Steadfastly European, Scotland's past, present and future

Steadfastly European, Scotland’s Past, Present and Future reflects on the impacts of Brexit and re-emphasises our ongoing commitment to European values.

3. A European Nation

Scotland's past

For centuries, Scotland has had strong and enduring connections with the outside world. Scotland has always had strong ties with Europe, both as an independent nation until 1707 and then as part of the United Kingdom. 

While Scotland may be a nation on the geographical periphery of Europe, its population has been shaped by centuries of migration from across the continent. 

Scotland's early history was defined by exchanges with its European neighbours. Much of Scotland was converted to the Christian faith by Irish-born St Columba, the 1500th anniversary of whose birth is celebrated this year. 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 of 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. 

In the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment, Scotland was an internationally important intellectual powerhouse. Scientists such as James Hutton, the father 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 Nature in France, and Adam Smith's foundational Wealth of Nations, was first translated into French just two years after it was published. James Macpherson's "Ossian" poems awoke Europe-wide interest in the Celtic identity.

The 19th century flowering of Scottish literature had a major European impact. Sir Walter Scott effectively invented the modern historical novel, and Robert Louis Stevenson's pioneering of modern travel writing drew inspiration from his years in the Cevennes. Burns' "A man's a man for a' that" was inspired by the values of the French Revolution. Joanna Baillie's plays and poems inspired contemporaries across Europe and both Haydn and Beethoven set her songs to music.

These ideas led to groundbreaking scientific and technological breakthroughs. With the industrial revolution, Scotland was propelled into the modern world. Millions were employed in mining, shipbuilding, steel and cotton mills, and Scotland was once the mining and heavy industry capital of the world. Scottish engineering and innovation played an important role in driving industrial progress, and economic growth internationally. James Watt's steam engine, Thomas Telford's  bridge building, Alexander Graham Bell's invention of the first practical telephone, John Logie Baird's invention of television, or in the field of medical science, the societal boundaries broken by Sophia Jex-Blake and the women of the Edinburgh Seven and, later, Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin, were all important contributions to a changing world. Mary Somerville's calculations shaped the way we think about our planet and the solar system, and Williamina Fleming's astronomy expanded our knowledge of the galaxy. This tradition continues to this day from Dolly the Sheep to AI.

In the 20th century, Scotland played a distinctive part in the European efforts to rebuild Europe after the Second World War. The Edinburgh International Festival, now the largest arts festival in the world and a model for international cooperation through culture and the arts, was founded in 1947, rooted in the idea that culture could be a positive force for reconstructing a shattered continent. 

When the UK joined the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973 this was not universally welcomed in Scotland, with two areas – the Western Isles and Shetland – voting against. However, in time, the tangible measures of freedom of movement as well as trade brought many new benefits. In addition, the experience reinforced a shared set of values and underlined a conviction that upholding fundamental rights in a world of growing interdependence meant that sharing our sovereignty with EU partners would strengthen, not weaken, Scotland's influence and engagement with key global developments.

Scotland has not only benefitted from EU membership: it has contributed to its successes. Former Scottish MEP Dr Winnie Ewing was instrumental in setting up the Erasmus student exchange programme in 1987, which has provided the opportunity for young Scots to study for part of their degree elsewhere in Europe, and for young people from across the EU to see Scotland for themselves. Scottish universities have often been at the forefront of EU research, and today Scotland is rightly regarded as a world leader in tackling the challenges of climate change.

Scotland's present

As the EU referendum results show, this outward-looking European heritage continues to be the dominant view in Scotland to this day, culturally, economically, intellectually and politically. Opinion polls since 2016 consistently show a majority of Scots continue to favour EU membership.

This attitude characterises Scotland's higher education system – amongst the best in the world, with three universities ranked within the world's top 200. Thousands of EU citizens study at Scottish universities. Scotland enjoys a strong reputation as a reliable, constructive partner for innovative research and collaborates extensively on world leading technology including marine energy. Scotland remains a country of inventors.

The EU single market is Scotland's largest international trading partner. Four of our top five individual export markets are European nations. As well as our premium food and drink products enjoyed across European cities, nearly 41% of our industrial goods are exported to the EU. In 2019 three of our top five foreign direct investment (FDI) sources were also European. These close trading ties directly and indirectly support hundreds of thousands of jobs across Scotland, a welcome trend.

European connections underpin Scotland's unique legal system, which is based on Roman law and shares its heritage with the legal traditions of its continental partners as well as being influenced by our immediate neighbours.

Scotland actively welcomes EU nationals, with almost 250,000 choosing to live here and integrating well into communities the length and breadth of the country. A recent study[2] also found that pupils in Scotland have very positive attitudes toward immigrants and respect for people from other parts of the world. The Scottish Government is doing all it can to help EU citizens stay in Scotland.

From the day after the EU referendum the First Minister has repeatedly assured EU citizens they are welcome in Scotland, and has written open letters to all EU citizens living in Scotland, stressing that they should know that Scotland is their home and underlining the desire of the Scottish Government for EU citizens to remain in Scotland. 

The Scottish Government produced the 'Stay in Scotland' package of practical support and advice, supported by over £1 million of funding. 

This work underlines the Scottish Government's commitment to Scotland continuing to be a vibrant, diverse country that faces outwards and is a confident and responsible global citizen. That means welcoming people from the EU and the wider world because it reflects the welcoming place Scotland wants to be. Not only does Scotland (and the UK) benefit enormously from the contribution made by citizens of other EU countries, but the country has also benefited from the opportunity that free movement gave to Scots to live and work in other EU countries.



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