Single Member Scottish County

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 10 in 1754, 34 in 1788


3 May 1754George Mackay
24 Dec. 1756Mackay re-elected after appointment to office
23 Apr. 1761Alexander Mackay
14 Apr. 1768James Wemyss
3 Nov. 1774James Wemyss
28 Sept. 1780James Wemyss
26 Apr. 1784William Wemyss
1 Aug. 1787James Grant vice Wemyss, vacated his seat

Main Article

The property of the earls of Sutherland in this county was so extensive that the right of voting extended not only to the vassals of the Crown, as it did in all other Scottish counties, but to the vassals of the Earl as well.1 The main opposition to their interest came from the family of Mackay, Lords Reay. In 1754 George Mackay, the sitting Member, was returned, Lord Sutherland having agreed to Pelham’s request not to offer any opposition. Soon afterwards Lord Sutherland began campaigning on behalf of James Wemyss, his brother-in-law: in 1757 he created 23 additional votes, thus swamping the original freeholders.2 A protracted series of legal actions, commenced, but before the general election of 1761 the Duke of Argyll was able to arrange a compromise: Alexander Mackay was to come in for the county, but would move to Tain Burghs at the subsequent general election, and would be given the Sutherland interest at Dornoch.

In 1768 when it was the turn of the Sutherlands to nominate, James Wemyss, guardian to the infant Countess, was returned unopposed. He was unanimously re-elected in 1774 and 1780, and in 1784 retired in favour of his son. When William Wemyss vacated his seat in 1787 to contest Fifeshire, the Sutherland interest went to a friend of the family, General James Grant. In 1788 William Adam’s survey put the number of voters at 34, of whom the Sutherlands commanded at least 20: their influence, he concluded, was ‘almost unsurmountable’.3

Author: J. A. Cannon


  • 1. Alex. Wight, Inquiry into the Rise and Progress of Parlt. (1784), pp. 209-11.
  • 2. S. Fraser, Controverted Elections, 165-6.
  • 3. Pol. State of Scotland, 339.