It was a major source of grievance to most inhabitants that, despite Glasgow's size and importance, it had only a highly restricted share in parliamentary representation between 1780 and 1832 – hence the city's solid support of the campaign for parliamentary reform. The city shared the election of an MP with three other burghs. Glasgow, despite its huge population, had only one vote and the other burghs – Dumbarton, Renfrew and Rutherglen, all near Glasgow – also had one apiece. In the case of a split vote, the casting vote lay with the burgh hosting the election meeting, which rotated in turn between the four burghs. So in 1806 and 1818 the candidate favoured by Glasgow was defeated in this manner.
Glasgow's choice of candidate was determined by the town council, consisting of thirty-three councillors, not the general populace. The council was a self-perpetuating oligarchy, with members co-opted from the ranks of the burgesses who were members of the merchant and trade guilds or incorporations. In the early 19th century these numbered about 4,300 out of a population of some 200,000. The dominant influence lay with the merchant, not the craftsman, guilds. The former numbered a mere 800, many of whom were non-resident.
Glasgow's preferred choice was often overlooked as the other burghs could be influenced by local interests or by prominent nearby landowners. On several such occasions Glasgow Council refused to co-operate with the constituency MP, instead working with Glaswegians who sat for other seats to promote the legislative interests of the city.
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