History of representation in Scotland

1.3The pattern of development in Scotland before 1707 was rather different. Parliaments—originally called colloquia —emerged (as they did in England) in the middle of the thirteenth century, as more formal legal and judicial meetings of the King's council, attended by the various ranks of nobility. Other Estates of the community of the realm were added as time went on. The first Estate (bishops and abbots) were among the earliest members of Parliament. The abbots ceased to sit after the Reformation. The membership of the bishops was interrupted during the civil wars of the seventeenth century. They returned at the Restoration, only to be removed finally on the re-establishment of presbytery at the Revolution of 1688–89.

Not long after the Wars of Independence in the early fourteenth century, representatives of the royal burghs began to attend, initially only when taxation was demanded. They later became full partners in Parliament.

All freeholders who held of the King of Scots were bound to attend his court. The smaller barons were, however, frequently reluctant to do so, and an attempt in 1426 to overcome the problem by instituting shire representative elections on the English model failed. Following the large attendance of freeholding small barons at the Reformation Parliament in 1560 and a further Act of 1587 dealing with shire elections, the presence of shire commissioners, representative of the small barons and separate from the higher nobility, gradually became more regular.

Though the Scottish Parliament was formally unicameral, each of the Estates had assigned to it a particular place in the Parliament House and was separately represented on committees.1


  1. 1. See Keith M Brown and Roland J Tanner (eds) The History of the Scottish Parliament, Volume 1: Parliament and Politics in Scotland, 1235–1560 (Edinburgh University Press, 2004); Keith M Brown, Alistair J Mann (eds) The History of the Scottish Parliament, Volume 2: Parliament and Politics in Scotland, 1567–1707 (Edinburgh University Press, 2005); Keith M Brown, Alan R MacDonald (eds) The History of the Scottish Parliament, Volume 3: Parliament in Context, 1235–1707 (Edinburgh University Press, 2010).