The Devolution Journey: Part 1 – The Treaty of Union

This is Part 1 of what shall become a companion piece to my previous history of devolution and tax powers which can be read here.

As we edge closer to the the May elections and (maybe) to the passing of the Scotland Act 2015 we can continue our reflection on the process and “journey” of devolution. My last piece on the subject looked solely at the transfer of tax powers to the Scottish Government since 1999. This one will look at several of the other functions of governance and the process of the transfer of power over other important areas. To do this though, we need to look back a little further.

1707 – The Treaty and Acts of Union

With 1707 and the Treaty and subsequent Acts of Union came an end to the Scottish Parliament and the transfer of most power of government in Scotland from Edinburgh to London. The Treaty, however, did maintain that several aspects of government were to remain distinct within the Union. Specifically, Scots Law, education, the Royal Mint and the rights and privileges of the Royal Burghs.

Scots Law and the Courts



Parliament House, Edinburgh. The seat of the pre-Union Scottish Government. Now occupied by the Supreme Courts of Scotland. Source: Wikipedia

When the Scottish Parliament moved out of Edinburgh, the courts remained, protected by Article XIX of the Treaty.

“That the Court of Session, or College of Justice, do, after the Union, and notwithstanding thereof, remain, in all time coming, within Scotland, as it is now constituted by the Laws of that Kingdom…” – The Treaty of Union, Article XIX

Scots Law has remained with its distinct traditions and outlook (one notable example being our Jury system and the provision for a “not proven” verdict in addition to the “guilty” and “not guilty” verdicts seen here and elsewhere) have thus remained separate from English Common Law which is the primary reason that many items of UK legislation have, even prior to Devolution, been passed in multiple sections or with provisions to deal with distinctions within Scots Law.



Carving of a 17th Cen. classroom. The motto reads DEVS NOBIS HAEC OTIA FECIT – “God hath given us this leisure”. Source: Wikipedia

With the School Establishment Act, 1616 and later the Education Act, 1633 Scotland became one of the first countries in the world to employ a system of universal education administered by the Kirk and paid for by a system of local taxation on landowners. This system was revolutionary for its time, especially for its inclusion, albeit in a limited fashion, for the education of girls. This attitude towards public schooling filtered up to the Universities of Scotland which were rather more open and accessible than their counterparts in England and elsewhere and prepared Scotland well for the Enlightenment period of the 18th century and beyond.

The Royal Mint

A comprehensive study of the history of the Royal Mint of Scotland by Athol Murray can be read here.


The Old Scottish Mint building or Coinyie House stood near Cowgate and South Grey’s Close in Edinburgh from  1574 till the 1870’s.

Article XVI of the Treaty of Union proposed that while the coinage and currency of Scotland should merge with that of England (thus putting an end to the Pound Scots and its subdivisions) the Royal Mint in Edinburgh should be maintained as befitting our status as equal partners within the Union.

“That, from and after the Union, the Coin shall be of the same Standard and Value throughout the united Kingdom, as now in England, and a Mint shall be continued in Scotland, under the same Rules as the Mint in England, and the present Officers of the Mint continued, subject to such Regulations and Alterations as her Majesty, her Heirs or Successors, or the Parliament of Great-Britain, shall think fit.” – The Treaty of Union, Article XVI

The years after the Union saw a process of recoinage process running from 1707-1710, in which the Scottish mint produced coins using over 100,000 Troy pounds of silver (which would have a modern value of some £12.5 million at current prices and exchange rates). However, after the mints fell silent they never resumed operation. The Mint itself continued to employ a permanent officials and pay salary at various levels through the years, so as not to breach the letter of the Treaty, but despite periodic efforts and often due to various machinations no more coins were ever produced. The Mint was formally abolished in 1817, the building sold in 1830 and demolished in 1877 (the site is now vacant today). The office of “Governor of the Mint of Scotland” was passed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1870 and abolished in 1971 taking with it the last vestige of the ancient office.

Royal Burghs

“That the Rights and Privileges of the Royal Boroughs in Scotland as they are, do remain entire after the Union, and notwithstanding thereof.” – The Treaty of Union, Article XXI


The Royal Burgh of Campbeltown. Granted status in 1700. Source: Geograph

The Royal Burghs were an ancient part of Scotland’s local governance with the first, Berwick-upon-Tweed, being granted in 1124 by King David I and copied largely from the burgh system used in England particularly in Newcastle. In the beginning the powers actually granted to each burgh was quite piecemeal and ad hoc but generally conferred the rights to protect the burgh with walls and gates, the ability to make certain local laws and the ability to raise or collect local taxes (much of which would, of course, make their way into the royal coffers). Some burghs, such as Lanark, still maintain traditions stemming from their founding charter. In this case the clause stating that the burgh must mark out its outer extents with boundary stones and that these stones must be inspected and maintained annually (People moving the stones so that their own particular land would not be taxed by the burgh must have been an obvious concern) has survived as part of the burghs annual Lanimer celebrations (the name being a corruption and contraction of “Land March”, the name for the inspection).

The Treaty of Union was notable in preserving existing burghs though no new ones would be created between the last prior to Union (Campbeltown in 1700) till the reinstatement of Auchterarder in 1951.

The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1947 normalised the powers of the royal burghs and split them into “small burghs” whose powers were largely limited to housing and street maintenance with other powers held by the newly created county councils and “large burghs” which retained a greater degree of autonomy.

Finally, with respect to the Royal Burghs, the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 reformed again local governance and abolished the burghs entirely. From then on, the regional councils would hold almost all of the power below Westminster and, later, Holyrood level though a later amendment allowed the newly created Community Councils (which hold only advisory status) to style themselves as Royal Burghs and for the ancient coat of arms of their former burgh to be reassigned to them.


Over the two centuries following the Treaty of Union the role of government in the legislative affairs of our country would greatly expand and new offices would be created to deal with them. Part Two will trace the devolution journey through the creation of the Scottish Office and how its role, and the role of its successor organisations, changed up till the mid 20th century.


One thought on “The Devolution Journey: Part 1 – The Treaty of Union

  1. Pingback: Withdrawing Agreement | The Common Green

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