The Scottish Referendum – A Rare Perspective

With just a fortnight to go until Scotland’s historic referendum, many people are preparing to answer the question ‘Should Scotland become an independent country?’ Let’s consider some historical context.

Exactly four hundred and ten years ago, the London publisher Edward Blount published an essay entitled ‘The Miraculous and Happie Union of England and Scotland, by how admirable meanes it is effected; how profitable to both Nations, and how free of any inconuenience either past, present, or to be discerned’. It is now a scarce book, with perhaps a dozen copies in major UK libraries and another handful outside the UK, according to the English Short Title Catalogue. We have a copy for sale, and you can see the listing on the Blackwell’s Rare Books website.

The author, Sir William Cornwallis the Younger (c.1579-1614), was knighted for his service in the Irish campaign of 1599 and then spent the early years of the 17th century writing essays, becoming one of the first practitioners of the form in English. As the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes him, he ‘vies, with Sir Francis Bacon, for the distinction of being the first familiar essayist in English and, with his friend John Donne, for that of being the first English paradoxical essayist. In each case it is impossible to tell who wrote first.’

In response to the Union of Crowns that accompanied the accession of James VI, King of Scots, to the English throne as James I in 1603, Cornwallis wrote this essay. His major theme is how natural and appropriate the union is, given the equal claim England and Scotland have for the affection and attention of their joint monarch. But his arguments may well still have relevance today, to both sides of the debate.

“Could independent Scotland’s economy survive? ‘They have a Countrey of their owne that yeeldeth so much plenty, as their plenty breedeth their want, for concerning the necessaries for mans life no country is better furnished: and for wealth, the happinesse of their latter government hath given such testimonies of encrease, as already they possesse enough both to defend themselves and to free their country from the imputation of sterility.”

What is Trident’s role?

“If they tell you of the poverty of Scotland, examine whether our wealth shall not come from the addition of their Kingdome, for at once we receive from them the stopping of our unnecesary warres.”

How will independent Scotland handle higher education?

“So shall the poore subiect escape paying fees upon fees, and sometimes double and treble briberies.”

Can we make comparisons to Europe?

‘Deviding a Kingdome into petty principalities prepareth it to bee swallowed by a more united power. So standeth Italy … but why seeke I forrain examples when wee have one of our owne so neare us? Wales is Englished … Successe hath followed, a warrant for the like occasion’

In conclusion, any campaigner must use reason and make sound arguments:

“So must the advised Polititian proceed, if he intendeth to give either a goodly or substantiall forme to his workemanship; for though man can inforce other creatures beyond their willes, yet the will of man, having reason to direct it which hath a freedome and eminencie in her nature, must therfore be wrought by perswasions, not enforcements, the onely means to bring her to obedience, and to yeelde to the directions of others.”

Interesting stuff, and if you want to back it up with some more recent analysis, why not visit our dedicated Politics page to see our selection of referendum-related titles?

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