Scotland, or in Scottish Gaelic, Alba, is a country and former independent kingdom of northwest Europe, and one of the four nations comprising the United Kingdom. Scotland occupies the northern third of the island of Great Britain.
Scotland took part in a personal union with England in 1603, when the Scottish King James VI also became James I of England. This union was formalised on 1 May 1707 by the Act of Union 1707. The Scottish Parliament was abolished on March 26, 1707. The union merged both kingdoms, creating the Kingdom of Great Britain, with a new single Parliament sitting in Westminster, London, but some aspects of Scotland's institutions, notably the country's legal system, remained separate. The new state eventually became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In 1999, almost 300 years after its dissolution, the people of Scotland chose to reconvene the nation's parliament, as re-established by the UK Government under the Scotland Act 1998. The new devolved Scottish Parliament has been given powers to govern the country on certain purely domestic matters and has limited tax raising capability.
Head of state
Queen Elizabeth II, head of state of the United Kingdom, is descended from King James VI of Scotland, the first Scottish monarch to also be King of England (James I of England from 1603). While some controversy has simmered amongst the Scottish public over her official title since her coronation (many believe that, logically, she should use the style "Elizabeth I"), the courts of Scotland have confirmed "Elizabeth II" as her official title. She has said that in future monarchs will follow the international ordinal tradition that, where a monarch reigns in a number of non-independent territories (or independent territories that agree to share a monarch) that each have a differing number of previous monarchs of the same name, the highest ordinal used in any of the territories is the one used across all. (Past Scottish-English monarchs such as James VI & I and James VII & II reigned over legally separate kingdoms and hence used a dual ordinal.)
Properly, the Scottish monarch was known as "King/Queen of Scots", and referred to as "your Grace", rather than "your Majesty".
Scotland comprises the northern part of the island of Great Britain; it is bordered on the south by England. The country consists of a mainland area plus several island groups, including Shetland, Orkney, and the Hebrides, divided into the Inner Hebrides and Outer Hebrides. Three main geographical and geological areas make up the mainland: from north to south, the generally mountainous Highlands, the low-lying Central Belt, and the hilly Southern Uplands. The majority of the Scottish population resides in the Central Belt, which contains three of the country's six cities, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, and many large towns. Most of the remaining population lives in the North-East Lowlands where two of the remaining three cities, Aberdeen and Dundee, are situated. The final city, Inverness, is situated where the River Ness meets the Moray Firth, on the fault between the North-West Highlands and the Cairngorms.
Tectonic plate movement
When vulcanism actively occurred in East Lothian, 350 million years ago, the rocks which now comprise Scotland lay close to the equator, and formed part of the newly amalgamated supercontinent of Pangaea. The continental plates making up Pangaea continued to converge, and a major collision occurred with the continent of Gondwana.
The northern and southern parts of the island of Great Britain became adjoined only 75 million years before the onset of vulcanism in East Lothian. Before then, Scotland lay on the margin of the Laurentian continent, which included North America and Greenland. England and Wales lay some 40° of latitude further south, adjacent to Africa and South America in the Gondwanan continent. In the Early Ordovician, approximately 475 million years ago, England and Wales, on the Avalonian plate, rifted away from Gondwana and drifted northward towards Laurentia. The Iapetus Ocean, which separated the two land masses, began to close. By the mid-Silurian, about 420 million years ago, its margins had become attached along the Iapetus Suture, which roughly follows a line running West to East from the Solway Firth to Northumberland.
When the later episode of vulcanism occurred, approximately 270 million years ago, Scotland still comprised part of Pangaea, but had drifted northward. East Lothian stood at about 8° North. Consolidation of Pangaea had continued so that the nearest ocean, the Tethys seaway, lay between Eurasia and Africa.
See  (http://www.glg.ed.ac.uk/home/s9810658/eastlothian/plates/tectonics.html) and Geology of the United Kingdom.
Almost all residents of Scotland speak English, although many speak various Lowland Scots dialects which differ markedly from Scottish Standard English. Approximately 2% of the population use Scottish Gaelic as their language of every-day use, primarily in the northern and western regions of the country. Almost all Scottish Gaelic speakers also speak fluent English.
By the time of James VI's accession to the English throne the old Scottish Court and Parliament spoke Scots, also known as Lallans. Scots developed from the Anglian spoken in the Northumbrian kingdom of Bernicia, which in the 6th century conquered the Brythonic kingdom of Gododdin and renamed its capital of Dunedin to Edinburgh.
See also the main article: History of Scotland.
Historically, from at least the reign of David I (ruled 1124 - 1153), Scotland began to show a split into two cultural areas - the mainly Scots, latterly English-speaking Lowlands, and the mainly-Scottish Gaelic speaking Highlands. This caused divisions in the country where the Lowlands remained, historically, more influenced by the English to the south: the Lowlands lay more open to attack by invading armies from the south and absorbed English influence through their proximity to and their trading relations with their southern neighbours.
