Scottish people

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This article is about the Scottish people as an ethnic group. For information about residents or nationals of Scotland, see Demographics of Scotland.

Total Population
30 - 40 million (est.)[1]
Regions With Significant Populations
United States of America
5,752,571 Scottish and
   5,323,888 (Though some estimates believe both to be a serious under count with Scots Irish at 27 million) Scots-Irish[3]
750,000 (est.)
Scottish Gaelic, Scots, English
Related Ethnic Groups
Irish, Manx, English, Cornish, Welsh, Bretons, Icelanders [7], Faroese, Norwegians

  1. [1]The Ancestral Scotland website states the following : Scotland is a land of five million people. A proud people, passionate about their country and her rich, noble heritage. For every single Scot in their native land, there are thought to be at least five more overseas who can claim Scottish ancestry - that's many, many millions spread throughout the globe. (30 million)
  2. UK Census 2001 (follow links on page for Scottish and Northern Irish data) collected data on country of birth but not on self-selected ancestry or ethnic origin as with the US, Australian and Canadian censuses. The Office of the Chief Statistician produced a summary (pdf) of "ethnicity" results for Scotland, only, which shows that some 4,459,071 persons supplied "White Scottish" in answer to the question "What is your ethnic group ?" One choice, only, was permitted from among the supplied responses.
  3. The US Census 2000. The [2] American Community Survey 2004 by the US Census Bureau estimates 5,752,571 people claiming Scottish ancestry and 5,323,888 people claiming Scotch-Irish ancestry.
  4. Canadian Census 2001
  5. Australian Census 2001

The Scottish People are a nation[1] and an ethnic group indigenous to Scotland. As an ethnic group, Scots are a composition of races and ethnic groups such as Picts, Gaels, Brythons and others. In modern use, "Scottish people" refers to anyone born or living in Scotland; or a person who is descended from ethnic Scots and identifies as a Scottish person. Synonyms for the Scottish people include Scots and Scotch. While the words "Scots"[2] and "Caledonia"[3] were originally used to describe one tribe or nation within Scotland, the terms are now used to describe all Scottish people.

There are Scottish people in many countries other than Scotland. Emigration, influenced by factors such as the highland clearances and the formation of the British Empire, has resulted in Scottish people being found throughout the world. Large populations of Scottish people settled the new world lands of North and South America and Australia. They took with them their Scottish languages and culture.[4]

Scotland has seen migration and settlement of peoples throughout its history. Germanic people such as Angles and Saxons arrived beginning in the 4th century; The Norse settled many regions of Scotland from the 8th century onwards; Even the Scots-Gaels, who gave their name to Scotland, and the Picts are referred to in some histories[5] as being migrants to Scotland. In the middle ages, particularly in the rein of David I of Scotland, there was also some immigration form France, England and the Low Countries. Many famous Scottish families names — including the Bruce, Balliol, Murray, Stewart and Wallace — came to Scotland at this time. Within the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, people of various origins have settled in Scotland. Many immigrant communities have integrated into Scottish society. Elements of modern Scottish culture, such as Fish and Chips,[6] may be foreign in origin. However, racism does occur and continues to be a problem.[7]


The word Scotia was used by the Romans as the name of one of the tribes in what is now Scotland as early as the 1st Century AD.[8] The Romans also used Scotia to refer to the Irish.[9]

The Venerable Bede (c. 672 or 673 – May 27, 735) uses the word "Scottorum" as the name of a nation from Ireland who settled part of the Pictish lands. "Scottorum nationem in Pictorum parte recipit." This we can infer to be the arrival of the people, also know as the Gaels, in the Kingdom of Dál Riata, in the Western edge of Scotland. It is of note that Bede used the word "nationem" (nation) for the Scots, where he often refers to other peoples, such as the Picts, with the word "gens" (race).[10]

In the 10th century Anglo Saxon Chronicle, the word Scot is mentioned as a reference to the 'Land of the Gaels'. Word Scottorum was again used, by an Irish King, in 1005. The phrase Imperator Scottorum, was used after the name of Brian Bóruma, by his notary Mael Suthain, in the Book of Armagh.[11] It is thought to imply that Brian Bóruma was overlord of the Scots.

