Scotland is a nation in northwest Europe, one of the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom. It occupies the northern third of the island of Great Britain and shares a land border to the southeast with England. It is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the southwest. Apart from the mainland, Scotland consists of over 790 islands.
Edinburgh, the capital and second largest city, is one of Europe's largest financial centres. Scotland's largest city is Glasgow, which is the centre of the Greater Glasgow conurbation. Greater Glasgow is home to approximately 40% of Scotland's population.
Scottish waters consist of a large sector of the North Atlantic and the North Sea, containing the largest oil reserves in the European Union.
Former and now partial independenceEdit
The Kingdom of Scotland was an independent state until 1 May 1707, when the Acts of Union resulted in a political union with the Kingdom of England to create the Kingdom of Great Britain. Scotland's legal system continues to be separate from those of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and Scotland still constitutes a discrete jurisdiction in public and in private international law. The continued independence of Scots law, the Scottish education system, and the Church of Scotland have been the three cornerstones contributing to the continuation of Scottish culture and Scottish national identity since the Union. However, Scotland is no longer a sovereign state and does not have direct membership of either the United Nations or the European Union. 
Scotland is geologically three islands that broke away from what was to become North America during continental drift. This created a mountainous country of three 'slices', divided by 'firths' or river-mouths. Its earliest peoples built stone houses (e.g. Skara Brae), fortifications (brochs), and circles.
The Romans, in the early Christian era, dubbed the people 'picti' (painted people) or Picts. These Picts occupied the northern part of the modern country, called Pictland or Caledonia ('tree-covered land'.) Various waves of immigration came in from the west (the Scots from Ireland), the north (the Vikings from Norway), the East (Germanic tribes), the south west (Britons) and south east (Angles) creating a multi-ethnic, multilingual and multireligious entity.
The country gradually came together in the late 1st millennium. Kenneth MacAlpine, King of the Scots (west Scotland) took over the pictlands (east Scotland), creating 'Scotland'. The South West, western islands, far north and northern islands were gradually acquired from Viking descendants and the south east from the partition of the English Kingdom of Northumbria between Scotland and England.
There has been remarkably little change to the boundaries of the country in hundreds of years, with ancient echoes of older boundaries in Berwick-upon-Tweed (in NE England but the old county town of Berwickshire in Scotland) and Carlisle (where the ancient NW English city is split by English Street and Scotch Street.)
It is one of the tragedies of British history that the eagerness of Edward I of England to unite the British Isles precipitated its current divisions. His wars against the Scots defined Scotland as a different and separate kingdom from England, at a time when the common racial and royal lines were combining.
It was not until the religious wars of the 17th century that the Scots and English, having separately embraced Protestantism, began to consider a union, as a bulwark against Catholic Europe. The Protestant revolution in Scotland was swift and bloody. St Andrews, one of Europe's main pilgrimage centres, was devastated, the monarchy overthrown, the ancient Roman Catholic religion gone in a generation. In the English Civil War Dundee, then the country's largest city, was burnt, twice. In the Jacobite revolts, attempting to put Roman Catholic monarchs back on the throne, the ancient way of life of the highlanders was destroyed and many ethnically cleansed from their lands.
Yet, from the pain of the end of Roman Catholicism and independence came a bright star that shone across Europe: The Enlightenment. Scots defined much of modern theology, economics, medicine, philosophy, and finance. Her universities in Edinburgh and Glasgow, once not much better than high schools, were rebuilt, dominating law, the natural sciences, and other fields. In Edinburgh The New Town (now aUNESCO world heritage site) was built as several hundred acres of Georgian splendour. Glasgow grew to become one of the world's great trading centres.
In the late 19th century Scots continued to leave in huge numbers, while Irish refugees poured in from Donegal and other counties. This influx of Roman Catholics, coupled with the Scots plantation of the province of Ulster as a Protestant fiefdom, has produced catholic/protestant sectarianism, still one of the great blights upon life in Glasgow, the largest city.
In the 20th century Scotland gave huge numbers of men in the two World Wars. Numbers of new immigrants arrived from the former Indian Empire (Pakistan and Bangladesh from the 1960s), Eastern Europe (in the 1930s and 1940s and since 2004[) and England (always a trickle, but more so since the 1980s.)
