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'We're No Havin' It!'

It is worth reminding oneself occasionally that the union of Scotland and England was not the result of a democratic process. 

Thursday, November 9, 2023
12 mins

‘We’re No Havin’ It!’

It is worth reminding oneself occasionally that the union of Scotland and England was not the result of a democratic process. 

Anyone who has taken the time to read about the prevailing atmosphere at the time may be aware that the people protested. But are they aware of just how intense the protests were and how long they lasted?

We are not talking about a spontaneous, short-lived outburst. Apparently, the riots in Glasgow lasted a full month.

This extract from George MacGregor’s 1881 History of Glasgow provides some detail and it should be borne in mind that, when written, 174 years had passed since the union. Now, 142 have passed since MacGregor’s account was set down. The Treaty of Union is hardly ‘ancient history’ as some would have us believe.

It should also be noted that a census of Glasgow, in 1708, found the population of Glasgow to be 12,766, somewhat less than half the current population of the Burgh of Rutherglen and not much more than the current population of Ardrossan.

(The link at the foot of the extract allows access to the full book.)

‘Union Riots in Glasgow’ from The History of Glasgow by George MacGregor (pp. 286-290)

‘The proposals for union between Scotland and England, while they were supported by an influential class, found scant favour among the generality of the Scottish people, and that for several reasons. A confederation for trade was desired by all, but it was felt that union would mean the absorption of Scotland into the larger kingdom, and the destruction of the national independence. By the commissioners on the treaty of union, it was agreed that the Scotch should retain Presbytery aa the national form of church government, and that their legal and municipal systems should remain unaltered. During the negotiations, however, the question of representation in the Imperial Parliament emerged, and as the number of Scottish representatives was to be only equal to one-thirteenth of the total number of members in the House of Commons, a great outcry took place against the whole scheme. Almost every party in the northern state had objection to some portion of the proposals and the condition of the country bordered on rebellion. While the Scottish Parliament had the treaty under consideration at the end of 1706, the populace showed their condemnation of the articles of union in a very pronounced and decisive manner.

In addition to the general feeling against union, the citizens of Glasgow had a particular cause of offence. Ever since the close of the sixteenth century, the Town Council of the city had returned a representative to the Scottish Parliament; but by the proposed treaty the community would only have one member in combination with Dumbarton, Renfrew, and Rutherglen. Little was needed to cause a tumult, and that little was supplied on Thursday the 7th November, 1706. The day was being observed as the Sacramental Fast The Rev. Mr, Clark, minister of the Tron Kirk preached a sermon suitable to the times, from the words : — "Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance " (Ezra viii. 21), — and be concluded by exhorting his hearers to be up and be valiant for the city of God. The drift of the discourse was thoroughly understood, and quickly acted upon. By one o'clock, two hours after the conclusion of the service the city was in a state of the highest excitement, drums were beaten in the streets, and the mob thronged the thoroughfares. Nothing of a startling nature occurred that day, but on the following day, Friday, the 8th November, several of the deacons of the crafts, with a considerable following, proceeded to the Tolbooth. The deacons entered the council chamber, and demanded that Provost Aird should address a remonstrance to Parliament on the subject of the Union ; but the provost declined firmly to do so, and he and others requested the leaders to disperse their friends and keep the peace of the city. When these returned to the street, and stated that Provost Aird had refused to comply with their request, the crowd, greatly augmented, threw stones at the windows of the council-house, and indulged in such excesses that the provost and his friends deemed it expedient to retire secretly from the building. The mob next attacked the provost's house, in the vicinity of the Stockwell Gate, and ransacked it of the arms it contained ; while they also broke the windows of the house of a prominent citizen, the Laird of Blackhouse. Having done so their fury moderated, and the city subsided into a quieter and more orderly state. An address was signed by the people, the ringleaders of the tumult threatening those who refused to append their names to the document, and it was forwarded to Parliament. When the riots were over, Provost Aird returned from Edinburgh, where he had taken refuge.

Bat the peace was not of long continuance. A man whose name was Parker — and who is described by the celebrated Daniel Defoe, the historian of the Union, as "a loose vagabond, profligate fellow, of a very ill character, a spinner of tobacco by employment, but a very scandalous person" — was committed to prison for offering for sale a musket which had been taken from the provost's house in the tumult of the 8th November, While be lay in the Tolbooth undergoing his sentence, several persons of a questionable character, among them a Jacobite publican named Finlay, were observed to hold communication with him through the prison window. The provost thought it advisable, to save the disturbance which seemed to be brewing, to discharge Parker, taking from him a bond for his reappearance. Aird's good intentions, however, were defeated, for when the " very scandalous person " informed his comrades of the state of matters, it was resolved that the bond held by the magistrates should be given up. To attain this, Finlay and his companions, who were numerous and whose apparent want of character led them to any excess, proceeded to the town-clerk's office next day, and demanded the bond. The magistrates, seeing that the mob had possession of the town, thought it prudent to order the clerk to deliver up the bond, and their action was attributed to fear by the assemblage outside. Accordingly, when Provost Aird left for his house, he was attacked by the mob, who threw stones and every available missile at him, roundly abused him, and compelled him to take refuge in a house. He was followed by some who seemed intent upon murdering him, but these, entering the house in which he was concealed, overlooked a bed folded against the wall, and in which the unfortunate provost was hid. When the search was over, he slipped out, and again sought safety in Edinburgh.

