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Date: 2021
Publisher: The Columbia University Press
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 3,879 words
Content Level: (Level 5)
Lexile Measure: 1360L

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Scotland, political division of Great Britain (2011 pop. 5,295,000), 30,414 sq mi (78,772 sq km), comprising the northern portion of the island of Great Britain and many surrounding islands. Scotland is separated from England by the Tweed River, the Cheviot Hills, the Liddell River, and Solway Firth. It is bounded on the north and west by the Atlantic Ocean and on the east by the North Sea. The capital is Edinburgh and the largest city is Glasgow .

Scotland, England, and Wales have been united since 1707 under the name of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. They share a national parliament but Scotland has its own system of laws (based on Roman law rather than the common law of England), banking (including its own banknotes), and education. In 1999 the Scottish Parliament, which had been dissolved with the Act of Union, was reestablished; it is responsible for Scottish domestic affairs, including taxes.

Land and People

Scotland may be divided into three main geographical regions, which are divided politically (since 1996) into 32 local council areas. The southern uplands, a region of high, rolling moorland cut by numerous valleys, comprises the areas of Dumfries and Galloway and Scottish Borders. The central lowlands, Scotland's most populous district and the locus of its commercial and industrial cities, includes the areas of South, East, and North Ayrshire, Inverclyde, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, West and East Dunbartonshire, Glasgow, North and South Lanarkshire, Falkirk, West Lothian, Edinburgh, Midlothian, East Lothian, Argyll and Bute, Stirling, Clackmannanshire, Perth and Kinross, Fife, Dundee, Angus, and Aberdeen. Separated from the lowlands by the Grampian Mts. are the Highlands of the north, a rough, mountainous area divided by the Great Glen and containing Ben Nevis (4,411 ft/1,345 m) the highest peak in Great Britain. The Highland areas are Highland, Moray, and inland Aberbeenshire. The Orkney and Shetland islands lie off the northern coast of the mainland and the Hebrides off the western; most are north of the central lowlands. The Orkney and Shetland islands each comprise a council area; the Outer Hebrides comprise the area of the Western Isles, and the Inner Hebrides are divided between Highland and Argyll and Bute.

Because of Scotland's highly irregular outline (its breadth ranges from 154 mi/248 km to only 26 mi/42 km) and the deeply indented arms of the sea—usually called lochs when narrow and firths when broad—it has c.2,300 mi (3,700 km) of coastline. Scotland's principal rivers are the Clyde, the Forth, the Dee, the Tay, and the Tweed. The largest freshwater loch is Loch Lomond.

The Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian, is established, but there are no restrictions on religious liberty. English is the nearly universal language. Fewer than 1,000 people, primarily in the far north, still speak only Gaelic, and fewer than 60,000 speak Gaelic in addition to English. Among Scotland's universities, St. Andrews (the oldest), Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Strathclyde have their origins in institutions established before 1800.


Most Scottish industry and commerce is concentrated in a few large cities on the waterways of the central lowlands. Edinburgh, on the Firth of Forth, is a cultural center, the administrative capital of Scotland, and a center of paper production and publishing. Glasgow, one of the largest cities in Great Britain, lies on the Clyde; it is Scotland's leading seaport and a center of shipbuilding and it supports numerous light industries. Although heavy industry has declined, the high-technology "Silicon Glen" corridor has developed between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Tourism is also very important.

The significance of coal, once Scotland's most important mineral resource, has declined. Oil, however, gained prominence in Scotland's economy during the 1970s, with the growth of North Sea oil extraction companies. Natural gas is also abundant in the North Sea fields. Aberdeen is the center of the oil industry. Other important industries are textile production (woolens, worsteds, silks, and linens), distilling, and fishing. Textiles, beer, and whisky, which are among Scotland's chief exports, are produced in many towns. Salmon are taken from the Tay and the Dee, and numerous coastal towns and villages are supported by the herring catch from the North Sea. Only about one fourth of the land is under cultivation (principally in cereals and vegetables), but sheep raising is important in the mountainous regions. Because of the persistence of feudalism (fuedal tenure was not legally abolished until the early 21st cent.) and the land inclosures of the 19th cent. (see History, below), the ownership of most land in Scotland is concentrated in relatively few hands (some 400 people own about half the land). Beginning in 2000, the Scottish parliament passed a series of land reform acts; feudal tenure was abolished, tenant farmers and communities were empowered to purchase land even if the landlord did not want to sell, and ultimately long leases were converted to ownership.


