Welcome to Scotland. This is your chance to contribute to saving the planet – or at least to making it a slightly more hospitable place. While undertaking your serious work in Glasgow, here is your concise cut out and keep guide to some essential facts about life in Scotland.
Scotland is a nation. It was once an independent nation. It might be an independent nation in the future. And it might not.
Scotland has its own legal and education systems, church and local government which have been autonomous for centuries, and endured post-1707 and the creation of the union between Scotland and England.
Scotland has never been fully conquered by any external invaders: Romans, the Vikings, the English. Thus the only people who really conquered Scotland were the Scots, hence the name.
Scotland has a population of 5.5 million people. Its land mass is approximately one-third of all the land of the UK.
It has 900 offshore islands. Most are to be found in four main groups – Orkney, Shetland and the Hebrides, sub-divided into the Inner and Outer Hebrides. If you want to visit each island and spend a day on each, it will take you two and a half years.
Edinburgh is the capital city and site of the country's devolved government.
Glasgow is Scotland's first city; a place which has defined Scotland and the modern world as much as, if not more than, Edinburgh.
The two cities can sometimes be confused – witness CNN's Wolf Blitzer this week thinking COP26 was in Edinburgh. They are very different cities: Edinburgh has a castle and a 'Festival'; Glasgow has lots of football stadiums, attitude and buzz. And there is a deep-seated sense of rivalry between the two cities – most of which, but not all, is fun.
Glasgow and Edinburgh do not represent most of Scotland. Indeed, most Scots do not live in the country's four ancient cities (the others being Aberdeen and Dundee). Rather, a significant majority of Scots live in towns and communities – places such as Kilmarnock, Ayr, Paisley, Dumfries and Dunfermline – a point much of our politics and media tend to forget. Scotland is also more than the Central Belt plus a few mountains and hills added on.
COP26 is organised by the UK Tory Government led by Boris Johnson; he and they are not that popular in Scotland.
The Scottish Tories last won a popular mandate in Scotland in votes and seats in 1955 – just after Winston Churchill had resigned as PM and been replaced by Anthony Eden.
Popular figures of hate in everyday discourse are Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. The former imposed the poll tax on Scotland, inadvertently aiding the campaign for a Scottish Parliament in the 1980s. A key term here is treating Scotland as 'guinea pigs'. Tony Blair was, for a period, very popular in Scotland (1997) as he was everywhere, but post-Iraq war, like everywhere else, Scots conveniently choose to forget that.
Scotland voted 55:45 against independence in the 2014 referendum, and then in a UK-wide vote which resulted in the UK leaving the European Union 62:38 to remain in the EU. The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020 which is not a popular decision in Scotland. The independence question remains a very live one.
Scotland already has a land and legal border with England. The nature of this border may or may not change in the future.
Scotland has its own devolved parliament and government which was established in 1999. This is currently a SNP-Green administration. Formally, Scots have two governments – one in Scotland and one in Westminster – although few like to be reminded of this apart from Westminster Tory politicians.
Trident. Nuclear weapons. Faslane. Coulport. These are all controversial things in Scotland. Very few people feel safer because of, or take pride in, them being situated here.
Scotland has its own media and media environment, and also gets media created and produced in London – television, newspapers and radio. This leads to the contortions of London-based BBC explaining the news in the nations and regions with the line: 'and now the news where you are' (from James Robertson).
Scotland has its own unique sports environment – including a separate football association, national men's and women's teams and league set-up.
Scotland has a rich football history, contributing to the creation of the modern game in the late 19th century through the global influence of the 'Scotch Professors'. In more recent times, on nine occasions Scottish teams have reached the finals of the main European tournaments – and won three (1967, 1972, 1983).
Scotland has its own rich vernacular and many languages. One thing which Scots don't like is people patronising our sayings and accents – particularly people from official agencies such as the BBC and other broadcasting media.
Scotland has a rich culinary diet and traditions. Patronising and condescending comments and clichéd references to 'deep fried Mars bars' are not likely to go down well.
Scotland has a long history of invention and innovation. This includes industry, engineering and science. But also includes significantly shaping the Enlightenment and the ideas of political economy (Adam Smith) and civil society (Adam Ferguson).
Scotland's representation in film is often sparse – and can be problematic – showcasing a caricatured or romantic vision of the country from Brigadoon
to Shallow Grave
and Whisky Galore
. Everyday life in Scotland has little in common with these depictions.
Scotland does not have an official national anthem. But, then again, neither does England. Or Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland does have an unofficial
national anthem: Flower of Scotland
And finally, the Scots should always be described as the Scottish and never the Scotch. They may have been born elsewhere in the UK – or the world – but are still Scottish if they live here. Someone who lives in Glasgow is a Glaswegian, whereas someone from Edinburgh has no handy moniker – Edinburghers fortunately has never caught on.
We are generally a friendly lot as you will find out. Good luck over the next two weeks.