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Come Saturday Morning: So Why Did Scotland Hook Up With England?

As we digest the results of Thursday’s historic referendum on Scottish independence, it might be good to look at why Scotland got linked to England and Wales and Ulster in the first place.

Turns out that it was all about the benjamins — or in this case, the shillings. The Scots of the late seventeenth century, undaunted by the collapse of their Nova Scotia colony seven decades prior, made a second — and last — attempt at overseas empire-building, the Darien scheme. This turned into a disaster that robbed Scotland of several thousand lives and half of its economy, battering Scottish pride so severely that a union with England, once unthinkable, was now the only thing between Scotland and abject penury.

Here’s how the National Post describes the event:

The plan, in hindsight, was astonishingly naive. A tiny flotilla of Scottish ships was to sail right into the centre of the mighty Spanish Empire and plant a colony on the Isthmus of Darien, in what is now Panama.

There, in a settlement to be dubbed New Caledonia, the Scots would set up a kind of proto-Panama Canal.

Rather than sail around Cape Horn, fleets of European merchant ships would unload their cargo on the western edge of New Caledonia. Then, after the Scots had hustled it through the jungle, they would pick it up on the other side.

This scheme was so popular than nearly every person in Scotland who had any money at all contributed at least some money to it. It was going to be what made Scotland the new trader kings of the world.

However, this did not go over well with Spain and England, which were then slugging it out over who would be the trader kings of the world. Spanish captains regularly attacked Scottish ships, and Scotland didn’t have a navy capable of protecting them. Worse yet, English captains, normally very eager to take on Spanish ships on any pretext or none, were forbidden to lend the Scots a hand.

In less than a decade’s time, Scotland would soon find itself tied to England via the Act of Union.

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