Ever heard of the Darien Scheme? Maybe if you’re Scottish …

I’m doing a six-week evening class at London’s City Literary Institute entitled: “The Making Of The United Kingdom 1603-1801: Restoration, Revolution, and Political Unions”. Last week’s session – the fourth – included reference to something that I’d never heard of before: the Darien Scheme.

This was a plan for the formation of a Scottish colony – New Caledonia – on the Central American isthmus of Darien (now Panama). The colony was to be managed by the Company of Scotland which was founded in 1695 to trade with Africa and the Indies. The plan was to secure part of England’s warehousing trade and to provide a market for Scottish goods.

The scheme was an utter failure, thanks to Spanish opposition, underfunding, and mismanagement, and it seriously damaged the Scottish economy.. The scandal was a key factor in Scotland deciding to unite with England in 1707.

If you’d like to know more about the ill-fated Darien Scheme, you’ll find a short essay on the BBC’s web site here.

There might be some contemporary lessons in this historic episode. In the same way that there is no economic case for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, there is no economic case for Scotland to leave the UK. The union of Scotland and England made economic sense in 1707 and it still does today.


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