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 independence.
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.
At a glance
- Politics: Scotland acquired its own parliament with devolved powers from the UK parliament in London following a 1997 referendum. The governing Scottish National Party seeks full independence after a referendum due to take place on 18 September 2014.
- Culture and identity: Scottish engineering and scientific know-how played a major part in Britain's industrialisation and overseas expansion
Profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring
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 is due to take place on 18 September 2014. Registered voters will be asked the referendum question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"
The referendum is 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.
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. In 2013 the SNP published a timeframe that envisages an independent Scotland in March 2016 in the event of a "yes" vote.
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.