The style was subsequently copied by the Scottish kings. Basileus Scottorum is attributed to the great seal of King Edgar (1074 – 1107).[12] Alexander I (c. 1078 – 1124) used the words Rex Scottorum on his great seal; So to did many of his successors up to and including James II.[13].

In modern times the words Scot and Scottish are applied mainly to inhabitants of Scotland. The ancient Irish connotations are largely forgotten. The language know as Ulster Scots, spoken in parts of North East Ireland, is from 17th and 18th century immigration to Ireland from Scotland.

In the English language the word Scotch is a term to describe someone from Scotland e.g "Jimmy is Scotch". However, the people of Scotland prefer to be called Scots and may in fact find the term offensive [14]. The Oxford Dictionary describes Scotch as an old-fashioned term for Scottish.[15]


The Scottish People descended from five named early medieval ethnic/cultural groups: the Celtic-speaking Britons, Picts and the Gaels, and two Germanic peoples, the Angles and the Norse.

Geographic distribution

Further information: Highland Clearances, Lowland Clearances and Ulster-Scots

Today, Scotland has a population of just over five million people, most of whom consider themselves Scottish.[16] In addition, there are many more Scots abroad than in Scotland. In the 2000 Census, 4.8 million Americans reported Scottish ancestry,[17] 1.7% of the total US population. Given Scotland's population (just over 5 million), there are almost as many Scottish Americans as there are Scots living in their home country. Another 4.3 million reported Scotch-Irish ancestry, for a total of 9.2 million Americans of Scots descent.[18] However this number is believed to be a serious under-count, seeing as areas where people reported 'American' ancestry were the places where, historically, Scottish and Scots-Irish Protestants settled in America (that is: along the North-American coast and the Southeastern United States). It is believed the number of Scottish could be in the region of 20 million and Scots-Irish at 27 million.

In Canada, according to the 2001 Census of Canada data, the Scottish-Canadian community accounts for 4,157,210 people.[19] Scottish-Canadians are the third biggest ethnic group in Canada. Scottish culture has particularly thrived in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia (Latin for "New Scotland"). Also the home of the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts, both Lowland and Highland Scots have settled there in large numbers.

Many Scottish people also live in Ireland, especially in Ulster where they form the Ulster-Scots community. Other U.K. and European countries have had their share of Scots immigrants. Wales and England are estimated to have 700,000 people of Scottish decent. The Scots have been emigrating to mainland Europe for centuries as merchants and soldiers.[20] Many emigrated to France, Poland[21] Italy and Holland.[22]

Scottish communities also exist in Australia (500,000 people) and New Zealand. In Latin America there are notable Scottish populations in Brazil, Argentina,[23] Chile[24] and Mexico.



For more information, see: Language in Scotland.

Historically, Scottish people have spoken many different languages and dialects. The Pictish language, (non-Celtic languages may also have been in use by the Picts.[25]) Norse, Norman-French and Brythonic languages have been spoken by descendants of Scottish people. However, none of these are in use today. The remaining three major languages of the Scottish people are Scots, English (various dialects), and Gaelic. Of these three, English is the most common form as a first language. There are some other minority languages of the Scottish people, such as Spanish, used by the population of Scots in Argentina. However, it is beyond the scope of this article to list every one comprehensively.

Scots Language

For more information, see: Scots language.

