Scotland: A European Nation

This publication outlines the historical, political and constitutional context that gives legitimacy to Scotland’s voice in the Brexit debate.

3 Scotland's heritage: a nation embedded in Europe

Scotland has always had strong ties with Europe both as an independent nation until 1707 and as part of the United Kingdom thereafter. We want to build on our historical relationship with Europe, not throw it away.

While Scotland may be a nation on the geographical periphery of Europe, we are a people who very much define ourselves as European citizens.

Like many European countries, Scotland's population has been shaped by centuries of migration from across the continent.

Scotland's early history is defined by exchanges with our European neighbours. The missionary work of the Irish-born Saint Columba in the 6th century has been credited with the conversion of much of Scotland to the Christian faith.

In the Middle Ages, Scotland traded across Europe and at one time enjoyed dual citizenship with France. This was the start of what is called the "Auld Alliance".

Scottish merchants and intellectuals travelled to the booming Dutch universities; to the trading communities in Lithuania and Poland; to the Scots colleges in Rome, Paris, Valladolid and Madrid; and to the military encampments of the Thirty Years' War. Scotland in turn received a continual flow of Europeans who brought ideas as much as trade to Scotland.

During the Scottish Enlightenment in the 18th century, Scotland was an intellectual powerhouse. Scientists such as James Hutton, credited as the founder of modern geology, corresponded with European scholars to establish new disciplines and the works of Scottish intellectuals informed debate across Europe. David Hume wrote A Treatise of Human Naturewhile living in France and Adam Smith's iconic Wealth of Nations was first translated into French just two years after it was published.

The 19th-century flourshing of Scottish literature had a major European impact. Sir Walter Scott's writing contributed to the development of the modern historical novel; James MacPherson's "Ossian" poems awoke Europe-wide interest in the Celtic identity, and Robert Louis Stevenson drew inspiration from his time in the Cevennes to pioneer modern travel writing.

Our present

As the referendum results show, this outward-looking, European heritage continues to this day in our cultural, economic, intellectual and political engagements.

Scotland's higher education system is amongst the best in the world with five universities ranked within the world's top 200. Thousands of EU citizens study at Scottish universities for free or benefit from our institutions through the Erasmus + programme. We enjoy a strong reputation as reliable constructive partners for innovative research and we collaborate on world-leading technology; we remain a country of inventors.

The Edinburgh International Festival has become the largest arts festival in the world and is a model for international cooperation through culture and the arts. Founded in 1947, it was rooted in the idea that culture could be a positive force for reconstructing a shattered post-War Europe.

European markets dominate our trade, with almost half our international exports going to EU countries.

European connections underpin our unique legal system, which is based on Roman law and has much more in common with European legal traditions than with those in England and Wales.

We actively welcome EU nationals to live and work in Scotland and value the 181,000 who already call Scotland their home. As our First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said to EU nationals hours after the EU referendum result: "Scotland is your home, you are welcome here, and the contribution that you make to our economy, our society and our culture is valued."


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