'A little knowledge is a dangerous thing'



Flag: 'The cross of St Andrew'
National Anthem: Flower of Scotland
Population: 5,078,400 (official 2004 estimate based on 2001 census)
Area: 31,510 square miles
Capital: Edinburgh


Scotland lies between 54 degN and 61 degN, and 0degW and 6degW. It forms 1/3 of the island of Britain, bordering England to the south and is largely coastal. The west coast is hilly, deeply indented and convoluted and numerous islands lie offshore. The east cost is straighter and more agricultural with a few wide river estuaries. The furthest point from the sea is about 45miles. Geologically most of Scotland is made from old, hard rocks, and is not good for farming, except in the Central Belt and eastern fringe where most of the population live. The Southern Uplands (5,000 sq mi) in the south are low (max elevation 843m), rolling hills, with sheep, cattle farming and forestry, and some small towns. The Central Lowlands (5,000 sq mi; max elevation 621m) are more fertile, with younger sandstones, coal deposits, and most of Scotland's industries and population. The Highlands (20,000 sq mi; max elevation 1344m) are rugged and hilly, with sheep farms and large game shooting estates. Few people live in the Highlands. The Grampian Highlands have Scotland's largest hills, with the extensive Cairngorm massif (1309m) and Ben Nevis (1344m). The hills in the west tend to rise straight from sea level. In the west are numerous glacier-formed ribbon lakes called lochs. The North West Highlands have the country's oldest rocks - around 2.6 billion years old, or 60% of the currently mooted age of the earth - and the most spectacular scenery.


Scotland's climate is generally cool and wet. It is influenced by the North Atlantic Drift, a warm sea current from the Carribean, which keeps Scotland's coast ice-free in winter. The climate is oceanic, without extreme variations or exceptional events like tornadoes, droughts or widespread floods - BUT the day to day weather can vary enormously and unpredictably, and is a national source of daily conversation. The east coast has a marginally more continental climate than the west, with drier and sunnier weather, warm summers and colder winters. The prevailing winds are from the west and southwest, and are constant and important feature in the islands and high hills.

Average annual rainfall across Scotland: 1200mm.
(Min average rainfall: Portmahomack, Easter Ross: 550mm.)
(Max average rainfall: Knoydart, West Highlands: 5500mm.)
Average January Temp: 3 degC.
Average August Temp: 16 degC.
(Max Recorded Temp: Dumfries, 32 degC)
(Min Recorded Temp: Braemar, -27 degC. (Note: -29 degC has been recorded, but not at an official Met Office weather station))
Max recorded windspeed: Western Isles; Cairngorms: 173mph.
Sunniest area on record: Tiree, 329 hours sunshine in a month. Dullest area on record: Cape Wrath, 0.6 hours sunshine in a month.


The indigenous population growth is zero, or even slightly decreasing, and is ageing. Recent immigration from Central Europe has, currently, reversed this long-term trend. Average life expectancy is around 75 years, although lower elsewhere (life expectancy is 53 for males in the parts of Glasgow).

80% of the people live in the Central Lowlands, a narrow strip with the cities of Edinburgh (pop:c450,000), Glasgow (pop:c660,000) and Dundee (pop:c110,000). 2million people live within a few miles of Glasgow. Apart from Glasgow, most of the rest of the population live near the east coast, and Edinburgh is the capital. In contrast, the Highlands have a thinly spread population of c250,000 in an area of 20,000 sq mi, with another quarter million people in the more fertile eastern strip around Aberdeen (pop:c220,000). The people are a fairly hemogenous group of early settlers, although there is a significant population of recent (last 150yrs) Irish origin around Glasgow. People from the rest of Britain make up around 8% of the population, and other peoples around 3%, mostly from India, Pakistan and China. Currently, economic immigration from 'new Europe' is a feature around the more prosperous areas like Edinburgh, although this new population is much more mobile than previous immigrant groups.

The country is officially Protestant Christian, although few participate in religion.

