Scotland Will Be A Beacon To England – The Scottish Referendum In History

Cody McCullough of Cody McCullough Writes commented yesterday on a post I wrote back in 2012.

It was a short post that linked to an article I wrote on the Quillcards blog about the upcoming Scottish referendum.

Bearing in mind the referendum that just was – I’m copying the article here.

Referendum: Why Scotland Will Be A Beacon For England

2nd February 2012

Bridge At Berwick Upon Tweed dramatic view
Bridge At Berwick Upon Tweed

Berwick Upon Tweed is the last town in England along the coast road before the border with Scotland.

It is three miles from the border, and as I wrote in this article about The Coast Road To Edinburgh, on its seaward side there are high earth ramparts that were built in the late 1500s, during the reigns of Mary I and Elizabeth I to protect the town from an invasion by Scotland.

Fire Basket At Berwick Upon Tweed
Fire Basket At Berwick Upon Tweed

Warning Of Invasion

The fire baskets on the ramparts at Berwick are now empty. At one time though they stood ready to act as beacons in case of an invasion from Scotland – an invasion that never came.

Instead in 1707, after Scotland’s disastrous adventures in Panama, the country was forced by threat of bankruptcy into union with England.

Royal Houses

To understand more about the relationship of Scotland and England, we have to look at the royal houses of Scotland and England and at the rules of succession to the English throne.

The House of Stuart (a name whose origin means ‘governor’ and which is carried down in the word ‘steward’) was started by Robert II of Scotland at the end of the 1300s. It carried through to James VI of Scotland who became also James II of England.

Although this was a personal union of the thrones of Scotland and England in the hands of one man, the two countries remained separate.

The Rules Of Royal Succession

The English rules of succession stated that males succeed to the throne before females. So when King James VI (James II of England) had a son, it took away the line of succession from his adult sister Mary.

The ‘problem’ was that King James II had become a Catholic, and England had fought to become a Protestant country.

The Protestant faction in England knew there was no danger of James’ daughter Mary becoming a Catholic, but what about James’ new infant son?

Protestant England felt in danger from a Catholic monarch and it could see itself being again ruled indirectly by Catholic France and the Vatican.

So with the help of Protestant Holland, the Protestant faction in England overthrew King James in what was called The Glorious Revolution of 1688.

King James was exiled and lived out his days in France. He died there in 1701 aged 67 – in Saint-Germain-en-Laye – a small town just outside Paris.

Now the way was clear for James’ adult sister Mary to take the throne of England, which she did with William III of Orange-Nassau (William of Orange) He became William III of England and Mary became Mary II of England.

The Act Of Settlement

As a final seal on the Protestant succession, the Act of Settlement of 1701 established or ‘settled’ the succession of the English throne on the Protestant House of Hanover.

What the Act Of Settlement meant for Scotland was that when England and Scotland were united by the 1707 Act Of Union, Protestant succession applied to Scotland also.

That meant the end of the Stuart line of succession to the throne of England and for Scotland. In future, it would be a ‘foreign’ king (or queen) who ruled Scotland.

Royal Succession Today – William And Kate

On a detour to modern and topical events – if Prince William and Kate Middleton have a girl, then she as the first-born daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will take precedence in the right of succession over any younger brothers she might have.

That is because at a summit conference in Perth, Australia last year, the leaders of all the Commonwealth countries of which the Queen is the head of state approved a change to the rules of Royal succession.

Since that ruling, the sons and daughters of any future UK monarch will have equal right to the throne.

I imagine that Queen Elizabeth II must sometimes reflect on the old rules under which only when there were no sons, as in the case of her father George VI, did the crown pass to the eldest daughter.

Had she had brothers – even younger brothers – she would not have taken the throne.

Back To The History Of Scotland And England – The Jacobite Uprisings

The First Jacobite Rising (or the Jacobite Rebellion – depending on whose side you were on) of 1715 was an attempt by Scotland to put a Stuart king back on the throne of Scotland.

The word Jacobite is a reference to Jacob or James – and it means someone who supports the return of King James to the throne.

That uprising failed and the situation simmered until 1745 when the Jacobites rose again.

This time they did so under Charles Edward Stuart, or Bonnie Prince Charlie as he was known.