Scotland has some of Europe's most varied and beautiful landscapes: mountains, rivers, lochs (lakes), beaches, castles and islands. Its middle class has grown in confidence, education, and wealth in beautiful and beautified areas around the entire country. Scotland also, however, has some of the worst quality of life statistics in the world: low male life expectancy, high alcoholism and drug taking, high teenage pregnancy rates, high illegitimacy, and poor education in and around the cities, particularly Glasgow, and throughout almost all its towns.
Throughout the 20th century, romantic Scottish Nationalism grew into a political force, competing with Labour (Socialists) and Tories (Rightists). Continually threatening to leave the British Union, Scots were conceded a parliament in 1999. It is perhaps fair to say that most Scots have found this a deeply disappointing institution, dominated by small politically correct leftist soi-disant pressure groups. Passing laws to protect minorities, ban smoking, and house itself in very expensive premises (half a billion pounds' worth), whilst ignoring the huge issues of poverty, poor transport, poor education, poor housing, expensive housing, social breakdown, and poor health of most of the country's population.
No land has a single culture, and Scotland also fits this bill. The ancient culture of the Highlander survives in the militarist music of the highland bagpipe combined with highland games (sports meetings) that take place across most of the country during the summer. Lowland Scots culture grew out of the work of the national poet, Robert (never "Rabbie") Burns and has spawned a culture of dance music and operatic-style singing. These two combine in what is often referred to as tartan kitsch, but remains highly popular with Scots and visitors. For example, almost every man at a Scottish wedding will wear highland dress.
The underachieving former working class have built a separate NED (non-educated deliquent) culture characterised by bright tracksuits, baseball caps, poor diction, low/no educational achievement, high drug and alcohol use, and early, often pre-maturity, sexual activity. They are, however, almost exclusively heterosexual, violently homophobic, and often have complex multiple biological relationships with their relatives. This was graphically outlined in Irvine Welsh's best-selling book and popular movie, Trainspotting.
Scotland's major revenue earners are, in order, whisky, finance, and oil. The Royal Bank of Scotland is among the ten largest banks in the world. However, Scotland spends far more than she earns (UK Treasury figures, 2006.) This cross-subsidy from England is built into UK finances allow for the greater financial problems she has over her larger southern neighbour.
In recent years she has grown as a place for non-Scottish students to study. This brings in a figure probably around £500m annually to the economy. St Andrews and Edinburgh universities are highly dominated by non-Scots.
Other significant Scots companies include Stagecoach Buses (Perth), which has subsidiaries as far away as New Zealand.
Scotland may well be Europe's most ancient country. In this time it has accumulated some highly significant artefacts. Legend has it that the Stone of Destiny, upon which all British monarchs are crowned and which the Scots 'acquired' from Ireland, is the ancient stone that the Hebrew Patriarch Jacob slept upon when he saw heaven open and angels going up and down.
The Scottish Crown Jewels, or 'The Honours Three', are Europe's oldest crown jewels. Long lost, they were rediscovered by the novelist Sir Walter Scott in a tale as good as any he ever penned.
The national plant is the thistle. A tale is told of an ancient of the Angles creeping up with his army to attack the Picts and take over their land when he stepped on a thistle and cried out in agony, alerting the Pictish army. The national flag, the saltire, has a similar tale: the Christian Picts were preparing for battle against the pagan Angles. The Pictish King saw a crossed cloud formation on the clear blue sky and took this as a divine symbol and went on to win the battle. (Yes, very like Constantine's tale.)
The national motto is in Scots (a dialect of Anglo-Saxon), 'Wha Daur Meddle Wi Me'. It appears in Latin on the royal arms as 'Nemo Me Impune Lacessit' - English translation 'No-one Attacks Me With Impunity'.
The other national flags are:
- the royal standard, 'The Lion Rampant', the symbol of the monarch, currently Her Majesty Elizabeth, Queen of Scots (known in England and Wales as Queen Elizabeth II)
- the Union Flag, which is a cross of St George (England) upon that of St Patrick (Ireland) upon that of St Andrew (Scotland.)
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