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Who are the Scots?


The Proclaimers’ song “Scotland’s Story” states the commonly held origin of the Scots, but also asks a question:

“In Scotland's story I read that they came
The Gael and the Pict, the Angle and Dane
But so did the Irishman, Jew and Ukraine
They're all Scotland's Story and they're all worth the same”

There are at least three traditional distinct areas and cultures in Scotland, the Gaelic culture of the Highlands and Western Isles,  the Norse culture of the North, Orkney and Shetland and the culture of the Lowlands. The ancient presence of peoples in Scotland are recorded in place names which show how the influence of the cultures ebbed and flowed.  The supposed ancient origin of the Scots is covered in "The Stone of Destiny". The more recent immigration to Scotland is better documented. 

In the Middle Ages there was no anti-Jewish legislation in Scotland, unlike in England and many other parts of Europe, and Jewish merchants began trading. Edinburgh had a developing Jewish community by the late 18th century. Many came later from Russia and Eastern Europe in the 1880s and 1890s, fleeing persecution. More arrived in the 1930s as Jewish persecution developed under the Nazis on the Continent.

An act of the Scottish parliament of 1587 encouraged Flemish weavers to settle in Scotland and boost the fledgling industry by taking on Scottish apprentices. Their descendants bear the surname “Fleming”.

The Act of Union of 1707 not only sent Scots south, but also brought English north as Civil Servants and soldiers along with Dutch Merchants and their African Servants. These were not the first Africans to arrive. Those were Roman auxiliaries. They left with the Romans. The early 16th century saw the return of Africans. In 1505 a few African men and women musicians and performers, thought to have been taken from Portuguese slave ships, were attached to the court of King James IV of Scotland. The 18th century saw many more Africans arrive, slaves or freed servants of Scottish Planters in America and the Caribbean. Others came from Africa and the Caribbean, as migrant workers or as students in the 1950s and 1960s.

Italians started to arrive as agricultural workers in the 17th century and developing appreciation of Italian culture in the 18th century, led to the arrival of Italian artists, musicians, craftsmen and teachers. As a result of an increasing population and economic pressures, more settled between 1880 and 1914, mainly from Lucca and Abruzzi. More came as prisoners of war during WWII and many stayed.

In the 17th and 18th centuries the Irish came over at harvest time but began to arrive in larger numbers in 19th century. The famine brought eight million or more between 1801 and 1921 escaping famine and unemployment. The majority were Catholic and largely unskilled. They found similar jobs in the rapidly expanding Scottish economy, building roads and railways, digging ditches and bringing in the harvests. At the same time smaller numbers of skilled Protestants arrived at this time, finding skilled employment in the new shipyards and workshops.

The late 18th Century saw the arrival of French weavers, craftsmen, musicians, teachers and shopkeepers, African Caribbean Slaves or freed servants of Scottish Planters. Indian servants and seamen, some stranded at ports. Indian students and Italian musicians, actors, craftsmen and shopkeepers. In the 18th century, the village of Picardy, once on the outskirts of Edinburgh, but now only remembered by a street name (Picardy Place) was home to a community of French weavers. Craftsmen, musicians, teachers and shopkeepers later joined them.

The Lithuanian Christians, it is believed, arrived in Scotland between 1890 and 1905. They left Lithuania for economic reasons, the Russian feudal land system, and military conscription and in reaction to the suppression of the Lithuanian language, culture and their traditional religion. Most have integrated over the years, changing their names or having them changed by officials.

The majority of Asians arrived after 1945, but migration began during the 18th century as a result of Scotland's colonial involvement with the Indian sub-continent. Indian seamen, known as Lascars, were hired in Indian ports as cheap labour. Many, unable to find return voyages, were forced to settle. Small colonies developed in dock areas throughout Scotland. Indian servants came with colonial administrators on their visits home and Indian noblemen came on business. Students followed, some of mixed-parentage of Scots living in India. In 1947 Muslims fled the consequences of partition in newly independent India. More came in the 1950s and 1960s from the newly independent countries of Kenya, Malawi and Uganda, and in 1972 when many were expelled from Uganda.

Like the Lascars, the first Chinese came as seamen and many were unable to return to China.  It was in 1960 that the first Chinese community developed in Glasgow.  Hong Kong Chinese agricultural workers arrived in the 1950s and 1960s along with Vietnamese refugees, and more as in the 1990s as Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997.

In the 1970s and1980s new migrants came from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. They were joined by Chilean socialists, refugees from General Pinochet’s prosecution of the deposed President Allende’s socialists and communists.

Polish refugees began to arrive during the 19th century but began to arrive in large numbers during and after the Second World War, mainly as servicemen and their dependants, refugees, and “displaced persons”. The Polish Resettlement Act was passed in 1947 in recognition of their contribution to the allied war effort.

Not least there are the Gypsies/Travellers who have been in Scotland for hundreds of years. Some intermarriage with “Gorjios”, their term for non-gypsies has taken place, but they have remained apart. There Romany Gypsies, Scottish and Irish Travellers, but what characterises them all is the belief that travelling is an essential part of their identity. It is thought that the Romany language came from the Sanskrit of the Indian subcontinent. Many Gypsies/Travellers are thought to have come from India via the Middle East, the Mediterranean and routed through Europe.

The latest arrivals are asylum seekers, seeking recognition as refugees. Most are from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Somalia and also from Bosnia, Iran, Pakistan, Kosovo, Algeria and Sudan, and Kurds from Turkey and Iraq. Many of countries from which they come are recognised by Amnesty International as having chronic human rights abuse or conflicts. Since the introduction of the 1999 Asylum and Immigration Act, it is estimated that there are 9,000 in Glasgow.

Scotland is as most nations the product of a rich mix of cultures and traditions over millennia and generations that has produced the strong, rich and vibrant culture that we are today. The Proclaimers conclude:

“All through the story the immigrants came,
The Gael and the Pict, the Angle and Dane,
From Pakistan, England and from the Ukraine.
We're all Scotland's story and we're all worth the same,
Your Scotland's story is worth just the same.”


The Proclaimers - Scotland's Story - YouTube

Scotland's Story Lyrics - Proclaimers

Scotland's History - Explore 5000 years of Scottish history

Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation - Jewish Community and Synagogue

Scotland: Virtual Jewish History Tour

The Flemish People in Scotland - A Family and Local History Project - ScotlandsPeople

Scots Italian History

Lithuanians in Coal Mining in Scotland 1875-1900

BBC - Legacies - Immigration and Emigration - Scotland - Strathclyde - Lithuanians in Lanarkshire

Scotland's Census Results online - Ethnicity and Religion

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