Commentary on Article XXI

XXI. Rights of the royal burghs

XXI. THAT the Rights and Privileges of the royal Burghs in Scotland, as they now are, do remain entire after the Union, and notwithstanding thereof.

The fact of the union was not to affect the rights of the royal burghs. There is in the clause is no permanent guarantee of stasis; it is simply a statement that those rights, having been granted out of one kingdom, still belong to the burghs in the new kingdom. The royal burghs did have their rights preserved, scandalously as several of them cried out for reform. Reforms did come eventually, by which age the role of the burghs had greatly changed. One important privilege belonging only to the chief cities was the right to appoint a Lord-Lieutenant, and this right continues.

It is interesting to note in terms of terminology that the Treaty of Union uses the spelling ‘burgh’ throughout and this has become the immoveable standard, such that should any man dare to use the spelling ‘borough’ for a town of Scotland there will be many quick to take offence, but in preceding Scots Acts there is no fixed spelling; a frequent one is ‘burrow’.

In the House of Commons in 1974, as local government reorganisation was being debated a member asked raised this point of the Treaty and asked at least that the royal burghs retain at least the right to be called royal burghs. His call was rejected and all burghs then extant were abolished. The towns hitherto with the title are still wont to call themseves royal burghs nevertheless.