Scotland has stood as part of the United Kingdom for centuries. Despite that, the country and its people continue to stand as a unique culture in their own right. A time might even come in the future when Scotland will completely stand on its own, instead of being a part of another nation. Learn more about its rich culture and history with these 40 Scotland facts.
- Scotland covers an estimated total area of 78,000 km².
- Water makes up only an estimated 3% of Scotland’s total area.
- An estimated 5.46 million people live in Scotland today.
- This gives Scotland a population density of 68 people for every km².
- Scotland falls in the GMT+1 time zone.
- Humans first arrived in Scotland during the last Ice Age, almost 13,000 years ago.
- The Ancients Greeks first mentioned Scotland in written records in 320 BC.
- Rome first invaded Scotland in 79 AD but failed to conquer the region.
- The Anglo-Saxons invaded Southern Scotland in the 5th century, after the Fall of the Roman Empire.
- The Vikings first raided Scotland in the 8th century.
- Scotland became a united country between the 12th and 13th centuries.
- The 13th century saw the beginning of centuries of war between Scotland and England.
- Scotland and England finally formed the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707, with the Acts of Union.
- Industry boomed in Scotland during the 19th century.
- Scotland suffered from turmoil throughout the 20th century.
- Scotland keeps its capital at Edinburgh.
- Glasgow City makes up its most populated city, though.
- Highland similarly makes up its biggest city.
- Scotland divides itself into 32 local governments called council areas.
- 59 MPs represent Scotland in the British Parliaments.
The name Scotland has a history of its own.
It goes back to Scoti, the Latin name for the Gaels, who make up the ancestors of the Modern Scots and Irish. This later evolved into Scotia, the Latin name for Ireland, but which, by the 11th century, became applied for British land north of the River Forth.
Scotland, at the time, also included lands that would later become part of the Duchy of Albany. Even then, the association of Scotland can never go away, as Scotland in Old English also refers to Ireland. Scotia would later evolve into Scotland by the late-Middle Ages, by which it referred to all of Modern Scotland.
Scotland has distinctive geography.
Scotland, as a whole, found itself covered by ice during the last Ice Age, leaving its mark on the local geography. These include the deep and narrow valleys, as well as the many freshwater lakes, the only remnants of the glaciers which once covered the land.
The Scottish Highlands and Islands themselves formed between 490 and 390 million years ago, when volcanic activity produced the rocks making them up today. Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, in particular, makes up one of Scotland’s extinct volcanoes. Large numbers of fossils also formed in the region, specifically in the Moray Firth area, dating back to 460 million years ago.
Its climate varies depending on location.
Scotland generally enjoys a temperate climate but gets affected by its position right next to the Atlantic Ocean’s Gulf Stream. This results in Scotland having milder winters and wetter summers than the rest of Britain, or even Europe as a whole.
It also results in Western Scotland enjoying more rain than what Eastern Scotland receives. On average, Western Scotland receives over 3 meters of rain in a single year. In contrast, Eastern Scotland only receives an estimated 800 mm of rain, at most, in a single year. Similarly, the Scottish Highlands receives more snow per year, with up to 59 snow days on average. However, the lowlands average to 10 snow days per year.
It also has a distinctive biodiversity.
Brown bears, elks, lynxes, walruses, and wolves have once lived in Scotland, but have since gone extinct thanks to human activity. Seals still live in Scotland, however, and enjoy legal protection. The Golden Eagle also enjoys a similar status, if not more so, thanks to its reputation as one of Scotland’s national icons.
Other animals that live in Scotland today include mountain hares, ptarmigans, stoats, and white-tailed sea eagles, among others. The Scottish Crossbill, the only animal and vertebrate native to the British Isles, also continues to live in Scotland.
Scotland also has varied plant life, ranging from the native Scotch Pine to the 5000-year-old Fortingall Yew, the oldest living thing in Europe. Talk about another historic example of Scotland Facts.
Scotland also maintains its unique national identity.
Despite having been formed as part of the United Kingdom for centuries, Scotland and the Scottish people continue to see themselves as distinct from the English. This includes having their own variant of the English language which is Scottish English, in addition to their own native languages, such as Scots and Scottish Gaelic.
They also preserve their traditional and historic clan structures and various symbols, representative of Scotland. These include the Saltire, the traditional flag of Scotland, with St. Andrew’s Cross in white over a blue background, and which today makes up a part of the British flag. Other symbols include the thistle, Scotland’s traditional flower, and even the unicorn, a traditional Scottish heraldic symbol going back to the 12th century.
The Romans struggled to hold onto even a small part of Scotland.
