Is Scotland a country?
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 MPs (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. What county is Edinburgh in?
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:
Transport and Taxation.
Consumer advocacy and advice
Justice/criminal and civil law and home affairs/courts/prosecution
Education (Free education at Scottish universities)
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Many European countries have spoken out in support of Scotland rejoining the EU upon attaining independence from the United Kingdom.
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" - voting on the sole issue of independence. 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.
FAQs on Scotland's distinct national status
Here are a few frequently asked questions about Scotland's status as a country.
What is the official language of Scotland?
English is the most widely spoken and official language in Scotland. However, Scotland also has two other native languages: Scottish Gaelic and Scots. While Scottish Gaelic is spoken by a smaller percentage of the population, mainly in the Highlands and Western Isles, Scots is spoken by a larger number of people across the country.
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.
Does Scotland have its own unique flag?
The Scottish flag, also known as the Saltire or St. Andrew's Cross, is a blue field with a white diagonal cross. It represents Scotland's patron saint, St. Andrew, who was believed to have been crucified on a diagonal cross. The Saltire is a symbol of Scottish identity and pride, and it is often flown at public buildings, cultural events, and during sporting competitions.
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 Scotland participate in international sporting events as a separate entity?
Yes, Scotland participates in many international sporting events as a separate entity from the rest of the United Kingdom. For example, Scotland has its own national teams in sports such as soccer, rugby, and cricket and competes independently in events like the FIFA World Cup, Rugby World Cup, and the Commonwealth Games.
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.
Could Scotland just declare independence?
Please see my article on the UDI/Unilateral Declaration of Independence.
What is the role of the monarchy in Scotland?
As part of the United Kingdom, Scotland shares the British monarchy, currently headed by King Charles III. The monarch's role in Scotland is largely ceremonial. While the King has limited powers in Scotland, his role is more focused on representing the country at official events and supporting Scottish traditions and institutions. A poll by Ipsos Scotland in 2022 showed support of 42% for retaining the monarchy.
How does the education system in Scotland differ from the rest of the UK?
Scotland's education system is distinct from those in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, with its own curriculum, qualifications, and governing bodies. The Scottish education system is structured differently, featuring a broad-based curriculum in the early years, followed by a more specialized focus in the later years of secondary education.
Students in Scotland typically take Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) exams, including National Qualifications and Highers, which differ from the GCSEs and A-levels found in other parts of the UK. All Scots receive free education, including college and university, helping it achieve its status as the most highly educated country in Europe.
What is the Scottish economy like, and how does it compare to the rest of the UK?
Scotland has a diverse and developed economy, with key industries including oil and gas, renewable energy, tourism, food and drink, and financial services. While Scotland's overall economic output is smaller than England's due to differences in population size, its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is generally similar to or slightly higher than the UK average. The economic relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK is complex, with shared resources, investments, and trade relationships.
Key information on Scotland's distinct national status
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.
So there we have it, Scotland is a country but within the political union of the United Kingdom. If Scotland democratically voted for independence, Scotland would then not only be a country but an independent country.
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Hi, please leave a comment below, or why not start a discussion on the forum?
18th of May 2023 @ 14:14:54
Only found out UK formation of four countries , very informative ! Thank you !
11th of April 2023 @ 15:53:32
More information on financial issues like this would help people make an informed decision on independence. Many issues are intertwined and need to be show to be worked out and viable in independence, such as pensions, defence and so on
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 .
21st of June 2022 @ 16:32:22
Alba gu brath Please be independent soon.
28th of May 2022 @ 00:32:31
Thank you for the explanation.
24th of April 2022 @ 16:44:56
Excellent explanation of all the different statuses. Thank you.