The debate on Scottish parliamentary reform, 1830-1832

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The voluminous historiography of the 'Great Reform Act' of 1832 and the more modest historiography of the Reform Act (Scotland) have tended to focus on how far the legislation effected a break with an aristocratic constitution. What this approach does little to illuminate, however, is the extent to which the reform legislation was framed and debated as a renegotiation of the relationship between England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland and the Empire. In Scotland, this meant that the extensive debate on reform tended to revolve around different interpretations of the Union of 1707 and Scotland's subsequent history and development. This article explores the reform debate among Scotland's political elite and, in particular, how the issue was tackled in Parliament. It demonstrates that in the fluid context provided by the developing constitutional crisis after 1829 simple divisions of 'Whig' and 'Tory' and even 'Reformer' and 'Anti-reformer' do not adequately describe the range of positions taken on the question of reform. The need to respond to the arguments of parliamentary opponents and to fast-moving events outside of Parliament ensured that responses to reform tended to be idiosyncratic. This article argues that the combination of the nature of reform as a renegotiation of the Union and the need to appeal to those outside of Parliament saw the reform debate prosecuted as a contest over the language of patriotism. Both sponsors and opponents of reform claimed to represent the voice of 'the nation', but this contest was far more complex than a straightforward confrontation between Anglophile 'assimilationists' and defenders of Scottish 'semi-independence'
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-130
Number of pages30
JournalScottish Historical Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2006

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