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Learn more about doing successful business in Scotland. This page has information about Scotland’s economy, history and even some useful Gaelic phrases. Expand your international business expertise with Lingo24’s International Business Knowledge Base.

General facts

From Orkney’s stone circles to the recently-constructed parliament building in Edinburgh, Scotland’s dramatic history spans 8,000 years, years marked by invasions and independence, wars and religious upheavals, intrigues and subjugation. Yet it also saw the flowering of an imagination and inventiveness across many different fields of human endeavour and resulted in Scotland occupying a pivotal position, not only in a British context but in a European and worldwide one. Such a history has left its mark on the nation’s psyche – as well as the landscape – and has contributed in no small way to the fierce pride with which the Scots view themselves and their country today.

Perched on the outer rim of Europe, Scotland forms the northern part of Great Britain and is about two-thirds the size of England and Wales, which occupy the remaining portion. It is surrounded by sea on three sides: to the west and north by the Atlantic Ocean and to the east by the North Sea. Its only land border, that with England, stretches approximately 96 km along the line of the Cheviot Hills.

Scotland has a population of 5.062 million people (2001 census figure). Edinburgh, Scotland’s jewel in the crown, often referred to as the ‘Athens of the north’, is the capital city with 500,000 residents but the largest city is Glasgow, the ‘second city of the British Empire’, with a population of 1.1 million (including its surrounding areas). The third city, Aberdeen, a seaport in the north-east of the country, houses just over 200,000 people.

The unit of currency is the pound sterling (£, GBP), as in the rest of Great Britain. Scotland’s three banks issue their own banknotes – they are an authorised currency and enjoy a status comparable to that of Bank of England notes. Scottish banknotes feature Scottish historical figures such as Robert the Bruce, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Adam Smith.

Political status

As things currently stand, Scotland is one of the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Constitutionally speaking, the United Kingdom is a unitary state with one sovereign parliament and government. As stipulated by the Treaty of Union with England in 1707, Scotland retains its own legal system, its own education system and its own religious institutions.

Under a system of devolution adopted after Scottish and Welsh referendums on devolution proposals in 1997, all of the constituent countries within the United Kingdom except England were given self-governing powers, with certain limitations.

Under devolution executive and legislative powers in certain areas have been constitutionally delegated to the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood in Edinburgh. The United Kingdom Parliament in Westminster retains active power over Scotland’s taxes, social security system, the military and international relations. The programmes of legislation enacted by the Scottish Parliament have seen a divergence in the provision of public services compared to the rest of the United Kingdom. For instance, university education and care services for the elderly are free in Scotland, while fees are paid in the rest of the UK. Scotland is the first country in the UK to ban smoking in public places.

The Scottish Parliament is a unicameral legislature made up of 129 Members. The current First Minister (the leader of Scotland’s government) is Jack McConnell MSP.

No political discussion in Scotland is complete without fervent dissection of the constitution – it was the biggest Scottish political issue in the latter half of the 20th century, and devolution does not appear to have dampened the enthusiasm for change. The debate continues over whether the Scottish Parliament should accrue additional powers or seek to obtain full independence with full sovereign powers. It remains to be seen whether the current system satisfies Scottish demands for self-government or will increase calls for full-blown independence.

Economy

The Scottish economy is essentially a market economy. After the Industrial Revolution, the Scottish economy concentrated on heavy industry, dominated by the ship-building, coal-mining and steel industries. Scotland was an integral component of the British Empire, which allowed the Scottish economy to export its output throughout the world.

The decline of heavy industry led to a seismic shift in Scotland towards a technology-based and service sector-based economy. The 1980s saw an economic boom in the Silicon Glen corridor between Glasgow and Edinburgh, with many large technology firms relocating to Scotland. The discovery of North Sea oil in the 1970s also helped to transform the Scottish economy.

Edinburgh is the financial services centre of Scotland and is now the sixth largest financial centre in Europe. Many large financial firms count Edinburgh as their base, including The Royal Bank of Scotland and Standard Life. Glasgow is Scotland’s leading seaport and is the fourth largest manufacturing centre in the UK, accounting for well over 60% of Scotland’s manufactured exports. Ship-building still forms a large part of the city’s manufacturing base. Aberdeen is the centre of the North Sea oil industry – its platforms tap into the largest oil reserves in the European Union.

Other important Scottish industries include textile production, chemicals, distilling, brewing, fishing and tourism.

Only about one-quarter of the land is under cultivation, and most land is concentrated in relatively few hands. As a result, in 2003, the Scottish Parliament passed a Land Reform Act that empowered tenant farmers and local communities to purchase land even if the landlord did not want to sell.