Catholic France was supposed to support the Stuart cause, but the support did not materialise.

The second Jacobite Rebellion was crushed, there was not another ‘rising’ in Scotland until the 1990s when Scotland gained its own parliamant.

Scottish Parliament - The View From Across The Pond
Scottish Parliament - The View From Across The Pond

The Scottish Parliament

It is a parliament of a sort. It makes legislation but its ultimate authority is derived from the Parliament in London.

The London parliament governs the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island, and so the Scottish Parliament derives its ultimate authority from the Westminster Parliament in London.

Some see this delegated authority – this partial devolution – as a step along the way to total independence of Scotland from England.

Since the emergence of a multiplicity of nationalist movements worldwide in the middle of the 20th century, the moral high ground has been with those who seek to declare themselves an independent nation.

Can Scotland ride that tide and declare itself free of Great Britain, free of England, against the wishes of the Westminster parliament?

Do the people of Scotland want it? Only a properly worded referendum and a proper presentation of the facts will find out.

Will Scotland make its fortune from the oil and whiskey industries? Will the Scots survive – and will they face the same relationship with England that brought about the union of 1707 – dealings that sting and smart and have not been forgotten three hundred years later?

The Houses Of Parliament At Westminster

Referendum In Scotland

The newspapers are full of reports, arguments and counter-arguments about the proposed referendum on full independence and devolution from Great Britain.

Personally, I think that David Cameron, the UK prime minister, does not want to be remembered as the man under whose watch England and Scotland split apart.

In a more majestic thread in the tapestry of history, I can well imagine that the Queen – Queen Elizabeth II – thinks the same.

The referendum on independence for Scotland is set for 2014.

I wonder whether relations with the Westminster government over the next three years will be benign or filled with tension and discord?

Will the questions that are asked in the referendum reflect what people want the referendum to ask?

The Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore MP, is a minister in the British government in Westminster.

He has not been shy in stating that any referendum must be on terms dictated by the UK parliament and not on whatever terms the Scottish Assembly thinks is suitable.

When I heard Mr Moore say this, I thought that if anything was likely to irritate the Scots at this tricky time it is being told what to do by a minister in faraway London.

A Beacon For England

Newspaper headline Scotland Will Be A Beacon For England
Scotland Will Be A Beacon For England

So when I saw this headline quoting Alex Salmond – the First Minister of the Scottish government – that Scotland will be a beacon to England, my first thought was of the beacons at Berwick built to warn of a Scottish invasion.

I wonder how much of a double entendre he had in mind?

Alex Salmond wrote in the Guardian about the future relations between Scotland and England, and you can read the full article here. In relation to Scotland being a beacon for England, he wrote:

An independent Scotland can be a beacon for progressive opinion south of the border and further afield, addressing policy challenges in ways that reflect the universal values of fairness and are capable of being considered, adapted and implemented according to the circumstances and wishes within the other jurisdictions of these islands and beyond.

Why Scotland Will Be A Beacon For England

One of the beauties of writing an article is that I get to voice my opinion.

I don’t have to carry out a large survey and extract ‘statistically significant results’. I can go with my gut feeling and the impressions I gain as I talk to people.

And one of the things that I feel in my gut is that a greater weight given to the Scottish view of life would do the whole of Britain good.

Back To Photography

One of the aspects of photography that I like very much is the way that the same scene can be rendered in different ways – softly and gently, or full of drama.

Here is the same bridge – the same photograph in fact as the one at the beginning of this article – treated differently.

Bridge At Berwick Upon Tweed
Bridge At Berwick Upon Tweed

The images of the bridge at Berwick and the fire basket are free to use to members of Quillcards.


  1. Deborah Grant says:

    Picky point but Mary II was James II’s oldest daughter, not his sister. James II did have an older sister named Mary and she married William II of Orange. Their son William III of Orange married his first cousin Mary and they ruled as William and Mary.


    1. Thank you for your comment. I think my use of the pronoun ‘his’ made the sentence unclear.

      Where I said “…it took away the line of succession from his adult sister Mary.” the ‘his’ was James II’s son, not James himself.

      That said, maybe I have got something wrong. I find all the marriages and changes in bloodline confusing.


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