Early History

The Picts , of obscure origin, inhabited Scotland from prehistoric times. The Romans attempted vainly to penetrate Scotland, and their successive lines of forts and walls proved inadequate to contain the northern tribes of Picts and Celts. Although the Romans had little influence on Scottish life, Christianity had been introduced into Scotland before they left by St. Ninian and his disciples in the 5th cent. In the century and a half after the Roman evacuation (mid-5th cent.), four Scottish kingdoms came into being—that of the Picts in the north; that of the Scots who came from Ireland and founded Dalriada in what is now Argyll and Bute; that of the Britains in Strathclyde ; and that of Northumbria (which also included northern England), founded by the Angles and settled largely by Germanic immigrants.

The mission of St. Columba (563) from Ireland reintroduced Christianity to Scotland. The usages of the Celtic Church differed in various details from those of Rome, introduced in the south of Britain by St. Augustine. Conflict between the two was settled in favor of Roman usage decided at the Synod of Whitby in 663, but Scottish Christianity only slowly adopted the Roman forms. After the decline of the Northumbrian power in Scotland began the raids of the Norsemen, who harried the country from the 8th to the 12th cent. In 794 they attacked the islands off Scotland and soon returned to live in the Hebrides; by 870 they were established in what came to be Caithness and Sutherland. In the mid-9th cent. Kenneth I established his rule over nearly all the land N of the Firth of Forth. His descendants pushed into Northumbria and by the 11th cent. ruled all of present Scotland except N Pictland and the islands.

Under Malcolm III , who married St. Margaret of Scotland (an English princess), there began a reorganization of the Scottish church and a gradual anglicization of the Lowland peoples. Malcolm invaded England after rejecting the claim of William II of England to sovereignty over Scotland, but peace followed the marriage of Malcolm's daughter to Henry I of England and allowed the process of feudalization in Scotland to continue. Although the clan system, based on blood relationships and personal loyalty to a chieftain, survived in the Highlands, feudal property laws were generally adopted in the Lowlands in the 11th and 12th cent. David I (1124–53) supported feudalism with land grants from the crown, encouraged the growth of self-governing burghs, and backed his bishops in their refusal to recognize the supremacy of the archbishop of York.

The Struggle with England

In the reign of William the Lion Scotland became a fief of England by a treaty extorted (1174) from William by Henry II. In 1189 Richard I sold the Scots their freedom, but he couched the agreement in ambiguous terms that allowed later English kings to revive the claim. The Norsemen were gradually pushed out of Scotland and finally defeated in 1263; only the Orkneys and Shetlands remained in Norse hands until the 15th cent. When Alexander III died in 1286, his heiress was the infant Margaret Maid of Norway ; she was betrothed to the son of Edward I of England but died (1290) as a child. In the ensuing struggle among many claimants to the throne, Edward I declared for John de Baliol (1249–1315), who was crowned (1292), with Edward acknowledged as overlord of Scotland.

In Edward's war (late 13th cent.), with Philip IV of France, the Scots allied with Philip, thus beginning the long relationship with France that characterizes much of Scottish history. Edward won Scottish submission, but Scotland rose in revolt, first under Sir William Wallace , then under Robert the Bruce (later Robert I ). Robert was crowned king at Scone in 1306, recaptured Scottish castles and raided across the English border, and finally defeated Edward II at Bannockburn in 1314. Edward III in 1328 signed a treaty acknowledging Scotland's independence, but during the troubled minority (1329–41) of David II he supported the pretender, Edward de Baliol , and invaded Scotland.

The reigns of David II and his successors (of the royal house of Stuart ) were years of dissension and turbulence among the nobles and royal heirs and of repeated attacks from England. Social chaos was compounded by the scourge of the Black Death plague epidemic, which killed nearly a third of the population. In 1424 James I , who had spent his youth a prisoner at the English court, returned to Scotland. James vigorously attempted to revamp the laws and to establish control over his nobles. His murder in 1437 threw Scotland back into the old pattern of civil conflict during long royal minorities over the next century (see James II , James III , and James V ). A brief respite of internal peace in this period of strife was provided by the reign of James IV , who perished with the flower of Scottish nobility at the battle of Flodden Field (1513).

James V perpetuated the French alliance by marrying Mary of Guise , who brought a large French contingent to Scotland with her. The Reformation came to Scotland primarily through the efforts of John Knox (1505–1572; see also Presbyterianism and Scotland, Church of ). The religious issue was inextricably connected with opposition to the French Roman Catholic party of Mary of Guise (queen regent after James's death in 1542) and of her daughter Mary Queen of Scots , who lived in France as dauphine and then as queen.

