Culture

Book review: ‘How Scotland Lost Her Parliament and what came of it’ by Charles Waddie, 1891.

A rare, fascinating and remarkably relevant piece of historic Scottish literature is now available to read online in full courtesy of the Random Scottish History website: How Scotland Lost Her Parliament and what came of it’ (click link) by Charles Waddie, published in 1891 by Waddie & Co., Ltd.

How Scotland Lost Her Parliament and What Came Of It by Charles Waddie - scan of publishers page
Charles Waddie (1891), ‘How Scotland Lost Her Parliament and what came of it,’ Edinburgh: Waddie & Co., Ltd, Publisher’s Page.

Charles Waddie was a solicitor and stationer from Edinburgh1. He believed in Home Rule for all the Nations of the British Isles and used his legal expertise in his campaigning. Despite concluding that the Union with England had been severely damaging to Scotland, he nevertheless remained in favour of it. In this he exemplifies the paradoxical dual nature of modern Scottish identity: Scottish and British. This has been referred to by academics as Caledonian anti-syzygy2, and often said to be literally personified in Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’3.

So-called ‘Unionist-nationalism‘ was common in pre-War Scottish politics4. Home Rule was in keeping with developments across the diminishing British Empire. The Liberal Party were in favour, with Gladstone putting forward the first Irish Home Rule Bill in 1886.

Charles Waddie was among those who thought that giving home rule to only one part of the United Kingdom would be disastrous5. He became a founding member and secretary of the Scottish Home Rule Association (SHRA), and wrote ‘How Scotland Lost Her Parliament and what came of it’ in response.

“The constant reference by both parties engaged in the political war of our times to the Union of Scotland and England as an example which pointed a moral in the case of the Union between Great Britain and Ireland, compelled us to look a little closer into the subject, and the result of our studies is now set before our readers in the following pages.”

Waddie, 1891.
How Scotland Lost Her Parliament and What Came Of It by Charles Waddie - scan of inside cover showing detailed texture pattern
Charles Waddie (1891), ‘How Scotland Lost Her Parliament and what came of it,’ Edinburgh: Waddie & Co., Ltd, Inside Front Cover.

Waddie’s book is written in a conversational manner and is an engaging read. He begins with the circumstances leading up to the Treaty of Union, and expresses surprise that, despite being generally well educated, the average Scot is ignorant on this subject.

The failings of the Scottish education system to teach Scottish history to people living in Scotland are manifold and no doubt continue to this day. For more on that subject (and others) a very entertaining lecture on Scottish identity by the broadcaster and writer Billy Kay can be listened to here: (click link).

To return to ‘How Scotland Lost Her Parliament and what came of it,’ Waddie clearly articulates the opposition to the Treaty of Union from within Scotland at the time. He lays bare the motives, methods, and names of those that benefited from it – including the sums of their bribes – and quotes extensively from Scottish Parliamentarians who opposed the Union at the time, such as Lord Belhaven:

“I see the English Constitution remaining firm, the same two Houses of Parliament, the same taxes, the same customs, the same excises, the same trade in companies, the same municipal laws and courts of judicature, and all ours are either subject to regulations or annihilation; only we have the honour to pay their old debts, and to have some few persons present for witnesses to the validity of the deed when they are pleased to contract more.”

Lord Belhaven, Waddie, 1891.

Waddie provides an excellent summary of Scottish history in the years before and after the Treaty of Union, covering the Alien Act, Highland Clearances, land seizure, economic consequences, and so on. He makes a great many statements which still resonate strongly today, not least of which concern the treatment of MPs from Scotland in Westminster, whom he said were “doomed to play a very subordinate and humiliating part in the councils of the nation“:

“The average English Members looked upon the forty-five Scotsmen or Scottish representatives as veritable intruders into their own family circle. The Members from Scotland soon found that their wishes in regard to their own country had no weight with the majority of Englishmen, and that they were constantly outvoted in matters relating to Scotland.”

Waddie, 1891.

Consider that paragraph, written 129 years ago, when watching the following short clip of Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland, questioning Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the impact of Brexit on the beef industry in his constituency on Wednesday 17th June 2020.:

Video link

Johnson is obviously completely ignorant of the subject and rather than answer he engages in clueless demagoguery. He is in fact so ignorant that he seems to mistake Carmichael for someone who supports Scottish independence! MPs from Scotland, of all parties, are outnumbered 10 to 1 in the House of Commons and will inevitably have no leverage on matters concerning Scotland. There is nothing awaiting them there but subordination and humiliation – exactly as there was 313 years ago.

Many thanks to Jenny at Random Scottish History for her hard work and dedication in making Charles Waddie’s book publicly available. It should be taught in schools.

“If we do our duty we will be classed with the wise and good Scots of the past; but if we falter and fail to assert the rights of our country in this crisis, then our memory will be covered with eternal infamy.”

Waddie, 1891.

References

1 Mitchell, J. The Scottish Question. OUP Oxford, 2014.

2 Homberg-Schramm, J. “Colonised by Wankers”: Postcolonialism and Contemporary Scottish Fiction, Modern Academic Publishing, 2018.

3 Craig, C. The Scots’ Crisis of Confidence. Argyll Publishing, 2011.

4 Lloyd-Jones, N. Liberalism, Scottish Nationalism and the Home Rule Crisis, c.1886—93. The English Historical Review Vol. 129, No. 539 (AUGUST 2014), pp. 862-887.

5 Kennedy, J. Liberal Nationalisms: Empire, State, and Civil Society in Scotland and Quebec. McGill-Queen’s Press – MQUP, 2015.

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