The Three Sisters of Glencoe
I get the feeling that when people think of Scotland they have one of two extremes in mind. The first is of a lone woman in tartan dress (extra points if her hair is red and curly) standing on an ethereal backdrop in soft light, wild heather on a mountain and the soft wail of bagpipes as her hair whips in the wind. The second, is of a deprived country full of yobs that fight, and cities rife with vandalism and poverty and a steady diet of deep fried anything.
You might think I’m exaggerating, but on my first adult holiday abroad I had an English couple ask if we had Tesco in Scotland, like we all live in the wilderness and hunt our own haggis.
So I’m here to tell you what life is really like in Scotland – although my view is limited to life in the “central belt” – to try and dispel any myths or confusion.
The truth is that Scotland is a mix of the two extremes painted above. We do boast some of the most amazing landscapes in the world (I may be biased but prove me wrong) and you can see some of them on my post Seeing Scotland: There’s No Place Like Home. We also do have our fair share of deprived areas and violence like any country around the world. Glasgow in particular gets a bad reputation, with a lower life expectancy than the national average, and a history of violence that saw it named the “murder capital of Europe” some years ago. Nowadays, Glasgow has had a lot of investment and work thrown into it, both in terms of infrastructure, and tackling violence – the Scottish government treated knife crime like a health epidemic, and succeeded in dramatically reducing violence in the city, and Glasgow is quickly becoming a hotspot for tourism, business, and art/music (and is my favourite city in the world).
In Scotland our university/college education is free at point of access (paid for by tax) as is our healthcare (including medication). This is amazing because it means that nobody is barred from higher education due to their financial situation, and in all honesty I think paying tax and National Insurance is well worth a society that values the health and education of its citizens.
Wondering about kilts and haggis? Yes, Scottish men do wear kilts in formal occasions, but this is mainly reserved for weddings, and haggis is absolutely delicious, (vegetarian for me nowadays).
For such a small country, there is a lot of regional variation when it comes to politics and culture. Glasgow and Edinburgh are less than an hour away from each other but are considerably different in many aspects despite being in what is known as the “central belt” of Scotland. Then there are the highlands and islands, and down at the border (with England) all with their own rich histories and traditions.
There are multiple structures to Scottish politics; we do come under the general UK Westminster government, and our representatives for this are MPs (members of Parliament). But Scotland is somewhat economically and politically devolved too, and we have the Scottish parliament, and our representatives here are called MSPs (members of Scottish Parliament).
It’s thanks to the Scottish parliament that our university education is free whilst English universities can charge up to £9000 per year, and why our prescriptions are free. It also means that our school system and school exams are different from the rest of the UK – our summer holidays start and end at a different time and we sit different exams than our counterparts in rUK.
In the Brexit referendum, Scotland voted quite prominently in favour of remaining part of the European Union (along with Northern Ireland), but as our population is drastically dwarfed by England and Wales, they got the deciding vote, and this has caused a lot of tension.
This is particularly tense, because in 2014, Scotland voted by a fairly slim margin (55% to 45%) to remain part of the UK, and a huge factor in this was the uncertainty that independence would cast on Scotland’s EU membership. As such, the independence movement is still growing, and there are talks of a second independence referendum. This is a highly divisive issue in Scotland with strong opinions on both sides – the ins and outs of this could be a blog post on its own, but if you have any questions then sound off in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer!
We are generally more left-leaning than our counterparts in England (I confess I don’t know a lot about Welsh politics and despite having a Northern Irish fiance their politics still remains a mystery to me). The current party in the Scottish Parliament – the SNP (Scottish National Party) – are generally in favour of renewable energy, environmentalism, immigration/refugees, and champions socially progressive politics for women, religious groups, LGBTQ+ etc.
Technology and Science
Whilst it’s commonly known that Scotland has oil, our economy is far more than that, and we have been, and continue to be, a huge driving force in the world of science and technology.
The first mammal ever cloned – Dolly the sheep – was done so in Scotland, and the majority of reagents used in blood transfusion globally originate in Scotland. We also gave the world penicillin, refrigerators, the television, and other technological advancements (as well as James McAvoy and Gerard Butler…you’re welcome).
For such a small country, we are a wonderfully diverse and productive nation with so much to offer the world, and despite the constant rain and the fact we are terrible at most sports (thank you, Andy Murray for offering us some pride in this respect) I absolutely adore this country and wouldn’t trade it for anywhere else.
This brief post isn’t nearly enough to capture the vast history and culture across Scotland, but I hope it’s done a little bit to give you an insight into life in Scotland!