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Title: The Liberal Party in Scotland, 1843-1868 : electoral politics and party development.
Author: Millar, Gordon F.
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: University of Glasgow
Date of Award: 1994
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The Liberal party in Scotland in 1843 was. in both burghs and counties, Whig and moderate Liberal dominated. The Corn Law repeal controversy and, in Scotland of longer-lasting significance, the Disruption in the Church of Scotland changed this situation. In the counties the split in the Conservative party began a process that was to make these constituencies increasingly receptive to the Liberal party. In the late I 840s this was largely a function of Conservative weakness. The Protectionists, Free Trade and Peelite Conservatives maintained their position overall, but were no longer able to mount any challenge to the Liberals. As the Conservatives were identified with the Established Church of Scotland, the Liberals gained from Free Church support, especially in the far north of Scotland. Corn Law repeal had shown in the burghs that the Scottish Whigs, T.B. Macaulay in Edinburgh was a prominent example, were not prepared to move in step with the desires of the growing commercial and professional middle-class for further reform. This situation was made acute by the existence of the Free Church after 1843 whose membership largely came from this social group. They felt little loyalty to either Whigs or Conservatives and were Liberal out of their desire for change, by which they meant either purification or dismantling of the Establishment. Those who wanted purification tended to be moderate politically, those who wanted a dismantling were more radical. These Free Churchmen were energised by the increase in the Maynooth Grant in 1845. This provided a rallying point round which Free Church and Voluntary members could gather to exercise political influence, while forgetting their differences over the question of an Establishment. This alliance was successful in 1847 in winning significant victories in the Scottish burghs and in defeating leading figures in the Scottish Whig establishment. The election of 1852 generally confirmed what had happened five years previously. In the counties it was obvious that Protection was a dead issue. The Free Trade Conservatives had begun returning to the Derbyite fold. Significant pockets of Peelite influence remained, especially in Ayrshire and wherever the Duke of Bucc1euch was powerful. In the burghs there were some signs of strain in the Free Church/Voluntary alliance, most obviously in Edinburgh, where Duncan McLaren had to stand without Free Church support, and in Perth, where the Free Church chose to support the Whig, Arthur Kinnaird. These strains became at times outright hostility thanks to the Education issue. Between 1854 and 1856 Lord Advocate James Moncreiff tried three times to open up the parish school system in Scotland to other Presbyterian denominations and to otherwise increase the level of educational provision. He failed partly because of the expected opposition of the Established Church of Scotland and the Conservative party, but also in the end because of Voluntary opposition to proposals which appeared to give too much power to the State and to the Free Church. This made co-operation between the Free Church and especially hard-line Voluntaries impossible at the 1857 general election. The mid 1850s also witnessed the Cri mean War, the resultant collapse of the Aberdeen ministry and the coming to power of Palmerston. The demand for administrative and structural reform which arose at this time found expression in Scotland even before the disasters experienced in the Crimea. Movements such as the Scottish Rights Movement and the National Education Association appeared which expressed a wish for change in the structures of Scottish society. These were to take place within the context of improving the Union, to match those which had taken place economically and socially. Scottish Liberals were involved in these organisations and individuals and sections of the party participated fully in debate on the issues, often using their position on one or more to define their position in the party and those of others. In addition, therefore, to the disillusionment with sectarianism in Education, a more tolerant, secular, moderate political current began to make itself felt, above all in the burghs. This manifested itself at the 1857 election in the return of more moderate Whig Liberals and in the defeat of candidates who had stood out for religious intolerance. The Free Church, alienated from the Voluntaries by the experience of the Education issue, was an important factor in this development as were voters brought on to the rolls by the 1856 Burgh Registration Act. In the counties Conservative satisfaction with Palmerston's foreign and ecclesiastical policies, the so-called Palmerston factor, led to these constituencies becoming even more receptive to the Liberals. With the collapse of the Aberdeen ministry, the remaining Scottish Peelites either returned to the Conservatives, for instance the Duke of Buccleuch, or maintained an independent position sympathetic to Palmerston. A few joined the Liberals. The election of 1859 was quiet in terms of contests and confirmed, where they took place, the Whig and moderate Liberal recovery in the burghs and the Liberal ascendancy in the counties. Beneath the surface new issues were already emerging, most importantly Reform of the electoral system. The reactions to this issue in particular helped to define where individual Liberals belonged in the spectrum of the Liberal party.The period to the passage of the Second Reform Act for Scotland in 1868 was marked by further pressure on the Liberal party to respond to groups in society which were looking to it to provide an answer to their concerns. In the burghs this concerned the working-class and especially that section of it which. thanks to a rise in rents. the efforts of housing co-operatives and the Burgh Registration Act already had the vote under the old system. Through opposition to the Master and Servant Law. the demand for the ballot and organisations like the Reform League, this group became politicised and looked to the Liberal party for political representation. They were interested in integration into the political system and in influencing the direction which the Liberal party was taking. A parallel can be drawn between this and the impact of the Free ChurchNoluntary alliance on the Liberal party in the I840s and early 1850s. In the counties pressure came most of all from the tenant farmers disturbed by the Game Laws and the law of Hypothec. The former allowed the landlord to shoot game over a tenant's field, the latter allowed distrainment of goods even if they had been sold to a third party. This brought the economic interests of the tenant farmers into conflict with the existing system. Their political solution in the 1860s was to turn out Conservative M.P.s in favour of Liberals in the hope of getting a modification or abolition of these laws. In 1868 the electoral system was reformed in Scotland. With household suffrage, burgh electorates increased greatly in size which changed the nature of politics. A personal canvass was no longer possible. This led to co-operation in two or threemember seats like Dundee and Glasgow between moderate Liberals and representatives of the working class to ensure that a split Liberal vote did not let a Conservative in. The Liberal party in this period shows itself to be a very flexible body. It was able, not without internal battles, to take in new groups as they emerged in mid-nineteenth century Scotland. Where it proved less immediately responsive to some groups was in the nature of the representatives who could be elected under the 1832 franchise.
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Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available