An ‘illegal Union of Lawyers, and Writers, and Political Baronets’
This chapter explores the role of the Conservative party in the ‘government’ of Scotland after 1832. Each of the United Kingdom’s constituent nations underwent significant and distinctive constitutional transformation during the course of the nineteenth century. While Ireland’s experience has been closely examined, the nature of Scotland’s changing union with Westminster in the mid-nineteenth century has had less scholarly attention. Isolated examples of tension within this Union, such as the short-lived National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights (NAVSR), indicate that there was popular discontent with the nature of Scottish governance. Superficially this period was a time of constitutional continuity, with authority in Scotland resting in the hands of the Lord Advocate until the creation of the Scottish Office and post of Scottish Secretary in 1885. Closer examination of how partisan politics interacted with the actual day-to-day processes of governance, however, reveals Scotland’s place in the Union could vary wildly during the mid-nineteenth century. Authority was shared and contested by actors and institutions in Westminster, Whitehall, Edinburgh and the Scottish localities. Conservative governance of Scotland (and in Scotland) was characterised by constitutional contingency, political expediency and institutional inertia. Significant ad hoc and partisan factors helped define and redefine Scotland’s place within the Union. The acutely hostile electoral environment for Conservatives within Scotland throughout the entire period made that party a more innovative force in Scottish governance than the Liberals, largely through sheer necessity. This state of affairs was largely responsible for the party’s flirtation with various types of administrative devolution. Far from a stable, though unpopular ‘Union of Lawyers, and Writers, and Political Baronets’, Scottish Conservative governance was anything but united or stable.