By the time Mary Queen of Scots arrived (1561) in Scotland, Catholicism had almost disappeared from the Lowlands. The turbulent career of the young queen hinged primarily on her personal involvements and on the conflict between the crown and the nobility, now divided into pro-French (Catholic) and pro-English (Protestant) parties. Elizabeth I of England maintained the Protestant party with money and arms. Mary's struggle ended in her loss of the throne (1567), imprisonment in England, and execution (1587). Her son, James VI, broke away from his guardians in 1583 and accomplished the difficult task of subduing the nobility and establishing once and for all the supremacy of royal authority. In 1603, on Elizabeth's death, he succeeded to the English throne as James I of England. United under one crown, Scotland and England were finally at peace.

Scotland to the Union

Scotland enjoyed comparative peace for a few years, as many of the nobility followed the court to England. Presbyterianism and its maintenance now became the great question. The desire to bar episcopacy (governance of the church by bishops), which was favored by the Stuarts, shaped every political move of the Scottish Parliament (Estates). The Covenanters declared their opposition to the liturgical forms imposed by Charles I and stoutly resisted his attempt to bring them to heel in the Bishops' Wars (1639–40). These wars led directly to the English civil war .

Although Scotland, like England, was somewhat divided in opinion, the great majority opposed the king, and Charles's efforts to win the Scots by yielding rights to Presbyterianism in 1641 came too late to sway the 8th earl of Argyll and his Covenanters. Yet James Graham, earl of Montrose , almost succeeded, with his wild Highlander troops, in winning Scotland for the king in 1644–45. Meanwhile, the Covenanters sought to force Presbyterianism on England, and the English Parliament proclaimed that form of religion in 1643. But the English army under Oliver Cromwell ultimately prevailed over Parliament, and the Scottish religion gained only toleration, not supremacy, in England.

Charles I surrendered to the Scots, who handed him over to the English Parliament. Scottish sympathies shifted to Charles, however, and their army fought for him in 1648. The execution of the king in 1649 caused a revulsion of feeling in Scotland, and the junction with England imposed by Cromwell (see Protectorate ) was extremely unpopular. Many Scots rallied to Charles II , who was crowned at Scone in 1651, and the Restoration (1660) was cause for great rejoicing. The Stuarts, however, sought once more to restore episcopacy, and the Covenanters were, for many decades, subjected to severe persecution.

The Scots hated the Roman Catholic James II even more bitterly than the English did, and the accession in 1689 of William III and Mary II was met with widespread support, if not enthusiasm. With the Glorious Revolution (1688–89), Presbyterianism once more became the national church. But the Jacobites , supporters of the exiled Stuarts, caused great disruption, particularly in the Highlands, and the massacre of a Highland clan at Glencoe (1692) tended to discredit the new government. Scotland's commercial interests nursed economic grievances against William, primarily for his failure to support the Darién Scheme and for the discriminatory Navigation Acts .

Constitutional union of England and Scotland, which had been considered ever since the junction of the crowns, was rejected at this time by the English, but its desirability became increasingly apparent. The question of succession to the throne was a burning issue in the reign of Queen Anne (1702–14), whose children predeceased her, in face of assiduous Jacobite activity in both kingdoms. Finally, in order to assure the Hanoverian succession (provided in the Act of Settlement, 1701) after Anne's death, the union was voted by both Parliaments in 1707, providing for Scottish representatives in a Parliament of Great Britain. Equality of trading privileges and toleration of episcopacy, along with recognition of a Presbyterian Established Church of Scotland, were among the terms of the union. The Jacobites attempted in 1715 and again in 1745 to destroy the union, but without success, and Scotland had peace at last.

Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

In the 18th cent. Scotsmen such as David Hume and Adam Smith stood in the forefront of the European Enlightenment. Educational standards, from elementary to university level, were high, and many English religious dissenters, barred from Oxford and Cambridge, received excellent educations in Scotland. From its intellectually vibrant atmosphere came many practical inventions to further the Industrial Revolution, including the work of James Watt . The economic results of the union eventually proved wholly favorable to Scotland, and the people gradually enjoyed a higher standard of living. Feudal land tenure slowly gave way to modern leases. Thriving commerce within the British Empire led to expansion of shipping and shipbuilding, and Glasgow achieved eminence as a commercial center.

The increasing market for meat and wool spurred new developments in agriculture and cattle breeding but unfortunately led also to the dispossession of a large part of the population in the Highland grazing lands during the inclosure actions of the later 18th and early 19th cent. The resultant emigration of Highlanders to Canada, the United States, and Australia nearly depopulated parts of Scotland. Early in the 18th cent. linen manufacture and, to a lesser extent, woolcloth manufacture, came to be of major importance in the Lowland towns. Toward the end of the 18th cent. cotton spinning and weaving on the new power machinery of the Industrial Revolution became Scotland's leading industries.