Rome first invaded Britain in 55 BC and reached Scotland by 79 AD. The Gaels used Scotland’s mountainous terrain to their advantage, and together with the Romans’ own struggles with supplying their armies, held them off for decades. This eventually led Emperor Hadrian to build Hadrian’s Wall in 122 AD. Stretching coast to coast across the island, it fenced Roman Britain off from Scotland in the north.
That said, the Romans did continue with small attempts to expand into Scotland afterward. Emperor Antoninus Pius did succeed in conquering Southern Scotland, and like Hadrian, built his own wall, the Antonine Wall, in 142 AD to protect his conquests. The small portion of Scotland that the Romans conquered would also see the introduction of Christianity to Scotland.
England and Scotland warred with each other for centuries.
This goes back to the 12th century, when Scotland has first emerged as a nation in its own right. At the time, however, many English had settled down in Scotland, while the Kingdom of England also saw the Scots as a potential rival. This led to the English demand for the Scots to submit, only for the Scots to refuse.
England briefly managed to force the Scots to submit in the 13th century, after King Alexander III’s death. However, King John Balliol later rejected English dominance, despite starting out as an English puppet. This later led to an alliance between Scotland and England’s rival, France, and the Scottish Wars of Independence. England later accepted Scotland’s independence in 1320, but wars would regularly erupt until the 16th century.
Their unification took over a century to complete.
By the 17th century, both England and Scotland reached an understanding, finding themselves allies against Roman Catholicism during the Protestant Reformation. Scotland formed part of the Commonwealth of England during the English Civil War, but regained its independence after the Restoration.
The English and Scottish proposals for unification constantly faced opposition in the Scottish Parliament. In particular, England’s insistence on a single parliament, instead of maintaining a separate Scottish Parliament, constantly got in the way of unification. In the end, however, the 1706 Treaty of Union finally led to an agreement, which resulted in England and Scotland forming the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
Scotland became famous through the 19th century.
Scottish shipyards during the 19th century led the way in replacing the sail ships of Britain’s merchant fleet with iron steamships. In fact, Scotland during the 19th century would produce the most and best ships in the world, at the time. In science, Scotland produced figures like James Maxwell, who pioneered the study of electromagnetism, and Lord Kelvin, who gave his name to the Kelvin scale.
James Watt, the inventor of the steam engine, also came from 19th century Scotland. Scotland also produced William Gladstone, the only British Prime Minister to hold four terms of office, and Archibald Primrose, who led Britain during the Boer Wars.
They participated heavily during the world wars.
Scotland sent an estimated 500,000 men to fight in WWI alone, of which an estimated 100,000 died, while another 150,000 suffered injuries. Field Marshal, Sir Douglas Haig, who commanded Britain’s armies on the Western Front in WWI, also came from Scotland.
Scapa Flow also served as the main base of the Royal Navy, where the German Fleet also sank itself after the war, rather than surrendering. Later on, during WWII, Scotland became a major target for German attacks, which aimed against its factories, mines, and shipyards. Ships based in Scotland helped fight German submarines in both wars, and in WWII, helped supply the Norwegian resistance against the German occupation.
Scotland’s economy began to decline in the late-20th century.
Scotland fell into a depression in 1922, well before the Great Depression started. Ironically, recovery began in 1929, only for the New York Stock Exchange to crash in October that same year, starting the Great Depression. WWII brought economic renewal to meet the war’s needs, but this ended with the war.
After 1945, the Scottish economy continued to decline in the face of foreign competition and outdated industry. Only the discovery and exploitation of the North Sea oil and gas from the 1960s onward halted the decline of Scotland’s economy. Even then, Margaret Thatcher’s policies, favoring the service and financial sectors, damaged Scotland’s economy in the 1980s.
Scotland also began pulling away from England at the same time.
Thatcher’s decision to close mines and factories in Scotland caused widespread poverty and anger in Scotland. This led to support for increased local government authority in Scotland, resulting in the Scotland Act of 1998. This restored the Scottish Parliament, but even then, a movement continued aiming for Scottish independence.
They eventually succeeded in getting a majority in the Scottish Parliament in 2011, with Alex Salmond becoming First Minister. An independence referendum then took place in 2014, with 55% of Scots voting against independence. Following the Brexit Referendum in 2019, Scottish nationalists called for a new referendum for Scottish independence.
Today, Scotland has a solid healthcare system.
Scotland has its own National Health Service (NHS), founded in 1947, which succeeded the preceding Highlands and Islands Medical Service. NHS Scotland divides the country into health directorates for better management of services. Today, NHS Scotland employs an estimated 158,000 staff, including over 47,000 nurses alone. Other specialists include consultants, dentists, midwives, and opticians, among others. NHS Scotland also has over 12,000 doctors, along with a variety of independent contractors.
