emergence of a new orthodoxy in a correspondence in 1852 between the two historians, Hill Burton and Macaulay.

Burton suggested an explanation could be found in “the urgency of the Scots for participation in the English trade”.

‘IT became the accepted wisdom for about the next hundred years that the Union was a bargain in which the Scots (or at least their highly unrepresentative Parliament) had consciously and deliberately exchanged their independence for trading advantages. Curiously, the proponents of this idea seem to have assumed that this would have been a reasonable and honourable thing to do.

“In defence of their theory that the Union was a rational bargain, these historians were obliged to engage in contortions to play down or conceal the overwhelming evidence that the treaty was resisted and detested by the great majority of the Scottish people and that ratification by the Scottish Parliament was achieved by intimidation and bribery of diverse kinds. Robert Burns knew what he was talking about.”

In 1953, the writer Oliver Brown stated: “‘That part of the country now called England – that part of the country now called Scotland.’ These phrases from clause nine of the Treaty of Union show its drafters actually intended to destroy even the memory of such names as England and Scotland. To describe yourself as a “Unionist” and a “Scotsman” is therefore impossible, since the first term implies the abolition of the second.”

In 1937, the writer and broadcaster AG Macdonell (1896-1941) made a powerful plea: “I am now convinced that Scotsmen must decide in the near future whether they wish to be citizens of a free country or citizens of a rather stale music-hall joke. And I am quite certain that no middle course is possible.

“The English are so strong in their powers of assimilation that sooner or later an equal partnership, assuming that such a thing had ever existed, must become impossible. It was against these powers that the Irish fought so long and in the end so successfully. It was against them that the Lowlands of Scotland fought until 1707.

“Either we must resume the fight where it was left off or else we must gracefully accept assimilation. To those who agree with my arguments and conclusions I offer my hand, to those who do not, my condolences.”

In his maiden speech in the House of Commons in April 1945, the SNP’s first elected MP, Dr Robert McIntyre, put his formidable case thus: “I come with no intention of interfering in the affairs of this country or of reforming any of the legislation or changing any of the customs of this House.

“The SNP come with the intention of returning as soon as possible to our own country where we may under democratic government achieve the long-needed reconstruction of Scotland.”

He would later write: “Only a Scottish Government can achieve the material changes we need and make use of Scotland’s present favourable economic position. If the Scottish people want their affairs run by others, if they refuse their own proper responsibilities, they have only themselves to blame when things go wrong.

“There is a job to be done. The Scottish people must do it and take full responsibility for their actions. Pride in the past is a vain and even dangerous thing if it is not mirrored in confidence and worthy action in the present. Scotland is only half alive. Get off your knees.”

In a superb essay in The New Yorker in 1964, poet and editor Alastair Reid wrote: “That Scotland is a part of the United Kingdom is an almost inevitable accident; at the same time, the unity of the English and the Scots should never be assumed.

“It was Sir Walter Scott who pointed out that the Scots and the English had fought 314 major battles against each other before their Union; this kind of historical animosity does not disappear overnight. The fact remains that the two countries are altogether distinct in temperament and manner, and their conjunction, although it is by now a working one, has never been resolved to the satisfaction of either.”

The empire is long gone, “British” institutions such as the monarchy and the BBC is moribund. As Scotland’s leading historian Sir Tom Devine has said, instead of a Union based on agreement “what we have now is imposition”.

The realisation of imposition is what will eventually make the Union a piece of history.