How Scotland Joined Great Britain


I've always had a soft spot in my heart for independence movements, be they big or small. So, when the Scottish National Party won a majority in the Scottish Parliament and promised a referendum on independence, I took notice. If you have any thoughts on Scottish Independence that you'd like me to include in the future video, please leave a comment below.

I had intended to make a short video on the pros and cons of Scottish independence but in my research go so wrapped up in the epic failure that was the Darien scheme – the name for the attempted Panama colony – that I decided to spin that off into a separate video.

There are a few details that I had to leave out of the video for simplicity sake, but that I did want to include here.

There was not one, but two ships that set sail for Panama

The 2,500 Scots sent out to Panama didn't all arrive on the first ship. They were spread across two different vessels.

The second ship sailed a year later and didn't realize how badly things were going because the colonists wrote back saying that everything was just fine.

There is some interesting speculation that the cheer campaign was organized by the colonies because the same 'talking points' appear across many different letters back home.

It was the Scottish Lords who got reimbursed for their losses

The Scottish lords and members of parliament who lost money from investing in the Darien scheme were the ones who got their money back from England. So, it's not surprising that the Scottish MPs had a big incentive to vote for the Acts of Union, even if it was unpopular with the people.

Scotland wasn't doing so well even before the Darien Scheme

You might imply from the video that everything was going well in scotland before the Darien scheme ruined everything, but that was far from the case. Scotland's economy had been suffering for years from civil war and famines in the country. With empire becoming increasingly important in the 1700s, even without the Darien Scheme it seems quite possible that Scotland would have eventually become part of the Kingdom of England (or even France) anyway.


Back in the 1690s there were only two countries on the island of Great Britain: The Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England.

England and the other great european powers were doing rather well for themselves by expanding their empires through the cunning use of flags.

Scotland had no empire but wanted to join in the game, and thus needed to establish a colony of her very own.

But where to build it?

"Panama!" declared Scotland.

She imagined the colony's strategic location would make trade with the far east safer and faster by eliminating the long journey around the hazardous Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn where both wind and wave delight in smashing ships against rock and ice.

"Who will lend me money to make this great idea a reality?" asked Scotland.

No one, was the answer.

Instead of helping, the european empires started trade wars with Scotland to limit the power of their future rival.

So, poor Scotland had to fund the project herself. She gathered up all the money she could, literally put it all in a big box and, capital thusly raised, sent off a colonial ship.

400,000 pounds, 8,000 kilometers and 111 days later, 2,500 Scotsmen landed on the shores of Panama, named it 'New Caledonia' and immediately discovered a few small problems with their plan:

First, the mountains on the western side of Panama were a wee bit larger than expected, making overland trade pretty much impossible. Even if they had thought of building a canal, the technology to do so was still 200 years away.

Second, The woolen goods brought to trade with the locals was useless in the endless heat and humidity.

Third, the Spanish Conquistadors had already planted flags on the sandy beaches and weren't too happy to see the scots arrive.

And fourth, without adequate supplies, disease such as the perennial tropical favorite, Dysentery, spread quickly.

Two years and 2,000 dead scots later, they abandoned the project.

Now, this wasn't the first failed attempt at Scottish empire – early colonies had been tried and abandoned in Nova Scotia, New Jersey and Carolina, but the Panama debacle was particularly devastating to Scotland because she was over-invested.

Remember that money-in-a-box? Turns out it was a fifth of the wealth of the whole country.


Scotland's sudden impoverishment proved a golden opportunity for The Kingdom of England who was growing increasingly worried that her neighbor to the North would ally with an enemy.

England offered Scotland a deal that would reimburse Scotland for her losses if she voted for union. In 1707 Scotland agreed and the Kingdom of Great Britain was born.

While the surrender of independence was unpopular in Scotland, her economy improved with access to once English (now British) trade routes and she played a formative role in what would soon be the largest empire in human history.

That being said, still more than 300 years later, Scotland has never fully given up her national identity and thoughts of independence.


Images by: mysza831,, mikebaird,, kinmortal, thskyt, ex_magician, sedoglia, k4dordy, & me'nthedogs.

Music by: Kevin MacLeod