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Assessment for Scots in the United Kingdom

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Scots in the United Kingdom, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 20 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
United Kingdom Facts
Area:    228,365 sq. km.
Capital:    London
Total Population:    58,970,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

There is virtually no risk of Scottish militancy in the near future. Protest is not likely to rise beyond verbal opposition, although larger scale protest is possible. Virtually all the risk factors usually associated with protest are lacking, but the nature of British democracy is such that the Scots can use the repertoire of protest without fear of repression or other sanctions. Without the power to set their own tax rates they cannot rid themselves of taxes imposed by the central government, nor use tax incentives to improve local living standards or promote regional development. In other words, while the central government has granted limited autonomy, many of the English-Scottish chafing points remain.

Scotland has recently turned to the European Union as an alternative route for pursuing Scottish interests, and this could lead to increased tensions between Scotland and the UK government. The Scots, like other large minorities such as the Basques in Spain, have used the EU to circumvent their state government. By dealing directly with the EU, the Scots and the British government are treated basically as equals or at least separate regions within the union, allowing the Scots to preserve their culture and economic interests without British interference. While disagreements remain, it should be noted that the devolution of powers to Scotland has occurred relatively smoothly, and there appears to be a commitment from both sides to continue the process in a timely and effective manner.

Analytic Summary

The Scots came under the rule of the United Kingdom after the Act of Union in 1707 (TRADITN = 1 and AUTOLOST = 2). Unlike the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Scots, like the Welsh have been largely incorporated into British society. Very few ethnocultural differences exist between the Scots and the English, religion being the exception (BELIEF = 1), but it is not an important issue in British society. Most Scots are adherents of Calvanism whereas most English are Anglican. The Scots are regionally concentrated (GROUPCON= 1) and are a relatively cohesive group (COHESX9=4).

Today, the Scots have no demographic disadvantages by comparison with other Britons and face no political, economic or cultural restrictions (POLDIS03 = 0, ECODIS03 = 0). In the late 19th century many Scottish people began to feel that their particular needs were being neglected. As a result various small organizations began to appear demanding more Scottish control over the affairs of Scotland, leading in 1886 to the foundation of the Scottish Home Rule Association. From this point in time onward, popular support for the various demands made by the Scots has been mostly limited to demands for some form of autonomy (home rule) within the United Kingdom. During the 1980s the Conservative party, despite getting less than 30% support in Scotland throughout the decade, implemented highly controversial and unpopular policies with no concessions to their questionable democratic legitimacy in Scotland. These controversial policies included a poll tax, opposition to the devolution of power to Scotland, and the dismantling of Britain's social welfare system. Although the latter was not directed only against the Scots, the policies seemed anti-Scottish to the Scots because civil society bodies in Scotland were distinctively Scottish, and it was precisely in these bodies that Scottish semi-autonomy within the Union lay. With the formation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, they enjoy limited autonomy, although they lack the ability to set their own tax rates. Many local issues are now the jurisdiction of the new parliament, and more devolution of power including the ability to tax are being discussed. The Scots do not face any form of government repression, and their nationalist sentiments have long been tolerated by the British government.

While the Scottish parliament has some rights to enact legislation, the main grievance the Scots have is that the parliament still does not have enough scope to pass laws affecting Scots. Many Scots want their parliament to have far greater powers, particularly in economic affairs. A key issue to the Scots is control over the large deposit of oil that has been found in the North Sea. The profits from this oil are crucial to the economic well-being of Scotland, and many nationalists are concerned that Scotland does not have enough say in its management.

The road to achieving limited autonomy has been long for the Scots. There has been political action in support of Scottish nationalism from the 1940s (PROT45X = 1), escalating in the late 1960s (PROT65X = 2) and reaching a peak in the early 1990s (PROT90X = 4). In the early 1980s and 1990s there were minor acts of nationalist violence (REBEL80X, REBEL90X = 1).


Brand, Jack "Scotland and the Politics of Devolution: A Patchy Past, A Hazy Future" Parliamentary Affairs, 46 (1), January 1993, pp. 38-48.

Harvie, Christopher Scotland and Nationalism: Scottish Society and Politics 1707-1994, 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 1994.

Kernohan, R. D. "Scottish Nationalism: Thus Far and No Further?" Contemporary Review, 256 (1488), January 1990, pp. 10-15.

Levy, Roger "The Scottish Constitutional Convention, Nationalism and the Union" Government and Opposition, 27 (2), spring 1992, pp. 222-34.

Lindsay, Isobel "The Autonomy of Scottish Politics" New Left Review, 191, January/February 1992, pp. 43-8.

Mitchell, James "The 1992 Elections in Scotland in Context" Parliamentary Affairs 45 (4), October 1992, pp. 612-26.

Newman, Saul "The Rise and Decline of the Scottish National Party: Ethnic Politics in a Post-Industrial Environment" Ethnic and Racial Studies, 15 (1), January 1992, pp. 1-33.

Patterson, Lindsay, Alice Brown & Davis McCrone "Constitutional Crisis: The Causes and Consequences of the 1992 Scottish General Election Result" Parliamentary Affairs 45 (4), October 1992, pp. 627-39.

Tong, Raymond "Scottish Nationalism: A View from England" Contemporary Review, 265 (1546), November 1994, pp. 247-53

The Economist, articles from 5/6/89, 2/1/92, 2/22/92,3/6/93, & 10/2/93.

New Statesman and Society, articles from 4/27/90, 11/16/90, 12/7/90, 3/13/92, 4/24/92, 5/15/92, 8/27/93.

Lexis/Nexis: 1990-2003

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