LOCATION: United Kingdom (Scotland)

POPULATION: Over 5 million

LANGUAGE: Scottish dialect of English (also called Scots); Gaelic

RELIGION: Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian sect; Roman Catholic; small numbers of Baptists, Anglicans, and Methodists


Scotland is one of four countries that make up the United Kingdom. (The other three are England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.) Scotland covers the northern part of the island of Great Britain, which it shares with England and Wales.

For centuries, social and political life in the northern (Highland) area of Scotland was organized around clans (communities of people with strong family ties). Chieftains protected clan members from invasion in exchange for their loyalty. (The cultural tradition of clans still exists today at ceremonial gatherings such as weddings.) The southern areas of Scotland were more influenced by English patterns of organization.

Repeated disputes with England sometimes led to war. Before the early fourteenth century, the Scottish were ruled by English monarchs. In 1707 the Act of Union made Scotland, England, and Wales all part of the United Kingdom.

Scotland has seen difficult times in the twentieth century. Extensive unemployment began in the 1930s, forcing thousands to emigrate in search of a better life. Oil was discovered off the North Sea coast in the 1960s. Many new jobs were created as a result, and emigration slowed. Since the 1980s national feeling in favor of separation from England has strengthened. In 1997, Scotland voted to establish its own parliament (government council) by 1999. This change will increase Scotland's independence from England.


Scotland is located in the northern part of the island of Great Britain. The country can be divided into three main areas. The Southern Uplands are a hilly region noted for sheep-raising. The more densely populated Central Lowlands have flatter and more fertile land. The Highlands, the northern two-thirds of the country, include lochs (lakes), glens (valleys), mountains, and numerous small islands.

Over three-fourths of Scotland's population live in the Central Lowland area. Two hundred years ago, almost half of all Scottish people lived in the Highlands. Most Scots are descended from Celtic tribes who were the original inhabitants of their land. The bloodlines of Viking, Norman, and English invaders are mixed in as well. The Highland and Lowland Scots are considered two different groups, as are mainland and island dwellers.


Scotland's official language is English. It is spoken with a unique Scottish accent, or "burr," that is especially prominent in words containing "r" sounds. Scottish English (also called Scots) contains words borrowed from Gaelic (a Scottish dialect), French, Dutch, and Scandinavian languages. Its grammar sometimes differs from standard English, as in expressions like "Are you no going?" and "I'm away to bed." Gaelic is spoken as a second language by less than 2 percent of the population, mostly in the Highlands and Hebridean islands.


U. S. English Scots
don't, can't, won't dinnae, canae, willnae
small wee
yes aye
know ken
weep greet
church kirk
pants breeks
girl lassie
child bairn
pretty bonny
stay bide


Scots U. S. English
I'm exhausted. Ah'm fair farfochen.
The child's a little The bairn's a wee bit
tired. wabbit.


The oldest Gaelic songs tell stories of warriors battling Norsemen, magic rowan (mountain ash) trees, and monstrous old women living in the sea. There is also a rich folk tradition of belief in fairies and other supernatural forces. The most famous character in Scottish folklore is the Loch Ness monster. "Nessie" is said to be a dinosaur-like creature living in a large lake. Although it has supposedly been sighted by hundreds of people, its existence has never been scientifically proven.

A popular Scottish legend tells the tale of the "wall flower." In a castle near the river Tweed, a fair maiden was held prisoner because she had promised her love to a member of a neighboring enemy clan. Her lover tried various tactics to rescue her. He finally was able to get inside the castle by pretending to be a troubadour (wandering musician). Once inside, he found the maiden and the two made a plan for her escape. She climbed out the window, and planned to climb down the wall of the castle using a silk rope. While her lover waited below to rescue her, something went wrong, as this poem relates:

Up she got upon a wall
Attempted down to slide withal;
But the silken twist untied,
She fell, and bruised, she died,
And her loving, luckless speed,
Twined her to the plant we call
Now the "Flower of the Wall."


The country's dominant religion is the Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian sect. It is commonly known as "the Kirk," and has been Scotland's official religion since 1690. Other religions in Scotland include Catholic, Baptist, Anglican, and Methodist, as well as more modern evangelical sects. Church attendance in Scotland is very low.


Scots celebrate the major holidays of the Christian calendar. In addition, they honor Saint Andrew, patron saint of Scotland, on November 30, and the Scottish poet Robert Burns on Burns Night, January 25.

