Scottish Representation in the Protectorate Parliaments: The Case of the Shires

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Abstract

The 30 MPs elected for Scotland in the Cromwellian parliaments of 1654, 1656 and 1659 have often been seen as government-sponsored placemen, foisted on constituencies by the military. Some were Scottish collaborators, but most were English carpetbaggers. Restrictions on voter qualifications, designed to weed out suspected royalists, and opposition to English rule among the Scots, further contributed to what has been described as the antithesis of representation, a ‘hollow sham’. This article revisits the question of Scottish representation in this period through the analysis of the surviving indentures for the shire elections of 1656. These documents – of which 17 of the 20 survive – give the date of election, the name of the presiding officer (usually the sheriff) and details of principal electors, often with signatures and seals attached. Four constituencies are used as case studies: Peeblesshire and Selkirkshire, Ayrshire and Renfrewshire, Perthshire, and Fife and Kinross. Each constituency had a distinct response to Cromwellian rule and to the parliamentary elections, but general themes emerge: the restrictions on voters were totally ignored; direct interference by the English authorities was rare; and the elections were dominated by local political and religious disputes between the Scots themselves. This analysis further suggests that there was no unified Scottish interest at this time, that local differences overrode other considerations, and that in many cases, choosing an Englishman as MP could be the least controversial option, as well as that most likely to secure influence at Westminster.

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