Is Scotland a country?

Written by Chris Thornton | 2nd of August 2021
Updated: 26th of January 2023
Scottish government building. Is Scotland a country or a nation?

Yes, Scotland is a country. Let's dig a little more into Scotland's country status and try and make sense of the United Kingdom's complicated structure... without getting too political!

Scotland is a country but not an independent country (yet!) as it exists within the framework / political union of The United Kingdom and retains its sovereign state status, strong national identity and unique Scottish culture.

The United Kingdom / United Kingdom of Great Britain

The United Kingdom / UK / United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a unitary sovereign country, meaning it is run by a single central government that is ultimately supreme over all matters. Four countries currently make up the UK - England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Scotland is the second-largest country in the UK and covers the northern third of the British mainland and accounts for about 8.3% of the population.  The "British Isles" is purely a name given to the geography of Great Britain and Ireland in the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the North Sea to the east.

In this case, the UK parliament in England at Westminster is the main supreme parliament/government, however, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have gained some self-autonomy through a process called devolution with their own devolved governments.

So Scotland has two types of politicians in two different parliaments. We send MP's (Members of Parliament) to Westminster; they are responsible for their Scottish constituents for their area for UK-wide issues. We have MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood in Edinburgh) again; they represent constituents for areas of Scotland, but this time just in the Scottish Parliament. So as an example, currently, in the Moray region, Douglas Ross MP represents us at the British Government / Westminster UK government and Richard Lochhead MSP at the Scottish Parliament.

There are currently 73 MSPs elected to the Scottish Parliament.

Detail of the Scottish government building in Scotland's capital of Edinburgh. Is Scotland a nation?

What is Devolution?

Devolution is a process of giving more powers of self-governance to the constituent countries' governments / Parliament. So over time, governing powers have been granted to The Scottish Parliament in Scotland, The Senedd / Welsh Government in Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly, you guessed it - in Northern Ireland.

An example in Scotland would be health matters being devolved from Westminster, so the Scottish Parliament would have powers over our Scottish NHS (National Health Service). The Scottish Government recently gained the ability to set the rate of income tax for Scotland.

The Scottish Parliament controls:

The Scottish Parliament cannot currently control foreign or domestic trade, but can pass laws in most of the devolved areas above.

When did Scotland become a country?

Scotland actually predates England. It became a sovereign state in the 9th century and existed as an independent country until 1707. England would not exist as a country until 927AD. James VI of Scotland inherited the crown of England and Ireland and formed a personal union of the three Kingdoms in 1603.

In 1707 a political union was formed with England to create the Kingdom of Great Britain. The new Parliament of Great Britain succeeded both existing parliaments in Scotland and England.

Are laws different in Scotland from the rest of the UK?

Yes, Scotland has always had its own distinct legal system called "Scots Law", different from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Does Scotland have embassies in other countries?

No, Scotland has no embassies in other independent countries. Embassies in other countries are under the banner of the United Kingdom.

Is Scotland still part of the UK?

Yes, Scotland is still part of the UK after Scotland voted "no" to independence in 2014.

When did Scotland join the UK

Scotland became part of the UK when it was created in 1707 with the Acts of Union.

Is Scotland a separate country?

Yes, but still within the United Kingdom family of countries and controlled by the main parliament at Westminster on issues not devolved to the Scottish parliament.

Are England and Scotland the same country?

No, they are separate countries but governed within the framework of the United Kingdom's family of countries.

Can I move to Scotland?

Yes, but there are different rules if you are based outside of the UK.  Scotland does not have devolved powers over immigration.  Please see my dedicated guide on moving to Scotland.

What is Scottish Independence?

So is Scotland a country? Yes, but not an independent country in control of all powers available. Nearly half the people in Scotland feel Scotland could run itself better and be more prosperous if it had full control over all powers a country normally has.

There has always been a portion of the population fighting for Scottish independence since Scotland joined the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707, and today are represented by the SNP (Scottish National Party), Scottish Greens, and Alba political parties.  The Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties are all vehemently against Scottish independence.

Political party logos. Country's territory Scotland.
Logos of the independence supporting parties in Scotland.

With the discovery of vast oil deposits in the North Sea to the North and East of Scotland in the 1970s, independence supporters used it as an opportunity to push for independence. A study named the McCrone Report was commissioned by the UK Government at this time and found that Scotland would have been one of the wealthiest countries in the world if it chose to be an independent country due to the immense oil revenues collected. The report was not made public until 2005.

A referendum was held in 2014, asking the question, "Should Scotland be an independent country?". It was a tight race, but Scotland's population voted "No" with 55% of the vote; Scotland chose to remain part of the United Kingdom but received some further devolution of powers.  Scotland remained in the UK, but the independence campaigners fight on seeking full Scottish control of the country.

Yes Flag from the ill fated independence campaign in 2014. Is Scotland in GB? Is Scotland a county?

The Scotland Act

As a result of the "No" vote in 2014, the Scotland Act followed in 2016 and devolved more powers were granted to the Scottish Government, mainly powers over Taxation.

Since 2014 the independence movement has not died away, with many polls showing for the first time a pro-independence percentage of 58%, an increase of 13% since 2014. This has mainly been down to a disparity with UK government policies such as Brexit (The United Kingdom leaving the European Union).

Independence supporters in Edinburgh 2018 wishing separation from the United Kingdom Parliament

A majority of Scots voted to remain in the EU, while England and Wales voted to leave. Scotland voted to remain by 62%, and Northern Ireland also voted to remain at 55%. Being forced to leave the EU has driven support for independence and will likely lead to another independence referendum.

Update - A second independence referendum was announced by Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon on the 28th of June 2022. The date of this new vote was the 19th of October, 2023. Sadly the high court ruled that the Scottish Government did not have the power to hold a referendum, and the SNP backtracked on their promise of using the 2024 general election as a "de facto referendum".  It now seems likely that a majority win in 2024 for the SNP/Greens will lead to yet another section 30 request to hold another referendum on independence before 2026.

Key information:

  • Scotland is a country.

  • Scotland is in a political union known as the United Kingdom with England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

  • The Scottish parliament has some devolved powers (see above).

  • Scotland has MPs for the UK parliament and MSPs for the Scottish parliament.

  • Scotland has a distinct legal system.

  • Pro-independence political parties are the SNP, Greens, and Alba.

  • Anti-independence political parties are the Conservatives, Labour, and Liberal Democrats.

  • Scotland may one day become independent from the United Kingdom.

Conclusion

Many European countries have spoken out in support of Scotland rejoining the EU upon attaining independence from the United Kingdom. Scotland would then not only be a country but an independent country.

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Comments:


K. V. Madhavaraj
13th of January 2023 @ 23:57:46

Good information. More than my expectations. Thank you. See you again.

Margaret j docherty
14th of November 2022 @ 20:32:24

Thank you for extremely interesting information it’s quite a revelation I don’t know why we don’t go independent let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later .

Scot
21st of June 2022 @ 16:32:22

Alba gu brath Please be independent soon.

evelynrunning@hotmail.com
28th of May 2022 @ 00:32:31

Thank you for the explanation.

Younes
24th of April 2022 @ 16:44:56

Excellent explanation of all the different statuses. Thank you.