Another unique celebration is the Hogmanay (New Year's Eve, December 31) celebration. Until the 1960s, this holiday held more importance than Christmas (December 25). It involved the ceremony of "first footing," the custom of visiting friends, neighbors, and even strangers, in the "wee sma' hours" (early) of New Year's Day. Christmas was formerly frowned upon by the Scottish Church. It only became a public holiday in 1967. Christmas in Scotland now resembles celebrations in England and the United States, with fir trees, carols, and gift-giving.

Halloween, October 31, is also an important celebration. Like "trick-or-treaters" in the United States, Scottish "guisers" go from door to door in costumes asking for candy or money. Unlike in the United States, the guisers must perform a song or poem to earn their treat. Halloween decorations include the Scottish version of the jack-o'-lantern: a scooped-out rutabaga called a "neep lantern" ("neep" is short for turnip).


Scotland is a modern, industrialized, Christian country. Many of the rites of passage that young people undergo are religious rituals. These include baptism, first communion, confirmation, and marriage. In addition, a student's progress through the educational system is often marked with graduation parties.


The Scottish are known for their silent and reserved manner. It is unusual for Scots to be seen holding hands, kissing, or touching in public. They tend to minimize direct expressions of enthusiasm. The handshake is less common than in other parts of Britain. It is considered unacceptable to criticize others in public, or to discuss personal problems with anyone other than a close associate. Within the household, however, family members maintain close relationships that include many "inside jokes." Scottish humor tends toward the deadpan (said with an expressionless face) and ironic (meaning the opposite of what is expressed).


Most Scottish houses have a small garden. Many houses are built in rows called terraces. Homes built before World War I (1914–18) were generally made of stone. Single-story stone cottages can still be found in the Highlands as well as in some urban areas. Most newer dwellings are built of brick or concrete blocks. Slate roofs are common, and many houses are covered by a painted coating of cement. Over half of all Scots live in "council houses," low-cost housing built by local authorities. These are generally high-rise apartment complexes.


Women have worked as laborers in the textile, jute, and fish processing industries since as far back as the nineteenth century. This work has given them both economic independence and more authority within the family. Women are increasingly entering the professions. There are nearly as many women as men in attendance at Scotland's colleges and universities. Traditionally male skilled trades such as steelmaking and mining still do not hire female employees.

Scots are legally allowed to marry by the age of sixteen. Many marry as teenagers, although marrying in the early twenties is most common. The divorce rate in Scotland, which has risen in recent years, is still low when compared with the American divorce rate.


People throughout the world generally picture the Scots in their famous traditional costume, the kilt. However, this skirtlike garment is generally worn only for ceremonial and formal occasions. Otherwise, most Scots wear standard Western-style clothing. Because of the cold, damp climate, Scottish clothing is usually made of heavy fabrics such as wool, including the native tweed. Each of Scotland's clans has its own tartan (or plaid), developed over the centuries. There are over 300 designs in all. Women's ceremonial costumes include tartan skirts and white blouses worn under snug, black, vestlike bodices.

12 • FOOD

The Scottish national dish is haggis. This is a sausage-like food made from chopped organ meat of a sheep or calf mixed with oatmeal and spices. It is traditionally boiled in the casing of a sheep's stomach, although today a plastic bag is often used. Scottish dietary staples include oats and potatoes (tatties). The main meal of the day is tea, served at dinnertime. However, in rural areas, the midday meal is still the main one. Typical Scottish desserts include oatcakes, shortbread, a rich fruitcake called "Dundee cake," and a New Year's specialty called "black bun."


The Scots are a well-educated people. Universal education has existed in their country for centuries. Scots read more newspapers than any other European people. About 95 percent of adult Scots are literate (able to read and write). The educational system in Scotland is operated separately from that in England. After seven years of primary school, Scottish children attend secondary school for six years. After that, students can attend one of Scotland's eight universities, or go on to vocational school. Great value is placed on higher education.


The Scots have a particularly distinguished tradition in the realm of literature, especially poetry and novels. Scotland's most famous poet, Robert Burns, lived and wrote in the late eighteenth century. Lord Byron (1788–1824), another Scottish poet, was born and educated in Aberdeen. Other famous writers include Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) and Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–94), both writers of adventure novels. Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930), another Scot, created the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. Doyle's countryman J. M. Barrie (1860–1937) wrote the famous play Peter Pan, which has delighted audiences throughout the twentieth century.