The largest export products for Scotland are niche products such as whisky, electronics and financial services. The largest markets were the United States, Germany, and The Netherlands. In 2002, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Scotland was just over £74 billion.

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Innovation

ince before the Industrial Revolution, Scots have been at the forefront of innovation and discovery across a wide range of spheres: the steam engine, the bicycle, tarmacadam roads, the telephone, television, the transistor, the motion picture, penicillin, electromagnetics, radar, insulin and calculus are only a few of the most significant products of Scottish ingenuity. In this new century, the technologies may have changed but the creative spark still burns brightly, seen most prominently perhaps in the creation of Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal.

It’s difficult to point to any single factor in making Scotland such a hotbed of creativity, although the Scots have always placed a high value on education. A prodigious work ethic, a self-confidence and vision, and perhaps even the weather, may also have played a role. Yet even when they left their native country, Scots took that creative impetus with them and continued to distinguish themselves in their adopted countries. Amazingly, for a country whose population has never been much in excess of 5 million, native Scots or those descended directly from them have been the recipients of some 11% of all the Nobel Prizes that have been awarded.

Language and useful phrases

There are three distinct, recognised languages in Scotland – Scottish English, Scots and Gaelic.

Scottish English is the standard form of the English language used in Scotland, with some unique characteristics, mainly in the phonological and phonetic systems, many of which originate in the country’s two indigenous languages, Gaelic and Scots. Scottish English contains a sprinkling of Scots terms (‘wee’, ‘muckle’, ‘bairn’, ‘braw’, ‘sleekit’ etc.), and there are also a few syntactical differences from English spoken in England.

Scots, like English, is descended from a form of Old English, brought to the southeast of what is now Scotland around the seventh century by the Angles, a Germanic-speaking people who arrived in the British Isles in the fifth century. The language developed with further influence from French – ‘ashet’ (serving plate) and ‘douce’ (quiet), for example – Latin, Dutch and Gaelic (e.g. ‘glen’ and ‘whisky’). Before the sixteenth century, it was usually called ‘inglis’ (i.e. English; ‘scottis’ referred to Gaelic). From the 1500s it came to be known as ‘scottis’ and in this, the Stewart period, it began to develop a written standard. Between this time and the Union of the Parliaments (1707), English gradually became the language of most formal speech and writing and Scots came to be regarded as a ‘group of dialects’ rather than a ‘language’. It continued, however, to be the everyday medium of communication for Lowland Scots, and was used creatively in poetry, song and story. Scots reached its pinnacle of literary achievement in this period in the work of Robert Burns. Scots is now primarily a spoken language, with a number of regional varieties. After centuries of neglect and political opposition, Scots is now more widely appreciated as an important part of Scottish culture. It has been recognised as a language under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages and there is an increasing awareness of its cultural and social value. In recent years, there has been an explosion of writing in Scots and the Internet has provided opportunities for Scots speakers to express themselves in their own language. However, more still needs to be done and the development by the Scottish government of specific policies to support Scots would represent a great leap forward.

Gaelic is the longest-standing language used in Scotland and can boast one of the richest song and oral traditions in Europe. Spoken by around 60,000 people in Scotland, it is part of a family of Celtic languages which today are spoken in six separate areas of Europe: Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall in England and Brittany in France.

Helpful Gaelic phrases

English    Gaelic
Good morning    Madainn mhath
Good afternoon    Feasgar math
Hello    Halò
What’s your name?    Dè an t-ainm a th’ oirbh?
My name is XXX    Is mise XXX
Goodbye    Mar sin leibh
Thank you    Tapadh leat
Please    Ma ‘s e ur toil e
How are you?    Ciamar a tha thu?
Fine    Tha gu math
Pardon?    Bàillibh?
Cheers    Slàinte

Religion

About a quarter of the population of Scotland professes active membership of a religious faith, although just 12% regularly attend church. Scotland’s religious community is overwhelmingly Christian, of which two thirds adhere to Presbyterian churches, and a fifth to the Roman Catholic church. There are sizeable Islamic communities in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and a significant Jewish community, particularly in Glasgow. 45% of people in Scotland consider themselves to be agnostics or atheists.

Climate

Scotland’s position on the edge of the European continent with water on three sides means that the weather is quite varied. Records show that May and June are usually drier than July and August.

Edinburgh’s annual rainfall is only slightly greater than London’s and many of the east coast towns actually have less annual rainfall than Rome.

Generally speaking, the east coast tends to be cool and dry, the west coast milder and wetter. July and August are normally the warmest months, with average temperatures of 15-19 C.

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