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Scotland profile - Overview

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Scotland is a part of the United Kingdom. Since 1999, when legislative powers were devolved to a reconstituted Scottish Parliament, it has enjoyed a high degree of autonomy.

There are three distinct regions: the Highlands and Islands, a densely populated Central Belt, which includes the main cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and the Southern Uplands bordering England.

The Outer Hebrides and the Inner Hebrides island groups lie to the west, with the Orkney Islands and Shetland Isles to the north. Once part of Norway, Shetland is nearer to that country than to Edinburgh, and retains a Norse character.

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Image caption "The Athens of the North": Scotland's ancient capital, Edinburgh

English is spoken everywhere, and Gaelic speakers make up around 1.3% of the population, mainly in the northwest and the Hebrides. The old language of the south, Scots, sometimes described as a dialect of English, still heavily influences the usage of Scottish everyday speech.

During the 19th century, Scotland became an industrial powerhouse, with mining, shipbuilding, heavy engineering and manufacturing supplying the needs of the expanding British Empire.

These industries declined in the second half of the 20th century, and the modern Scottish economy was transformed with the discovery of North Sea oil deposits in 1966, and a rapid development of the service sector.

Devolution and national identity

A referendum on Scottish independence was held in September 2014. Fifty five percent of voters opted to remain as part of the United Kingdom, while 45% favoured independence when asked the referendum question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

The referendum was the culmination of a long campaign by nationalists.

Pressure for increased autonomy during the 1970s and 1990s led to the passing of the Scotland Act in 1999 by the Labour government of Tony Blair, with Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar as the architect of the legislation.

Following a referendum in 1997, a Scottish Parliament elected by a system of proportional representation was re-established in Edinburgh, with primary lawmaking and limited tax-raising powers.

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Image caption Like the other constituent nations of the UK, Scotland has its own international football team

The Scottish National Party (SNP), which has a majority in the Scottish Parliament, agreed to a referendum on full independence in 2014 at talks with the British government. The vote itself saw a 55% vote to remain within the Union.

Scots are proud of their national identity and despite a relatively small population of around five million, a very large diaspora exists not only in England but also worldwide, especially in North America, Australia and New Zealand.

The relatively high degree of Scottish autonomy is reflected in other areas: Scotland competes as a separate team in international football, rugby and other sports.

A distinct Scottish identity is ensured by a Scottish Premier League in football, and leading clubs such as Glasgow's Rangers and Celtic regularly qualify for the European Champions League. Celtic were the first UK club to win this competition's predecessor, the European Cup, in 1967.

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Image caption Glen Coe: The Scottish Highlands are famed for their dramatic vistas and no less dramatic history

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