An estimated 60 percent of Scotland's labor force is employed in service industries. Manufacturing employs 25 percent, and agriculture, forestry, and fishing each employ about 2 percent. Most manufacturing is concentrated in the Central Lowlands. Important industries include textiles, chemicals, steel, electronics, whiskey, and petroleum products. Scotland has a unique agricultural tradition, primarily in the Highlands, called crofting. Farmers live on crofts, a term that refers both to their land and their family home. They raise grains or vegetables on their own land, and raise animals communally on a larger grazing area. Today, crofting provides supplemental income but is rarely a primary source of income or food.


The Scottish national sport is soccer (called "football"). It is associated with fierce rivalries between Catholic and Protestant teams that sometimes erupt in violence. The nation's second-most-popular sport is golf, which Scotland claims to have invented. Present-day Scotland boasts over 400 golf courses. Rugby, similar to American football, is the country's third-favorite sport. Other popular sports include tennis, lawn bowling, skiing, and curling.


Many Scots relax after work by watching the BBC (Great Britain's government-owned television broadcasting service). Others visit local bars called "pubs" (short for "public houses"), where they eat, drink, and socialize with friends. Popular outdoor recreation includes fishing, hunting, hiking, and mountain climbing. Scottish teenagers share many interests with teenagers in other Western countries. These include popular music, clothes, and dating (according to local customs). The influence of U.S. television shows and movies is narrowing the gap between Scottish teenagers and their American peers.


Scottish crafts such as pottery, hand-knitting, jewelry-making, and weaving are widely practiced. Harris tweed, a densely woven wool fabric, originated on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides and is still made there.

Scotland has two main folk-song traditions: bardic compositions and work songs. Traditionally, each clan had a bard (a sort of poet/composer). The bard sang the praises of the clan and preserved its musical traditions. Bards commonly memorized as many as 350 different stories and poems. The tradition of Gaelic work songs developed as rhythmic accompaniment to such tasks as milking, harvesting, spinning, and weaving. The most famous feature of Scotland's traditional music is its national instrument, the bagpipe. It is played at weddings and other celebrations, in military marching bands, and as a hobby.


Scotland has a high rate of alcoholism, particularly on the islands of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides. Scots also have the United Kingdom's highest rate of hospitalization for depression. Another problem is Scotland's dwindling population as people emigrate to England and other countries in search of better jobs. Scottish government and industry are working to create new industries to provide jobs and hopefully stem the tide of emigration.


Meek, James. The Land and People of Scotland. New York: Lippincott, 1990.

Moss, Joyce, and George Wilson. Peoples of the World: Western Europeans. Gale Research, 1993.

Scotland in Pictures. Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner Publications Co., 1991.


British Council. [Online] Available , 1998.

British Information Service. United Kingdom. [Online] Available , 1998.

British Tourist Authority. [Online] Available , 1998.

Also read article about Scots from Wikipedia

User Contributions:

Allyne Padrik McPhails
I am an American Scot, born and raised in Callifornia and I found this site to be verry informative and interesting. Most sites that I have found recently as I search for history and kilt desighns have been rather dull and lost my interest, however this page fasanated me and held my interest the whole way threw.
Martha Ann Brookes
Hi there, I am a Scots who lives in Birmingham. I am playing my accordion at a belated Burns Night on Thursday, and my husband (who is English) commented that I would be playing my "Heidrums and Hodrums". I have been trying to find out exactly what the phrase means, but to no avail. My husband only knows the phrase as my accordion teacher used to use it to refer to any Scottish music i played in lessons, to distinguish it from classical music I played. If you can help me out, that would be much appreciated. thanks, Martha Ann
Lorelei Brookes
I am Scots by choice here in the US and I am a member of several clan societies. I was a Mcdonald last year but may become a Cameron after the holidays. Interesting page of information here.
Mary Neligh
A group of my handspinner friends (many of whom raise sheep or goats) and I are interested in touring some of the islands around Britain and/or points north to view and spin some of the more rare wools. None of us are wealthy, and none require luxury. Some have difficulty walking distances, although no one is wheelchair-bound.

What could you put together for us by way of a trip for next spring's shearing season?
angel mcintyre
what are the religious holidays in scotland? it didnt give me the info that i needed.
thanks for the magical info really much thank you alot thank you
What does it mean when a will has on it, the inheiratance goes to the seventh son of the seventh son?

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