Welcome to Scotland

Back to my summer abroad.  Sam and his little family arrived home in Eton from Minnesota, we hugged and chatted, then off I went to the airport to fly to Scotland.

Scotland has a population of about 5.3 million, out of a UK total population of 65.6 million.  Seventy-percent of Scotland’s population lives in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and the smaller cities of Aberdeen and Inverness.  Glasgow has the highest population density at 3,289 people per square kilometer (.39 square mile) vs. the Highlands where Lynn and Richard live, which has nine people per square kilometer.  If my math is correct, which is always questionable, that means every person in the Highlands has 2.5 square kilometers, or almost one square mile to his or herself.

It’s ideal for people who like their personal space.

Ninety-three and a half percent of Scotland’s residents were born in the UK.  Lynn and Richard are part of the 8.7% who are English born.  About four percent were born in countries outside the UK or EU, notably India and Pakistan.

Ninety-six percent of Scotland’s population is white, 2.6% are “Asian” which in the UK means Bangladeshi, Pakistani, or Indian.  The remaining 1.4% are a head-scratching mix of labels including Asian Scottish, Black Scottish, African British, or Black British, which I believe is akin to our US label “African American.”

Do the Scots consider themselves British?  That’s a complicated question. It’s not like asking if Minnesotans consider themselves Americans. That would be a dumb question.  But Minnesota was never a separate sovereign country.  Scotland “only” joined with England in 1707—300 years is the blink of an eye in UK time and some Scots still nurse resentments about lost battles and English injustices going back hundreds of years, as well as suspicion that the governments in Westminster or Holyrood—seat of the Scottish Parliament—do not have their best interests in mind.

In the 2011 census, up to 72% of people in rural Scottish shires, or counties, considered themselves “Scottish only.”  In Aberdeenshire, where I would spend the month of August, the figure was 61% who considered themselves Scottish only.  About 18% consider themselves Scottish and British.  British, meaning a citizen of the United Kingdom.  Lynn and Richard would be in the eight percent who consider themselves British.

Reflective of the conflicts over millennia, Scotland has more Catholics than the UK as a whole, but today they are only 16% of the population as compared with 38% who are Church of Scotland or other Christian denominations.  There are a smattering of Jews and Sikhs and Muslims, but the largest religious identity is No Religion, at 43.5%.  This category has grown by 10% in 10 years.

There are two languages other than English in Scotland: Scottish Gaelic and Scots.  Fewer than two percent of people know any Gaelic but amazingly, almost 38% have some ability in Scots.

A dialect, Doric, is known in Aberdeenshire.  In fact there’s a hotel in Aberdeen that uses a Doric voice in their elevator. Phrases include “Gyaun Up” (Going up), “Gyaun Doun” (Going down), “atween fleers een an fower” (between floors one and four). This reminds me of an elevator in Dublin that spoke with an Irish accent which rendered “third floor” as “turd florrr.”

Here’s a simple map of the UK and Ireland.  The UK is everything except the gray.  I flew from London, in the south of England, to Aberdeen, in the north of Scotland.

Richard met me at the airport.  It was really good to see him as it had been some years.

We then drove from Aberdeen for 45 minutes into the countryside.

This is Scotland.

It feels vast and vertiginous.  The constantly changing weather makes the scenery look different from moment to moment.

The roads curve and dip and rise and I was grateful I didn’t get motion sick this time.

And then, just when you think you’ll never get there or maybe Richard got lost (an impossibility) and missed the driveway, he took a hard right and we were there—driving down the tree-lined drive to the welcoming committee of Lynn, five dogs, and two cats.

This is not Lynn and Richard’s drive, but it gives you the idea.


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