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 this country is somewhat uncertain, however, given the national referendum on independence on September 18, 2014.  The lasting implications of this vote may not be clear for some time, but at a minimum, it highlights a segment of the population that is unhappy with the status quo and looking for change.  Join Active Minds as we explore the Scotland’s history, its current situation, and the future direction the country may be heading.

Key Lecture Points

  • On September 18, 2014, everyone over the age of 16 who lives in Scotland will be eligible to vote on a referendum to regarding Scottish indepence from the United Kingdom.  Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom since the Act of Union in 1707.  The Scottish Referendum raises questions of the relative merits and demerits of Scotland maintaining itself as part of the UK.
  • 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 (Picts and Scots) 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 present-day debate over Scottish independence), 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 the 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 lad 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.

Exploration Questions

  • How does Scottish history affect the debate over the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence?
  • If you were able to vote in this referendum, how would you 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