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Scotland occupies the northern third of the island of Great Britain. It is bounded by England in the south and on the other three sides by water: by the Atlantic Ocean on the west and north and by the North Sea on the east. Scotland is divided into three physical regions—the Highlands; the Central Lowlands, containing two-thirds of the population; and the Southern Uplands. The western Highland coast is intersected throughout by long, narrow sea lochs, or fjords. Scotland also includes the Outer and Inner Hebrides and other islands off the west coast and the Orkney and Shetland Islands off the north coast.
England and Scotland have shared a monarch since 1603 and a parliament since 1707, but in May 1999, Scotland elected its own parliament for the first time in three centuries. The new Scottish legislature was in part the result of British prime minister Tony Blair's campaign promise to permit devolution, the transfer of local powers from London to Edinburgh. In a Sept. 1997 referendum, 74% of Scotland voted in favor of their own parliament, which controls most domestic affairs, including health, education, and transportation, and has powers to legislate and raise taxes. Queen Elizabeth opened the new parliament on July 2, 1999.
The first inhabitants of Scotland were the Picts, a Celtic tribe. Between A.D. 82 and A.D. 208, the Romans invaded Scotland, naming it Caledonia. Roman influence over the land, however, was minimal.
The Scots, a Celtic tribe from Ireland, migrated to the west coast of Scotland in about 500. Kenneth McAlpin, king of the Scots, ascended the throne of the Pictish kingdom in about 843, thereby uniting the various Scots and Pictish tribes under one kingdom called Dal Riada. By the 11th century, the monarchy had extended its borders to include much of what is Scotland today.
English influence in the region expanded when Malcolm III, king of Scotland from 1057–1093, married an English princess. England's appetite for Scottish land began to grow over the 12th and 13th centuries, and in 1296 King Edward I of England successfully invaded Scotland. The following year Robert the Bruce led a revolt for independence, was crowned king of Scotland (Robert I) in 1306, and after years of war defeated the English in 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn. In 1328 the English finally recognized Scottish independence.
In the 16th century John Knox introduced the Scottish reformation, and the Presbyterian Church replaced Catholicism as the official religion. In 1567, Mary, queen of Scots, a Catholic, was forced to abdicate the Scottish throne and was later executed by Elizabeth I of England. Mary's son, James VI, was raised as a Protestant, and in 1603 he succeeded Elizabeth on the English throne as King James I of England. James thus became ruler of both Scotland and England, though the countries remained separate. In 1707, after a century of turmoil, Scotland and England passed the Act of Union, which united Scotland, England, and Wales under one rule as the Kingdom of Great Britain. The House of Hanover replaced the Stuart lineage on the throne in 1714, which caused a rebellion among Scots who still supported the Stuarts. The Jacobites, as the rebels were called, led two uprisings, in 1715 and again in 1745.
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, Scotland, whose chief product had been textiles, began developing the industries of shipbuilding, coal mining, iron, and steel. In the late 20th century, Scotland concentrated on electronics and high-tech industries. The North Sea has also become an important source of oil and gas.
In May 1999, Scotland elected its first separate parliament in three centuries. Labour won the largest number of seats, defeating the Scottish National Party (SNP), which supports Scotland's independence from Britain. The SNP dealt Labour a stunning blow in parliamentary elections in May 2007, taking 47 out of 129 seats. The Labour Party won 46 seats. Prior to the election, the SNP held 25 seats.
In 2007, Alex Salmond took over as First Minister, succeeding Jack McConnell. From 2007 to 2011, the government Salmond headed was a Scottish minority. In the 2011 Scottish Parliament election, the party Salmond leads, the Scottish Nationalist Party, won the majority. Salmond began calling for a referendum on Scotland's independence.
On September 18, 2014, an independence referendum was held. Scottish voters opted, 55% to 45%, to remain part of the United Kingdom. More than 4.2 million voters (86% turnout) took to the polls in record numbers to vote on the referendum question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?" When the votes were tallied, it was 2,001,926 (55.3%) for No to 1,617,989 (44.7%) for Yes. Moving forward, the Westminster powers that be would have to take a hard look at the very structure of the United Kingdom. Even though the 10% margin of victory was decisive, British leaders have promised to listen to the 1.6 million who voted for independence.
After the referendum, Salmond announced he would resign both as SNP party leader and as first minister. Nicola Sturgeon succeeded Salmond in both roles. She was officially elected first minister on Nov. 19, 2014, and assumed office the following day.