The northernmost territory of Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Scotland has its own fierce national identity and deep historical ties with the United States due to centuries of Scottish emigration. The future of Scotland is uncertain, however, given the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union and calls for second vote on independence (a first vote was narrowly defeated in 2014). Join Active Minds as we explore Scotland’s history, its current situation, and its uncertain future.

Key Lecture Points

  • The history of Scotland and its relationship with England is a lengthy and, at times, confusing one.  Scottish history fluctuates between periods of separateness from England and periods of English involvement.  As such, present-day advocates for and opponents of Scottish independence have plenty of evidence to support their respective causes.
  • While humans have habitated the area for thousands of years, the historical concept of a Scottish people began to take shape with the arrival of the Romans in Britain and their failed attempt to subdue the tribes that they called the Picts in the northern areas of the island, a territory the Romans called Caledonia.
  • The various tribes of the northern areas were initially unified under a single King in 843.  Later, after the Norman invasion of England in 1066, the lowland areas of present-day Scotland came to be a point of contention between the monarchs of England to the south and the Scottish monarchs.
  • In the 13th Century, after a crisis of monarchical succession, the English Kings sought to gain control of Scotland, leading to wars that involved the Scottish leaders William Wallace and, later Robert the Bruce.  After a crucial victory at Bannockburn in 1314 (700 years before the Scottish independence referendum), the Scottish gained recognition of their sovereignty in 1328.
  • Beginning in 1371 when King Robert II was crowned, Scotland was ruled by monarchs from the Stuart line, a family that would rule over Scotland for over three hundred years.  In 1603, after English Queen Elizabeth I died without an heir, the Stuart King James VI became James I, King of England, as well.
  • In the late 17th Century, a series of political and economic events began to push many in Scotland (particularly in the lowland areas) toward union with England.  In 1707, the Act of Union passed by the Parliaments of Scotland and England created a single coutry of the two, ruled from Westminster, with Scottish representation.  The Scottish Parliament was dissolved thereafter and remained so until 1999.
  • In the 18th Century, after periods of highland uprisings against the English, Scottish populations were uprooted via land enclosures and Scottish culture was severely restricted, including a law banning the wearing of tartan kilts and the playing of bagpipes.  As the century progressed and the Scottish proved to be significant contributors to the growth of the British Empire, anti-Scottish sentiments were widely replaced by a romanticization of Scottish culture.  These feelings were fed by the works of such writers as Robert Burns and Walter Scott.
  • In 2014, voters in Scotland voted 55-45 to reject a referendum that would have called for full Scottish independence from the UK.  However, the UK’s exit from the EU (BREXIT) has placed Scottish Independence back in the political spotlight.  Lead by the Scottish Nationalist Part (SNP) and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland appears to be on a path to a second independence referendum.

Exploration Questions

  • How does Scottish history affect the debate over the referenda on Scottish independence?
  • If you were Scottish, would you want to move forward with indyref2, and how would vote?  Explain your reasoning.

Reflective Questions

  • Do you have any Scottish heritage in your family?  If so, does your family mark this heritage in any special ways?  Do you have Scottish memorabilia?
  • Even if you do not have Scottish heritage, are there elements of Scottishness in American society that you particularly like (or dislike)?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Linklater, Magnus and Fitzroy MacLean Scotland: A Concise History.  Thames & Hudson, 2012. 260 pages.  This classic work has been brought up to date with recent events in the path to Scottish independence.
    Click here to order
  • Scott, Walter.  Ivanhoe.  Dover, 2004.  434 pages.  This classic work of fiction by Scottish romanticist Walter Scott, among others, set the stage for a re kindling of Scottish heritage.
    Click here to order