The clan system in Highland Scotland formed one of its more distinctive features. Notable clans include Clan MacGregor, Clan MacDonald, Clan Mackenzie, Clan Mackie, Clan MacLeod, Clan Robertson, Clan Campbell and others.
Historically the Lowlands adopted a variant of the feudal system after the Norman Conquest of England, with families of Norman ancestry providing most of the monarchs after approximately 1100. These families included the Stewart or Stuart, Bruce, Douglas, Porteous, and Murray or Moray families.
During the Wars of Scottish Independence (approximately 1290 - 1363) the Scottish people rose up against English rule, firstly, under the leadership of Sir William Wallace, and later, under that of Robert the Bruce. Bruce won a famous victory over the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
In 1603 the Scottish King James VI inherited the throne of England, and became James I of England. James moved to London and only returned once to Scotland. In 1707 the Scottish and English Parliaments signed a Treaty of Union. Implementing the treaty involved dissolving both the English and the Scottish Parliaments, and transferring all their powers to a new Parliament in London which then became the United Kingdom Parliament. A customs and currency union also took place.
This state of affairs continued until May 1999 when Scotland gained a new Scottish Parliament. Whereas the old Scottish parliament had functioned as a full national parliament of a sovereign state, the new parliament governs the country only on domestic matters, the United Kingdom Parliament having retained responsibility for Scotland's defence, international relations and certain other areas.
Scotland comprises 32 unitary authority regions.
Popular folk-memory continues to divide Scotland into 33 traditional counties.
Scotland has six designated cities: in descending order of population size:
Waterways in Scotland:
Scotland has a civic culture somewhat distinct from that of the rest of the British Isles. It originates from various differences, some entrenched as part of the Act of Union, others facets of nationhood not readily defined but readily identifiable.
Scotland retains its own unique legal system, based on Roman law, which combines features of both civil law and common law. The terms of union with England specified the retention of separate systems. The barristers being called advocates, and the judges of the high court for civil cases are also the judges for the high court for criminal cases. Scots Law differs from England's common law system.
Scotland also has a separate Scottish education system. The Act of Union guaranteed the rights of the Scottish universities, but more importantly, Scotland became the first country since Sparta in classical Greece to implement a system of general public education. This began with the Education Act of 1696 and became compulsory for children from the implementation of the Education Act of 1872 onwards.
As a result, for over two hundred years Scotland had a higher percentage of its population educated at primary, secondary and tertiary levels than any other country in Europe. The differences in education have manifested themselves in different ways, but most noticeably in the number of Scots who went on to become leaders in their fields during the 18th and 19th centuries. The politician Jim Wallace stated in October 2004, that Scotland produces the highest number of university and college graduates per-head than anywhere else in Europe.
School students in Scotland sit Standard Grade exams while students in England sit GCSE exams, and then Higher Grade exams rather than the English A-level system. Also, a Scottish university's honours degree takes four years of study as opposed to three in the rest of the UK. The university systems in several Commonwealth countries show marked affinities with the Scottish rather than the English system.
Banking in Scotland also features unique characteristics. Although the Bank of England remains the central bank for the UK Government, three Scottish corporate banks still issue their own banknotes: (the Bank of Scotland, the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Clydesdale Bank). These notes have no status as legal tender in England, Wales or Northern Ireland (although they can be used throughout the UK, particularly in Northern Ireland, where Irish banks also issue their own banknotes, and they are also freely accepted in the Channel Islands). In Scotland, neither they nor the Bank of England's notes rank as legal tender (as Scots law lacks the concept), however banknotes issued by any of the four banks meet with common acceptance. See British banknotes.
For a further discussion read Legal Tender (http://www.siliconglen.com/Scotland/1_7.html)
The modern system of branch banking (in which banks maintain a nationwide system of offices rather than one or two central offices) originated in Scotland. Only strong political pressure during the 19th century prevented the resultant strong banking system from taking over banking in England. However, although Scottish banks proved unwelcome in England at the time, their business model became widely copied, firstly in England and later in the rest of the world.
The Savings Bank movement was created in Scotland in 1810 by the Reverend Henry Duncan as a means of allowing his parishioners to save smaller amounts of money than the major banks would accept as deposits at that time. His model for the Ruthwell Parish Bank was adopted by well-to-do sponsors throughout the world, with most of the British savings banks eventually amalgamating to form the Trustee Savings Bank -- more recently merged with the commercial bank, Lloyds, to form Lloyds TSB -- and the American examples becoming a Savings and Loan Association. See  (http://www.savingsbanksmuseum.co.uk/) for further information.
Scotland has many national sporting associations, such as the Scottish Football Association (SFA) or the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU). This gives the country independent representation at many international sporting events such as the football World Cup. Scotland cannot compete in the Olympic Games independently however, and Scottish athletes must compete as part of the Great Britain team if they wish to take part. Scotland does however send its own team to compete in the Commonwealth Games.