Scots, also known as Lallans or Doric, is a language of Germanic origin. It has its roots in Northern Middle English. After the wars of independence, the English used by Scots speakers evolved in a different direction to that of Modern English English. Since 1424, this language, known to its speakers as Inglis, was used by the Scottish Parliament in its statutes.[26] By the middle of the 15th century, the language's name had changed from Inglis to Scottis. The reformation, from 1560 onwards, saw the beginning of a decline in the use of Scots forms. With the establishment of the Protestant Presbyterian religion, and lacking a Scots translation of the bible, they used the Geneva Edition.[27] From that point on; God spoke English, not Scots.[28] Scots continued to be used in official legal and court documents throughout the 18th century. However, due to the adoption of the southern standard by officialdom and the Education system the use of written Scots declined. Scots is still a popular spoken language with over 1.5 million Scots speakers in Scotland.[29] The Scots language is used by about 30,000 Ulster Scots[30] and is known in official circles as Ullans. In 1993, Ulster Scots was recognised, along with Scots, as a variety of the Scots language by the European Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages.[31]

Scottish English

For more information, see: Scottish English.

After the Union of Crowns in 1603, the Scottish Court moved with James IV of Scotland and I of England to London and so southern English vocabulary began to be used by the Scottish upper classes.[26] With the introduction of the printing press, spellings became standardised. Scottish English, a dialect of Southern English English, began to replace the Scots Language. Scottish English soon became the dominant language. By the end of the 17th century, Scots Language had practically ceased to exist, at least in literary form.[32] While Scots remained a common spoken language, the southern Scottish English dialect was the preferred language for publications from the 18th century to the present day.

Scottish Gaelic

For more information, see: Scottish Gaelic language.
See also: Canadian Gaelic

Scottish Gaelic is a Celtic language with similarities to Irish Gaelic. It was originally spoken by the Gaels in Western Scotland and Islands. The language was latter adopted by the Pictish people of the North and west of Scotland making Scottish Gaelic the de facto language of the whole Highland area. When the areas south of the Firths of Forth and Clyde were absorbed into Scotland in the 11th century, the language and customs of the Angles people were preserved by the King. This formed the division of Scotland into the Gaelic, Irish or Erse speaking north and Inglis or Scottis speaking south. Gaelic continued to be spoken widely through the Highlands until the 19th century. The highland clearances and the Education (Scotland) Act 1872, which actively discouraged the use of Gaelic in schools, caused the numbers of Gaelic speakers to fall.[33] Many Gaelic speakers emigrated to counties such as Canada or moved to the industrial cities of lowland Scotland. Communities where the language is still spoken naively are restricted to the west coast of Scotland; and especially the Hebrides. However, large proportions of Gaelic speakers also live in the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland. The 2001 UK Census showed a total of 58,652 Gaelic speakers in Scotland. Outside Scotland, there are communities of Scottish Gaelic speakers such as the Canadian Gaelic community; though their numbers have also been declining rapidly. The Gaelic language is recognised as a Minority language by the European Union. The Scottish parliament is also seeking to increase the use of Gaelic in Scotland through the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005. Gaelic is now used as a first language in some Schools and is prominently seen in use on dual language road signs throughout Scotland. It is recognised as an official language of Scotland with 'equal respect' to English.


For more information, see: Religion in Scotland.

Saint Ninian (c. 360 - 432), is credited with bringing Christianity to Scotland. He was born in the Roman province of Valentia which is either modern day Galloway or Cumberland. At about the age of twenty, he went to Rome to study theology.[34] He stayed there for fifteen years and was ordained as a Bishop by Damasus around the end of the 4th century. He was sent back to preach to his native people. He built his church in the Roman province of Valentia in the town of Leucapia, now called Whitehorn in Galloway, Scotland. The local tribe was called the Novantes. The first church in Britain to be made of stone. He named the church Candida Case, which means white house. He traveled throughout Scotland, and converted the Picts (aka Caledonians) to Christianity.[35]

In the year 431, Saint Palladius was sent by Pope Celestine I to be Primus Episcopus — First Bishop to the Scots believing in Christ.[34] At this time, "the Scots" referred to the Gaels of Western Scotland and Ireland. Palladius's work is not well recorded and is often confused with Saint Patrick. Some time between 457 and 461, Palladius died. He is thought to have been laid to rest at a place called Forgund or Fordun in the village of Auchenblae in the Mearns district of Scotland.[36]

Saint Patrick (385 - 17th March 493), born in Kirkpatrick near Dumbarton, Scotland, he was captured by pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland. He eventually left Ireland to study Christianity on the continent. He spent about thirty five years there before being consecrated by Celestine, Bishop of Rome in 432. He returned to Ireland to preach and made significant impression there, becoming the patron Saint of Ireland.

