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August 9th 1832

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The Franchise Bill makes it!

At the time of the Union, Scotland was granted a mere 45 seats in the new parliament. The property qualifications were such that the total number, in the whole country, qualified to vote was below five thousand.

Electorates varied between a minimum of twelve in the county of Bute (eight controlled by the family of Lord Bute) and a maximum of two hundred and five in Ayrshire. Edinburgh, the only burgh to be individually represented, had thirty three electors.

The whole system was a recipe for corruption and the buying of votes. Henry Dundas managed and manipulated the system with such consummate skill for some thirty years that he came to be known as King Harry the ninth of Scotland.

With the advent of the French Revolution and the rise of a new middle class, pressure began to be built up for political power to be more widely dispersed. The political apathy of the 18th Century was replaced with a new radical enthusiasm and a campaign to increase the franchise. This culminated in 1832 with the passing of the first Reform Act. In this Act, the number of county MP’s remained at thirty, but the burgh seats were increased from fifteen to twenty three and for the first time Perth City returned its own member.

The electorate increased to 65,000, still a very small proportion of the adult males in the country. Worse still the ballot was not secret, and in the counties in particular, the landlords continued to make sure that their tenants voted as they wished.

In spite of all these imperfections the Act was celebrated in Perth with not one but two processions through the town - one organised by the Lord Provost and one by the Trades Jubilee Committee.

Though the franchise was only to be enjoyed by a small minority of the population the pleasure and the celebrations extended over a much wider number. The Perthshire Advertiser reported on the “profusion of triumphal arches that decorated the streets, but their brightest ornaments were the groups of smiling and happy people walking about in their holiday dresses. The City of Perth has just reason to be proud of the great body of respectable tradesmen who filled her streets, everyone anxious to participate in the Jubilee of reform.” 

The Town Council donated £30 and private citizens even more to ensure that over 2,000 of the poorest citizens received 6d each together with bread and cheese and porter. Even the prisoners in Perth jail were not forgotten. The Earl of Ormalie provided funds for a special dinner for the inmates “with plenty of porter to wash it down.” 

There was a second Reform Act in 1869 which brought the representation of MP’s from 53 to 60 (on a population basis there should have been almost 90) and the electorate to 230,000, but it was not until 1872 that the secret ballot was introduced.

The third great Reform Act of 1884 increased the electorate to 560,000 though even this only constituted three fifths of the adult males. The number of MP’s rose from 60 to 72. There were attempts by the House of Lords to block the Act, which occasioned processions of protest throughout the country. In Perth, in spite of the continuous rain, there were 6,000 persons marching through the town with 12 brass bands, 4 flute bands and 40 pipers. The procession was three miles in length and took an hour to pass. There were dense crowds of spectators on the streets and when the procession finally reached the North Inch there were a further 25,00 waiting for their arrival and the speeches that followed.

The whole occasion took on the appearance of a carnival with the various trade delegations carrying their own banners, most of which attacked the Lords.

Such were the Perth Butchers with “All Lorders promptly executed.” 
Or the Cabinet Makers “The Cabinet shines already; we will now polish off the Lords.” 
Perth Dyeworks “We won’t submit to Lords’ oppression. We’ll have the Franchise Bill this session.” 
Or the Perth Shopkeepers “We’ll clear out the Lords at remnant prices.” 

There were also delegations from outside Perth. Coachbuilders from Crieff. “We come from Crieff with a right good will. For the Grand Old Man (Gladstone) and the Franchise Bill.”  The shoe factory from Auchterarder and the workers from Dunning, Killin, the Carse of Gowrie, Coupar Angus and Bridge of Earn also turned up.

After the speeches there were resolutions passed by acclimation.

1) That the meeting gives hearty approval of the Franchise Bill and the efforts made by the Government to pass it through Parliament.
2) Condemns the actions of the majority of the House of Lords in taking up a position of such marked antagonism and records their conviction that a persistence of that attitude will necessitate some radical reform of the House of Lords.

The House of Lords took the hint and the Franchise Bill passed into law.

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