As of 2010, NHS Scotland no longer collects fees and allowances, while prescriptions remain completely free. However, specialists, like dentists and opticians, may charge patients with incomes past an annual limit.
Fishing makes up one of the most important sectors in Scotland’s economy.
So much so that Scotland catches an estimated 60% of all fish caught in British waters. The catch ranges from cod and haddock, which makes up 40% of all fish caught, for a total value of 55 million pounds. Scampi, however, makes up the most important species caught by Scottish fishermen, for a total value of 38.5 million pounds. Other catches include herring and mackerel, for a total value of 99 million pounds.
However, the Scottish fishing industry caused controversy due to restrictions imposed by the European Union (EU). Fishermen, in particular, contest having to limit their catches according to EU restrictions, given how it affects their only source of livelihood.
Scotland is also rich in natural resources.
With North Sea oil and gas, and Scotland’s once rich coal deposits, its economy developed better in the 19th century. Unfortunately, those deposits became exhausted during the 20th century, contributing to Scotland’s economic decline. The last coal mine in Scotland, at Longannet in the Firth of Forth, finally closed in 2016. Even with that said, many mines still remain in operation in Scotland, producing resources like iron ore and zinc.
Fracking also once took place in Scotland, which involves the pumping of pressurized liquid underground to expose oil and gas deposits. However, from 2017 onwards, the Scottish government banned fracking out of environmental concerns.
Whisky, though, makes up Scotland’s most famous export.
Scottish whisky dates back as far as the 15th century, though, large-scale export has only started in the 18th century. Today, up to 25% of Britain’s export earnings come from Scottish whiskey, or Scotch, as it’s called in the US, at 4.25 billion pounds per year.
Whiskey production also counts among Britain’s top 5 manufacturers, employing over 35,000 people. Whiskey production gets particularly concentrated around Speyside and the Isle of Islay, with 8 distilleries between them. The whiskey industry also has connections to the tourist industry, helping generate another 30 million pounds per year. In total, over 100 distilleries operate across Britain, with strict regulations to maintain quality. For example, all whiskey, regardless of whether meant for export or not, must maintain a standard of 40% alcohol content.
COVID-19 has hit Scotland’s economy hard.
Unemployment rose by an estimated 8% by the end of 2020, as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic. Scotland’s total economic output fell by an estimated 10%, with tourism especially suffering. In fact, as of March 2021, when travel restrictions have finally loosened, an estimated 70% of Scottish businesses catering to tourists have already suffered serious financial losses. This led the government to introduce a 25 million pounds recovery program to help the tourism industry.
Other losses, resulting from the pandemic, include food and drink exports, with the whiskey industry alone suffering an estimated 1 billion pounds in lost sales. This resulted from a 32% drop in exports to the US, and a total 70% drop in worldwide exports. Analysts have called this the biggest drop in Scotch exports in over 10 years.
Scotland holds many of Britain’s most important military bases.
Between 1960 and 1991, the US maintained a fleet of nuclear missile submarines at Holy Loch in Scotland. Britain has also kept their own nuclear missile submarines at Holy Loch from 1963 onwards. Today, Britain still keeps their nuclear missile submarines in Scotland, at Gare Loch. This has previously caused protests from anti-nuclear activists, but the government has refused to concede.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) also has an airbase in Scotland, the northernmost in the entire United Kingdom. Located at Moray, the base hosts three squadrons of Eurofighter Typhoon jets, which are able to respond to enemy attacks across the North Sea in minutes.
Scotland enjoys fame from its musical tradition.
A common stereotype from Scotland involves men in kilts, an item of traditional Scottish clothing, playing bagpipes. Unlike other stereotypes, however, this does not particularly count as offensive, as Scots take great pride both in wearing kilts and playing bagpipes. That said, other instruments also feature in traditional Scottish music. These include the clarsach, a form of harp native to Scotland, as well as fiddles and accordions.
Scottish cuisine enjoys similar fame.
Haggis makes up the most famous Scottish food item in the world, as iconic as bagpipes when it comes to Scottish culture. It involves stuffing a sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs into its stomach, along with oatmeal, onions, salt, soup stock, and spices. It then gets cooked together before getting served as one large sausage. The dish enjoys such popularity in Scotland that even fast-food restaurants serve it, fried in oil. It can even get served as a substitute for fish with chips, or sliced, as a patty in burgers. Some pizzas in Scotland even feature haggis among their toppings.