In the year 563, Saint Columba (7 December, 521 -9 June, 59]) with twelve companions. He founded a church on the small island of Iona. This became the central hub of Christianity in Scotland.

St Margret was instrumental in moving the Scottish Church closer to Rome. Throughout the middle ages, Scotland remained Roman Catholic.

Lutheran ideas were introduced to Scotland in the 16th century. Although they were initially suppressed and outlawed by the state, protestant Presbyterianism became popular. This was the Scottish Reformation. Bolstered by reformers such as John Knox, the Presbyterians became the established church in Scotland with an act of 1560.

Religious ideology was to be a driving force throughout the 17th century. The British civil wars started with the congregation of St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, rioting over the introduction of the Common book of prayer. The Covenanters were to play a important role in the wars and in the later reinstatement of Charles II. Though Charles then turned to persecutor trying to stamp out the Covenanters. Many of the Covenanters emigrated to the new lands of America and Canada that were just then opening up.

The 18th century would again see religion of the Scottish people used in war, throughout the Jacobite uprisings of 1715 and 1745. While common modern perception was of a war between Scots and English people, it was more accurately between Protestants and Catholics. The protestant Scots standing with the protestant Hanoverian King's red coats while the Catholic, and mainly highland, Scots stood with the Catholic Jacobite pretenders.

The modern people of Scotland remain a mix of different religions. The protestant and catholic divisions still remain in the society. With immigration of new people to Scotland, come new religions. Scotland has populations of Jews, Hindus, Musilims, Buddhists and many other faiths.

Notable people


See also: Scottish American, Scottish-Canadian, Ulster-Scots, Irish-Scots, and Italian-Scots

The classification of Scottish people is a broad one. A person is classed as Scottish if they were born, or brought up form an early age, in the country, Scotland. This can include people who's ansestry is not Scottish. Scottish people also includeds the descendants of emigrants from Scotland who now live other countries. As a result, many Scottish people have never actually set foot in Scotland.


