If no country can match Scotland for her landscape, very few, if any, can match her story. Inhabited from around 10,000 BC – the Stone Age – and with evidence of life found in the ruins at The Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site dating from 3,000 BC, Scotland’s past is defined by invasions, glorious victories, wounding defeats, treachery and uprisings as much as it is influence, innovation and invention.
Scotland in Conflict
From defeating the Romans some 2,000 years ago and the Viking colonisation of what is now the periphery of modern Scotland between the 8thand 15thcenturies, to the Wars of Independence, most famously associated with William Wallace and King Robert the Bruce, to Mary Queen of Scots and the Jacobite Uprising conflict has never been far from Scotland’s story.
Scotland’s violent history has been immortalised in Hollywood blockbusters like Braveheart and Outlaw/King, respectively depicting the stories of Wallace and Bruce who both, leading small, hungry, exhausted and severely outnumbered armies, defeated King Edward’s fearsome armies at the battles of Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn. Bruce, incidentally, is responsible for one of mankind’s most used motivational phrases ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again’, having been inspired by a spider’s continual and eventual successful attempts to swing to another beam to never give up on his dream of independence for Scotland.
The stories of Mary Queen of Scots, which has recently been committed to the Silver Screen, the Stewart dynasty, which ruled not only Scotland but became the first to rule a unified Kingdom of Scotland and England, and the Jacobite Uprising which sought to place Bonnie Prince Charlie on the throne, further illustrate the turmoil Scotland has endured for millennia and have become lore across the world. They read like Hollywood scripts and indeed have provided inspiration for writers far and wide. The infamous Red Wedding featured in Game of Thrones, for example, was inspired by both the Black Dinner – where King James invited the young Earl of the Douglas clan, a perceived threat to his crown, to dinner only to murder him and his brother – and The Massacre of Glencoe, where Captain Robert Campbell and 120 of his government soldiers sought and were given hospitality by the MacDonald clan, only to attack and murder 38 of their unsuspecting hosts for failing to pledge allegiance to King William II.
Inventors of the Modern World
But Scotland’s story is not solely dominated by power, political intrigue and conflict. The Scottish Enlightenment of the 18thand early 19thcenturies was an outpouring of intellectual and scientific accomplishments which have shaped the world we live in. Indeed this intellectual and philosophical movement rivalled Europe’s at the time, with Hume, Fergusson, Reid, Smith, Robertson and Kames competing and discoursing with the likes of Voltaire, Rousseau, Beccaria Kant, Diderot and Spinoza.
During this period the country became Europe’s most literate and modernist society with none other than Voltaire exclaiming “we look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation” and that was no exaggeration. During this period Scotland’s influence on politics, education, religion, medicine, trade, culture and science was profound and her impact is felt today.
Adam Smith laid the foundations of classical free market economic theory in writing ‘The Wealth of Nations’ whilst David Hume influenced trade, utilitarianism, logical positivism, the philosophy of science, cognitive science, theology and more, as well as being the spur to Immanuel Kant’s philosophical thought.
Our intellect and creativity manifested itself in a culture outpouring which traversed the globe. Sir Walter Scott was at this vanguard of this cultural revolution as a historical novelist, poet, playwright and historian and his words largely shaped the view of Scotland and Scots internationally.
His contemporary Robert Burns is regarded as our national poet and, amongst his many works, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ has been adopted by the world as the method to celebrate a New Year. The 19th century was prolific, with literary icons such as J.M. Barrie, who gave the world ‘Peter Pan’, ‘Sherlock Holmes’ author Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson, author of classics such as ‘Kidnapped’, ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ and ‘Treasure Island’ all writing around the same time.
But it is as inventors that Scotland truly flourished. The author Christopher Brookmyre once argued that “Scots just can’t help inventing things”, a statement backed up by an astonishing number of innovations invented by Scots or in Scotland that we rely on today, from the television and the telephone, to tarmac, humpback bridges and oil refineries, from hypnotism and electromagnetism to penicillin and cloning and from the bicycle and golf to, believe it or not, basketball.
Our philosophies on civilisation are still as influential today, with the Scottish Government leading in the way in many progressive policies and legislations, whilst we continue to be at the forefront of innovation.