The official language is English, which everyone speaks. Gaelic is also spoken, but currently by about 80,000 people, mostly in the Western Isles and West Highlands. About 1/3 of the population speak Scots to some degree. This language has the same root as modern English - but because of the similarity between the two languages, and the increasing influence on Scotland in the last 300 years of modern English, it can be hard to tell when one language begins and the other ends. The use of English is well codified, Scots much less so, making it less than an official language. However, many other British people profess to being unable to understand some Scots people because of differences in dialect.


Scotland is a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, which consists of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the small island groups of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Scotland, then an independent nation, joined with England and Wales in 1707 to create the British state. Ireland joined in 1801 but left in 1921, leaving behind the majority pro-British northern six counties of Ireland, now known as Northern Ireland.

The UK is a hereditary monarchy, with a democratically elected government. In theory, the monarchy has extensive powers: but in practice, they are not exercised, and the government makes all the laws and decisions. Elections are held every four to five years, and the largest party in parliament forms the government. Because of Britain's first past the post electoral system, there is rarely a minority or coalition government. The UK parliament is based in London and has 637 members, 59 of which come from Scotland. The UK has a welfare system like other European countries to pay for treatment for the sick and basic living expenses for the unemployed. Unlike most of the rest of the old EU, the UK is also fully open to migration from the new EU-member states.

As well as UK issues, there is also a Scottish parliament based in Edinburgh with different, less extensive powers than the UK parliament. This parliament is elected with AMS proportional representation, creating a strong likelyhood of coalition government. It has 129 members and was only set up in 1997 after sustained pressure from most of Scotland's political parties for more control over Scottish affairs. Scotland has always had its own seperate spiritual, legal, and academic systems.


Scotland has produced little in the way of 'high' culture, but a vigorous tradition of folk music and storytelling has survived. Early literature of folk tales was originally orally transmitted until 'Ossian' was published in the late 18thc by James Macpherson, promting an interest in the ancient celtic literature of Scotland. In the 18thc Scottish authors first became distinguised on the world stage, most especially Robert Burns, Thomas Carlyle, James Hogg, Lord Byron, and Walter Scott. Current authors in vogue tend to write gritty accounts of urban people, often interspersed with moments of pure fantasy; William McIlvaney, Alasdair Gray, Ian Banks, Irvine Welsh. Folk culture has also thrived in music, much of which is similar in style to Irish folk music. Recordings by The Corries, Silly Wizard, and early Runrig are recommended. Scottish painters, sculptors, and playwrights are not so well known, but Scotland has produced a handful of world class architects, namely John Bel (Craigievar), the Adam family (Culzean, Edinburgh new town), and Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Glasgow School of Art). Most modern Scots are not well informed in arts, literature, philosophy or history, but are part of the larger 'Western' pop culture, informed by tabloid newspapers, pop music and Hollywood movies. Sports are popular, especially football, but more as a spectator than participation sport. Fishing, golf, hillwalking, and other 'great outdoors' orientated sports are the most popular participation activities. An important feature is the central place for social intercourse, and popularity of, the pub. Of course, Scotland is famous for its distinctive cultural icons of tartan, kilts, bagpipes and whisky, and while these are sometimes disparaged as not being representative of the 'real' Scotland, they provide a memorable image which only a few other small countries can boast.



Scotland the Best, Peter Irvine (top guidebook to Scotland, restraunts and attractions)
Portrait of Scotland, Colin Baxter (top Scottish photographer)
Scotland - a Visual Journey Douglas Corrance (top Scottish photographer)
Highland Wilderness, Colin Prior (another top Scottish photographer)
Mark of the Scots, Duncan Bruce (the story of Scottish emigrants' influential mark on the world)
The Scottish Islands, Hamish Haswell-Smith (encylopeadia to Scottish islands)
The First Fifty, Muriel Gray (amusing acocunt of Scottish hillwalking)
Blazing Paddles, Brian Wilson (poetic account of canoe trip round Scottish coast)
Four Scottish Journeys, Andrew Eames (introspective 'state of the nation' travelogue)
Native Stranger, Alasdair Scott (another excellent 'state of the nation' travelogue)
Who Owns Scotland?, Andy Wightman (in depth account on land issues)
Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, James Hogg (my favourite Scottish novel)