A reign of terror ensued in Glasgow, for the anti-unionists were in full possession. They searched for arms in the houses of those who were supposed to be favourable to the English. The magistrates were almost helpless, but seeing the turn affairs had taken, they resolved to do all in their power to put down the anarchy that existed. The city guard was to be doubled, and only the most faithful persons were to be employed on the duty at the Tolbooth ; and, in addition, the local militia were secretly called out to preserve the peace. This was done, but a collision took place on the first night between the people and the guards. About nine o'clock a mob collected at the Cross, and Finlay was deputed to go into the council chamber to see what the magistrates were about. At the stairhead in front of the Tolbooth, he was stopped by the sentinel on duty, but in the struggle ensuing he got past. One of the militia arrived at this juncture, and he went to the assistance of the guard, by knocking Finlay down with the butt-end of his musket. The guard flew to arms, expecting the disturbance which immediately followed, and by a bold manoeuvre they cleared the streets.

The city was in comparative peace during the next few days, though Finlay had set up a guard in the vicinity of the Cathedral. The whole of the inhabitants were idle, and rumours were afloat that the people in Hamilton and elsewhere were in arms against the Union. Finlay supplied forty-five men with munitions of war, and with them he marched towards Hamilton. Parliament had, in view of the insurrectionary state of the country, suspended the Act of Security, and declared those who assembled in arms, without the Queen's special order, to be guilty of high treason. The messenger sent to Glasgow with this enactment read it at the Cross, but before he had finished the mob threw stones at him with such fury that he was driven wounded from the Tolbooth stair. One of the town's officers commenced where he left off, but he also was forced to desist. A third man continued the reading under the protection of the city guard, and, as he was interrupted, orders were given for the guard to disperse the rioters. Several of the people were knocked down, but in the time of need some of the tradesmen in the guard deserted, and left their more faithful comrades to the fury of the enraged multitude. The guardhouse was attacked and broken in upon, the men were disarmed and bruised, and the people were exultant. Their next act was to storm the Tolbooth itself, and after they had taken from it two hundred and fifty halberts, the property of the city, they returned to their own guardhouse at the Cathedral. In the afternoon some of them, well armed, searched many of the merchants' houses, took from them all the arms they could find, and, it is said, even helped themselves to the ordinary property of the citizens. The town was now in the hands of an armed force consisting principally of the lower classes, and the more respectable inhabitants felt their lives and goods were jeopardised. During the night, a strict guard was kept by the rioters, and the tattoo was beat round the city in military fashion.

The riots at Glasgow had now assumed such a serious aspect that the authorities in Edinburgh felt that military force must be used to suppress them. A detachment of dragoons and a party of grenadiers of the guard, under Col. Campbell, received orders to march on the city. Finlay was, with his force, now at Kilsyth, on his way to Edinburgh, and, having heard that Col. Campbell was approaching, he despatched a messenger to Glasgow to bring to his assistance four hundred men who should have joined him. These very wisely declined to enter the field, so Finlay had to retreat towards Hamilton. It would seem that a number of men had gone towards that place to help him but at Rutherglen they held a meeting, which resulted in their precipitate return to the city. Finlay, disappointed at their non-arrival, also returned. The rioters now began to think seriously of the awkwardness of the position in which they had placed themselves — from the time of the proclamation at the Cross they had been guilty of high treason — so they quietly laid down their arms and retamed to their houses. Within two hours after this event the dragoons entered the city, and their first act was to apprehend Finlay and another of the ringleaders. They stood three hours with their prisoners at the Cross to see if any attempt at rescue would he made ; but the people were cowed at their appearance, and though two of the bolder among them beat the assembling drum in some of the back streets, they refused to turn out. The consequences of their actions were now very apparent, and many considered it prudent for their personal safety to fly the city, Having secured their prisoners to horses, the soldiers marched towards Edinburgh that same afternoon, and when leaving the town a few stones were thrown after them.

The riot was now practically at an end, having lasted about four weeks, for although the mob assembled on the departure of the dragoons, and forced the magistrates to send to Edinburgh for the release of the prisoners, the demand was not complied with by the authorities there, and the Glasgow worthies had now such a vivid knowledge of what might befall them that they made no further demonstration. In the middle of December the soldiers returned to the city, and laid hold of some other persons. After the consummation of the Union these prisoners were liberated without further punishment

The union of the two kingdoms, so long antagonistic, was safely accomplished on the Ist May, 1707, amid the discontent and gloomy forebodings of the greater proportion of the Scottish people. On the 22nd of April of that year, the Scottish Parliament ceased to exist, Ex-Provost Hugh Montgomerie being the last member for Glasgow. The Town Council paid his expenses — according to the custom of the time — at the rate of 6a. 8d. per day; and for his services from 8th October, 1706, to 15th March, 1707, he was paid the sum of £633 Scots (£52, 15s. sterling). His successor to the Imperial Parliament was Sir John Johnston, elected on the 23rd June, 1707, as the representative of the burghs of Glasgow, Dumbarton, Renfrew, and Rutherglen. The Darien disaster and the troubles which had preceded the Union had crippled to a large extent the foreign trade of Glasgow, which was principally with France and Holland ; but one of the first effects of the Union was to give vent to the enterprise of the city merchants, who sent out goods to Maryland and Virginia, bringing back tobacco leaf in return.’

The history of Glasgow : MacGregor, George : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

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