Life in Scotland
Scotland is a progressive nation built on dynamism, creativity and the tremendous warmth of its people. We have a population of around 5.4 million mostly concentrated in the central belt, which is an area stretching across the middle of Scotland’s landmass. Our major cities include Edinburgh, the capital, with its iconic hill-top castle, and Glasgow, famed for its vibrant cultural scene.
Scotland’s official languages are English, Gaelic, and Scots. Around 87,000 people speak Gaelic and more than a million people speak Scots. There are six standalone Gaelic schools including in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and Gaelic is taught in over 50 other schools across Scotland. For more information on Gaelic and Scots culture.
The Scottish Parliament deals with devolved issues. Devolution is a system of government which allows decisions to be made at a more local level. In the UK there are several examples of devolved government including: the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Parliament, and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The Scottish Parliament, informally referred to as “Holyrood”, is a democratically elected body comprising 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). Members are elected for five-year terms under the mixed member proportional representation system.
The Scottish Government is led by the First Minister and is responsible for implementing laws and policy in Scotland which are not explicitly reserved to the United Kingdom Government (such as defence and foreign policy). These devolved matters include health and social care, education, justice and policing, rural affairs, economic development and transport.
Local government is organised through 32 unitary authorities designated as councils which consist of councillors elected every five years by registered voters in each of the council areas. You can find the contact details for your local authority
Elections and Scottish Parliament
You can find out who your local MSP, MP and Councillor is by entering your postcode at Write to Them.
You can find out more information about how you can register to vote in Scotland at Who can register to vote.
Scots law is the legal system in Scotland, and although elements in the Scottish legal system are similar to those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there are important differences between Scots law, English law and Northern Irish law. You can find out more about Scots law on the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (Scotland’s prosecution service) website at Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service.
In Scotland, the criminal law can be different to that of the rest of the UK. For example, the Scottish Parliament passed legislation in 2019 that made all forms of physical punishment of a child unlawful. Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Act 2019.
Legal Rights and Responsibilities
Every person in Scotland has the same basic human rights and freedoms, which are protected in law. These underpin how people live in the UK. For example:
- Every person has a right to liberty.
- Every person has freedom of thought and the right to practice their religion. However it is illegal if, as part of this, you take part in activities which break laws legislated within the UK and Scottish Parliaments. It is against the law to discriminate against or persecute someone because of their beliefs.
Based on the rights and freedoms protected in law, everyone living in or visiting the UK is expected to adhere to a set of shared values and responsibilities:
- Respect and obey the law
- Respect the rights of others, including their right to their own opinions
- Treat others with fairness
In the UK it is illegal to treat anyone differently because of their gender, race, religion, age, disability or sexual orientation.
Scotland is also in the process of consolidating, modernising and extending its hate crime legislation.
Racism is unacceptable in the UK. It is a serious offence to injure, harass or verbally abuse someone because of their race or to damage their property for that reason. It is also against the law to stir up racial hatred. It is unacceptable to discriminate against another person because of their race, ethnicity or where they came from.
You should not be treated any differently because of your race when applying for a job, looking for somewhere to live, using the National Health Service (NHS) or just buying something in a shop.
You should not experience racial harassment at work, school or in public (where other people make comments about your race or where you come from that are offensive or make you uncomfortable).
If you or someone you know is the victim of racism do tell the Police about it. Do not try to deal with racism or racist attackers on your own.
The police and their duties
The police exist to protect the public, their rights and the law. The police are there to help and assist you and you should not be afraid to approach them if you are the victim of a crime, see a crime happening, or for general assistance for example if you are lost.
If you need the police because of a crime, then you should call 999. This is the number to call if you have an emergency, for example if you are the victim of an assault or see a crime taking place. When you call, say you need ‘police’, as this is also the number to call an ambulance or if there is a fire.
If you are not satisfied with the service you have received from the police, you can complain directly to the police unit or office in question or the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) in Scotland, whose role is to impartially, and independent of the police, investigate conduct and behaviour.
The currency in the UK is the Pound Sterling (£). £1 (one pound) = 100p (100 pennies, or pence). Cash is accepted in most places but increasingly people use debit/credit cards to pay for goods and services.
Opening a bank account
There are a range of banks and you can choose one that suits you best. There are also online-only providers which you can use.
To open a bank account, you will usually need to show a form of identification such as your passport or a driver’s licence or a recognised identity card as well as proof of your address, such as your tenancy agreement or a gas, electric or phone bill. You should ask about any charges when you open a bank account.
Once you open your account, you will usually be issued with a debit card. Many cards are contactless - some shops accept contactless payment as will some transport providers,
You can also arrange for bills to be paid directly from your account using ‘direct debit’.
Further information on how to open a bank account is available at:
Weekends & public holidays
The weekend, in Scotland and across the UK falls on Saturday and Sunday when most offices close. Banks and post offices are usually open Monday-Friday and on Saturday morning, but close on Saturday afternoon and Sunday. However, most shops and restaurants remain open on Saturday and for much of Sunday.
There are a number of public holidays throughout the year. Most businesses close, but shops, restaurants and leisure facilities usually remain open.
Taxes in Scotland
There are three different types of tax in Scotland:
- local taxes, administered by local authorities
- devolved taxes, administered by Revenue Scotland and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC); and
- taxes reserved to the UK, administered solely by HMRC.
The Scottish Parliament has the power to set the rates and bands of Income Tax for Scottish taxpayers on their earnings from employment, self-employment, property and pensions. HMRC collects Income Tax on behalf of the Scottish Government - through the same systems that are in place across the rest of the UK. If you meet the definition of a Scottish taxpayer, HMRC will issue you with a specific Scottish tax code that identifies you as a Scottish taxpayer.
Income Tax makes up around 30% of the Scottish Budget, which means that people living in Scotland are contributing directly to their local communities and services. The revenue raised from taxation in Scotland supports the most comprehensive range of free to access public services available in the UK.
You can find out more about Scottish Income Tax policy.
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