  1. "That I am not exaggerating in calling the Scottish people a great nation must be evident to anyone..."Bulloch (1902). Scottish Notes and Queries. D. Wyllie and son [etc.], Page 40.  and also "The Scottish people are a nation" from Shore, Marlene Gay (Feb 1st, 2002). The Contested Past. University of Toronto Press, page 105. ISBN 0-8020-8133-9. 
  2. The Venerable Bede used a Latin form of the word Scots as the name of the Gaels of Dál Riata. Reference: Roger Collins, Judith McClure; Beda el Venerable, Bede (1999). The Ecclesiastical History of the English People: The Greater Chronicle ; Bede's Letter to Egbert. Oxford University Press, Page 386. ISBN 0-19-283866-0. 
  3. Used by Tacitus to describe the Picts north of the Grampians. Reference: Anthony Richard (TRN) Birley, Cornelius Tacitus; Cayo Cornelio Tácito. Agricola and Germany. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-283300-6. 
  4. Landsman, Ned C. (1 Oct 2001). Nation and Province in the First British Empire: Scotland and the Americas, 1600-1800. Bucknell University Press. ISBN 0-8387-5488-0. 
  5. The Venerable Bede tells of the Scotti coming from Spain via Ireland and the Picts coming from Scythia. Ref: Harris, Stephen J. (1st Oct 2003). Race and Ethnicity in Anglo-Saxon Literature. Routledge (UK), Page 72. ISBN 0-415-96872-0. 
  6. Murdoch, Brian (EDT); William Kidd (3rd Aug 2004). Memory and Memorials: The Commemorative Century. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.. ISBN 0-7546-0735-6. 
  7. Mooney, Gerry; Gill Scott (1st Jun 2005). Exploring Social Policy In The 'new' Scotland. The Policy Press. ISBN 1-86134-594-1. 
  8. Low, Alexander (1826). The history of Scotland ... to the middle of the ninth century, Page 28. 
  9. Lehane, Brendan (Jan 26th, 2000). The Quest of Three Abbots: the golden age of Celtic Christianity. SteinerBooks, Page 121. ISBN 0-940262-65-7. 
  10. Harris, Stephen J. (Oct 1, 2003). Race and Ethnicity in Anglo-Saxon Literature. Routledge (UK), Page 72. ISBN 0-415-96872-0. 
  11. Martin, F. X. (Francis Xavier); T. W. (Theodore William) Moody, F. J. (Francis John) Byrne (Aug 1, 1976). New History of Ireland. Oxford University Press, Page 862. ISBN 0-19-821737-4. 
  12. Freer, Allan (1871). The North British Review. Edmonston & Douglas, Page 119.  and Robertson, Eben William (1862). Scotland Under Her Early Kings: a history of the kingdom to the close of the thirteenth century. Edmonston and Douglas, Page 286. 
  13. Greenway, D. E. (EDT); E. B. (Edmund Boleslaw) Fryde (Jun 1, 1996). Handbook of British Chronology. Cambridge University Press, Page 55. ISBN 0-521-56350-X. 
  14. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language Scotch usage note, Encarta Dictionary usage note.
  15. Oxford Dictionary Definition of Scotch
  16. Office of the Chief Statistician (2004-02-09). Analysis of Ethnicity in the 2001 Census - Summary Report. Retrieved on 2006-08-18. One choice, only, was permitted from among the supplied responses; "White Scottish" may mean anyone who is merely "White" and considers themselves Scottish.
  18. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named uscensus
  19. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named cancensus
  20. See David Armitage, "The Scottish Diaspora", particularly pp. 272–278, in Jenny Wormald (ed.), Scotland: A History. Oxford UP, Oxford, 2005. ISBN 0-19-820615-1
  21. [3]
  22. [4]
  23. [5]
  24. [6]
  25. Jackson, "The Language of the Picts", discussed by Forsyth, Language in Pictland.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Crystal, David (Aug 25th, 2003). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-53033-4. 
  27. MacMahon, April M. S.; McMahon (Apr 13, 2000). Lexical Phonology and the History of English. Cambridge University Press, Page 142. ISBN 0-521-47280-6. 
  28. Murphy, Michael (EDT); Harry White (1st Oct 2001). Musical Constructions of Nationalism. Cork University Press, Page 216. ISBN 1-85918-322-0. 
  29. The General Register Office for Scotland (1996)
  30. Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, 1999
  31. Wolff, Stefan; Jorg (EDT) Neuheiser (Jan 1st, 2002). Peace at Last?: The Impact of the Good Friday Agreement on Northern Ireland. Berghahn Books. ISBN 1-57181-658-5. 
  32. Barber, Charles Laurence (Aug 1st, 2000). The English Language: A Historical Introduction. Cambridge University Press, Page 147. ISBN 0-521-78570-7. 
  33. Pagoeta, Mikel Morris (2001). Europe Phrasebook. Lonely Planet, Page 416. ISBN 1-86450-224-X. 
  34. 34.0 34.1 Caswall, Henry (1853). Scotland and the Scottish Church. J. H. Parker, Page 10. 
  35. Marshall, John (1859). A history of Scottish ecclesiastical and civil affairs, from the introduction of Christianity. Unknown, Page 49 to 51. 
  36. Low, The Rev. Alexander (1826). The history of Scotland ... to the middle of the ninth century. Bell and Bradfute, Edinburgh, Page 59. 

[8]"Some estimates put the figure as high as 40 million. Whichever, we are talking about a lot of people – a lot more than the 5.1 million people who actually live in Scotland today."


External links