Scotland also has its own sporting competitions distinct from the rest of the UK, such as the Scottish Football League and the SRU.
Scotland has distinct media from the rest of the UK. For example, it produces many national newspapers such as The Daily Record (Scotland's leading tabloid) and the two major broadsheets, The Herald based in Glasgow, and The Scotsman in Edinburgh. The Herald, formerly known as the Glasgow Herald, changed its name to promote a national rather than a regional identity. Sunday newspapers include the tabloid Sunday Mail (published by the Daily Record) and the Sunday Post, while the Sunday Herald and Scotland on Sunday have associations with The Herald and The Scotsman respectively. Regional dailies include The Courier and Advertiser in Dundee in the east, and The Press and Journal serving Aberdeen and the north.
Scotland has its own BBC services which include the national radio stations, BBC Radio Scotland and Scottish Gaelic language service, BBC Radio nan Gaidheal. There are also a number of BBC and independent local radio stations throughout the country. In addition to radio, BBC Scotland also runs two national television stations. Much of the output of BBC Scotland Television, such as news and current affairs programmes, and the Glasgow-based soap opera, River City, are intended for broadcast within Scotland, whilst others, such as drama and comedy programmes, aim at audiences throughout the UK and further afield. Sports coverage also differs, reflecting the fact that the country has its own football leagues, separate from those of England.
Three Independent Television stations (Scottish TV, Grampian TV and Border) also broadcast in Scotland. Although they previously had independent existences, Scottish TV (serving the Central Lowlands) and Grampian (serving the Highlands and Islands) now belong to the same company (The Scottish Media Group) and resemble each other closely, apart from local news coverage. "Border" has had a more complex position, as it also has to serve neighbouring areas across the border in England, as well as the Isle of Man, and it now has separate news programs for each side of the border. Most of the independent television output equates to that transmitted in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with the exception of news and current affairs, sport, cultural and Scottish Gaelic language programming.
Other facets of Scottish culture
Scotland retains its own distinct sense of nationhood. Academic research consistently shows that people in Scotland feel Scottish, whilst not necessarily feeling the need to see that translated into the establishment of a fully-independent Scottish nation-state.
Scotland also has its own unique family of languages and dialects, helping to foster a strong sense of "Scottish-ness". See Scots Language.
Scotland retains its own national church, separate from that of England. See Church of Scotland and the section on "Religion" elsewhere in this article.
These factors combine together to form a strong, readily identifiable Scottish civic culture.
Scotland's iconic claims to fame include:
The Church of Scotland (often referred to as The Kirk) functions as the national church. It differs from the Church of England in that it has a Presbyterian form of church governance, not subject to state control. This goes back to the Scottish experience of reformation, initiated in 1560 by John Knox. The Scottish Reformation in essence took place at a grassroots level, and the Scots chose Presbyterianism as their method of church government. This differs from the situation in England, where Henry the Eighth personally unleashed the English Reformation and chose the Episcopal system that survives to this day in the Church of England.
A number of other Christian denominations exist in Scotland, amongst them Roman Catholicism, which made a comeback through immigration after Protestants brutally repressed it during the 16th to late 18th centuries. It has now become the largest faith outwith The Kirk. As well as The Kirk we find various other Protestant churches, including the Scottish Episcopal Church, which forms a full part of the Anglican Communion, and the Free Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian off-shoot from the established Church of Scotland.
Much of Scotland (particularly the West Central Belt around Glasgow) has experienced problems owing to the religious divide between Presbyterians and Catholics. This problem has historically manifested itself in a number of ways, particularly in employment and in football fanaticism. The problems associated with sectarianism in Scotland have diminished markedly compared with the past, although issues do remain to a certain degree.
Historically the politics of Scotland have reflected those of the UK as a whole, although with some differences. For example, besides the main UK-wide political parties (Labour, Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats) a number of Scottish-specific parties operate. These include the Scottish National Party (SNP), the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) and the Scottish Green Party. These parties became more of a force in Scottish politics after the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1998.
The traditional political divides of left and right have also intersected with arguments over devolution, which all the UK-wide parties have supported to some degree throughout their history (although both Labour and the Conservatives have swithered a number of times between supporting and opposing it). However, now that devolution has occurred, the main argument about Scotland's constitutional status remains between those who support Scottish independence and those who oppose it. Recent trends indicate, according to the State of the Nation Poll 2004, that 66% of Scots would like the Scottish Parliament to have more powers, while only 2% would like to see the powers returned to Westminster.
The Scottish economy
The Scottish economy comprises many different sectors. Oil remains important, although light engineering and shipbuilding have seen a decline in recent years, and the service sector (especially finance and call centres) has increased in importance. Rural activities like fishing and agriculture remain important, although the country's 'Silicon Glen' has also seen growth in the manufacture of computers and mobile phones. Scotch whisky production continues to have significance, as does the country's tourism industry.
Public transport information covering the whole of Scotland is available from Traveline Scotland (http://www.travelinescotland.com).