Guide to Scotland
Occupying the northernmost part of the UK, Scotland is one of the four countries that make up the British Isles. It is currently a part of the Union which also includes England, Northern Ireland and Wales, but a vote on whether the country should be independent of the rest will decide its future in September 2014. The country has a long history and a vibrant economy. It was a centre of enlightened learning in the 18th century and was the home to many inventors and innovators over the years. It has a long literary tradition with many famous writers being produced from the country, including Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stephenson and - more recently - Iain Banks. From the border country in the south, to the remote islands and the wild highlands, Scotland has a distinctive quality that means it stands out from the rest of the UK. Perhaps because of this, it is a favoured holiday destination for many tourists from around the world. It also has an economy to rival many other European states with similar populations. Whether it cedes from the UK or not, Scotland's future looks promising.
Celts settled Scotland in the Bronze Age, but settlements date back earlier than that. Skara Brae, on the island of Orkney is said to have seen human inhabitation as far back as 9,500 years ago. In Roman times, Scotland did not come under the rule of the emperors, but was seen as the limit of their control. During the mediaeval period, there were a series of conflicts between rival dynasties and many clashes with English kings in the south - some Anglo Saxon and later Norman ones. It was only in 1502 when peace really broke out between England and Scotland under the auspices of Henry Tudor and James IV respectively. Scotland later became a major player in the expanding British Empire and Scotsmen travelled the world developing trade. In the twentieth century, the country saw some economic downturn, particularly in the heavy industries of Glasgow. However, North Sea Oil reserves have seen much improvement in the economy over recent decades, making Scotland a leader in the petrochemical industry.
Scottish members of parliament are elected in the same way as every other constituency in the UK, based on geographical areas where the candidate with the most votes wins a seat. As well as this, Scotland elects MEPs who represent much larger groups of people in the European Parliament. Scotland also has its own government which is based on Holyrood in Edinburgh. Here, members of the Scottish Parliament exercise devolved powers on a region-wide basis which are not subject to control from London. This can affect things like the provision of health services, for example. Legal matters are handled in a similar way to the rest of the UK with advocacy being provided by lawyers. However, the system in Scotland differs to England and Wales somewhat and special training is required to practice law in Scotland.
Scotland's transport system reflects the population centres and the rural nature of much of the country. Motorways and three international airports are to be found linking the two major Scottish cities - Glasgow and Edinburgh. It is in this middle part of the country that most the population resides. Indeed, Glasgow is the second most populous city in the UK, coming second to London. Scotland has two further international airports, one in Aberdeen and one in Inverness. The Scottish Government retains responsibility for all of the country's rail strategy and funding in the country. Given that Scotland has very many islands, regular ferry services are required to operate between the mainland and the outlaying patches of land.
The North East
Aberdeen is the largest city in the northeast of the country. This is the centre of North Sea Oil exploration and one of the most thriving city economies in the UK. It has also become something of a centre for financial institutions with many opening offices here, as well as seeing a number of innovative hi-tech start-up companies finding their feet in the area. Like Edinburgh and Glasgow further south, Aberdeen has a strong reputation for it universities which have a global reputation. Much of the rest of the northeast's economy relies on agriculture, tourism and the fishing industry.
The North West
One of the remotest parts of Europe, the northwest is fairly sparsely populated. The coastline is rugged and has been shaped for millennia by the Atlantic Ocean. Oban, near to the Isle of Mull, and Fort William, close to Ben Nevis, the UK's highest mountain peak, are the main centres of population. Further offshore, there are some stunningly beautiful islands to explore in the Hebrides.
Between the capital and the English border there are several noteworthy towns which contribute strongly to the Scottish economy. A good example would be Kilmarnock, a few miles south of Glasgow, or Dumfries, which is closer to the border. Although farming remains a way of life in the borders, the urban population centres support a wide diversity of both economic and cultural life.