- Scotland has three officially recognised languages: English, Scots (a relative of English) and Scottish Gaelic (a completely different language). Add to this Scottish English, which is English spoken with a more or less strong Scots accent and the occasional use of words from Scots or Scottish Gaelic.
- Scottish surnames are divided in two main categories : Gaelic names (typically starting with “Mac-” or “Mc-“) and Germanic names (e.g. Barclay, Blair, Brown, Carmichael, Cumming, Hamilton, Howard, Melville, Menzies, Stewart…).
- Scotland is known as “Alba” in Gaelic.
- Scotland has only 5 million inhabitants, about 8.5% of the UK’s population.
- Scotland has about the same land area as the Czech Republic, the United Arab Emirates, Panama, the US state of Maine, or the Japanese island of Hokkaido. This latter (Hokkaido) has the most similar climate and population density.
- Scotland has some 790 islands, 130 of which are inhabited.
- About 5 million Americans reported Scottish ancestry. The highest concentration of people of Scottish descent are found in New England and in the North-West.
- At least 6 US Presidents were of Scottish descent : Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), James Madison (1751-1836), Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), James Knox Polk (1795-1849), William McKinley (1843-1901), Woodrow (Thomas) Wilson (1856-1924)
- Other famous Americans with Scottish ancestry include John Paul Jones (father of the American Navy), Thomas Edison (inventor), Ben Affleck (actor), Heather Locklear (actress)
- The two first Prime Minister of Canada, John A. Macdonald (1815-1891) and Alexander Mackenzie (1822-1892), were Scottish.
- Many Australian Prime Ministers were also of Scottish descent, like George Reid (1845-1918). Andrew Fisher (1862-1928), Stanley Bruce (1883-1967), or Robert Menzies (1894-1978).
- Scotland was an independent country until 1603. Then the king of Scotland became king of England (not the other way round), but the two country didn’t merge their governments until 1707, to form the Kingdom of Great Britain .
- Edinburgh was the first city in the world with its own fire-brigade.
- The Bank of Scotland, founded in 1695, is the oldest surviving bank in the UK. It was also the first bank in Europe to print its own banknotes, a function it still performs today.
- Skara Brae, on the island of Orkney, is the most complete Neolithic village in Europe. It is also the oldest building in Britain, dating from 3100 BCE.
Government & Politics
- Since 1 July 1999, Scotland has its own parliament, for the first time since 1707.
- Although Scotland was never part of the Roman Empire, Scots law has a basis derived from Roman law.
- One particularity of Scots law is that the criminal trial may end in one of three verdicts: ‘guilty’, ‘not guilty’, or ‘not proven’. The “not proven” verdict may be referred to as the Scottish Verdict abroad.
- Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the UK since 1997, is Scottish, and so is his designated sucessor and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown.
Food & Drinks
- Scotland is reputed for its whisky, known outside Scotland as Scotch Whisky. What few people know is that whisky was invented in China, and was first distilled by monks in Ireland in the early 15th century before reaching Scotland 100 years later.
- Shortbread is Scotland’s most famous biscuit.
- The most infamous Scottish dish is haggis, normally made with sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver, and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally boiled in the animal’s stomach for approximately an hour. Haggis may be a very ancient European recipe. Although it is not known where it originated, a similar dish was already mentioned in Greece some 2,500 years ago.
- Scottish dishes are well-known for their weird names, like Forfar Bridie (a meat pastry), Cock-a-leekie (soup), Collops (escalope), Crappit heid (fish dish), Finnan haddie (haddock fish), Arbroath Smokie (smoked haddock), Cullen Skink (haddock soup), Partan bree (seafood dish), Mince and tatties (minced meat and potatoes), Rumbledethumps, Skirlie…
Culture & Sciences
- Scotland has spawned an amazing number of great thinkers and inventors for its diminutive size : Adam Smith, James Watt, David Hume, John Stuart Mill, Sir Alexander Fleming, Alexander Graham Bell…
- Notable Scottish inventions include the method of logarithms (1614), tarmac (1820), the waterproof raincoat (1823) and the pneumatic tyre (1887).
- Just like whisky (see above), kilts, tartans and bagpipes aren’t Scottish inventions. Kilts originated in Ireland. Tartans were found in Bronze-age or Iron-age Central Europe (Hallstatt culture) and Central Asia (Tocharian culture). Bagpipes might also be an ancient invention from Central Asia. Interestingly, genetic studies are now pointing that the mutation for red hair, which now reaches a world maximum in Western Scotland and Northern Ireland, may have originated in Central Asia too. This means that Scottish people may be (partly) descended from ancient people from Central Asia.
- Scottish literature includes such names as Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
- Famous Scottish actors include Sean Connery, Gerard Butler and Ewan McGregor.
- Edinburgh is Europe’s fifth largest financial centre.
- Scottish waters have some of Europe’s largest oil reserve.
- Scotland is a major producer of wool and wool textiles.