By the end of the 19th cent., metallurgical industry had come to dominate the economy; the exploitation of rich coal and iron fields resulted in a concentration of heavy industry in a central belt running from Ayrshire to Fife. The rise of a new middle class and an urban working class necessitated the same reform of corrupt and outmoded local institutions that occurred in England. Industrialization also produced severe social and economic distress, for which traditional private philanthropy proved inadequate, and led to outbreaks of unrest in city and countryside alike—such as the Crofters' War of hard-pressed tenant farmers in the 1880s. From Scotland emerged some of the first leaders of the British labor movement. Under Alexander MacDonald a powerful miners union developed in the 1860s. The first labor representatives in Parliament came from Scottish mining areas. James Keir Hardie , founder of the Independent Labour party, and James Ramsay MacDonald , first Labour prime minister, were Scotsmen.

Modern Scotland

Concentration on heavy industry meant that Scotland was an important arsenal in World War I. It also meant that Scotland suffered heavily in the depression between the wars. In World War II, despite the fact that its industry supplied a great deal of the British war material, Scotland was not extensively damaged by bombing. After the war the steady exodus of population from the Highlands continued; in an effort to make the Highlands again profitably habitable, a program of reforestation and hydroelectric development, begun in a small way as early as 1922, was increased. Immigration from Ireland added to Scotland's urban population. Many new diversified industries, especially high-tech industries, were started to relieve the strong emphasis on heavy industry that had unbalanced the Scottish economy. Efforts to attract tourists led to the construction of many modern hotels and the development of the Edinburgh festival of arts.

These improvements did not lessen a persistent nationalist movement that urged greater autonomy for Scotland. The movement became prominent with the discovery of North Sea oil in the 1970s and gained momentum in the 1980s when many Scots felt the government of Margaret Thatcher was unresponsive to them. When Tony Blair became prime minister in May, 1997, he made the devolution of authority one of the principal objectives of his government. In Sept., 1997, Scottish voters approved the establishment of a parliament to run their domestic affairs, with the power to make laws and set taxes. Elections were held and the body began sitting in 1999. The Labour party won the most seats, although not a majority, and established a coalition with the Liberal Democrats; the proindependence Scottish Nationalist party (SNP) became the principal opposition.

The Labour–Liberal Democrat coalition remained in power after the 2003 elections, but the SNP won a plurality in 2007 and formed a minority government. The SNP retained power with majority after the 2011 vote, and subsequently began developing plans for a referendum on Scotland's status. Scottish and British governments agreed in 2012 to hold an independence referendum in late 2014, when independence was rejected by a solid majority. The British government, however, promised during the campaign to devolve additional powers to Scotland's parliament. Nonetheless, the SNP remained strong, and took nearly all of Scotland's seats in the British parliament in 2015. In the 2016 Scottish elections the SNP was again the largest party but narrowly lost its majority. Nicola Sturgeon , of the SNP, is the current Scottish first minister. In the 2016 referendum in which British voters as a whole approved leaving the European Union, Scottish voters strongly supported remaining in the EU. The Scottish government subsequently sought to hold a new independence referendum, but the SNP then suffered major losses in the 2017 British parliamentary elections, a situation significantly reversed in 2019. See also Great Britain .


The oldest detailed history of Scotland is W. Robertson, The History of Scotland during the Reigns of Queen Mary and of King James VI (1759). Two standard general histories are by P. H. Brown (3 vol., 1900–1909) and A. Lang (4 vol., 1900–1907). Invaluable also are four studies by W. L. Mathieson—Politics and Religion: A Study in Scottish History (1902), Scotland and the Union (1905), The Awakening of Scotland (1910), and Church and Reform in Scotland (1916). Six self-contained volumes (1935–41) by A. M. Mackenzie make up a history of Scotland to 1939. There are several good short histories, among them those by A. M. Mackenzie (rev. ed. 1957), J. D. Mackie (1964), E. Linklater (1968), and R. Murchison (1970).

See also V. G. Childe, Prehistoric Scotland (1940); G. Donaldson, The Scottish Reformation (1960); W. C. Dickinson and G. S. Pryde, A New History of Scotland (2 vol., 2d ed. 1965); G. Donaldson, Scottish Kings (1967); T. C. Smout, The History of the Scottish People, 1560–1830 (1969); N. T. Phillipson, ed., Scotland in the Age of Improvement (1970); E. G. Grant, Scotland (1982).

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A69231859