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Scotland showing regions and island areas, 1973-1996. Click on any blue name for the article about the area.
Scotland is one of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom. It was historically an entirely separate kingdom, but became more closely linked with England when the crowns of the two countries were united under James I in 1603. It retained its own parliament and government until the Act of Union in 1707 formed the Kingdom of Great Britain. It always had a separate legal system and other institutions, and since 1999 it has had its own devolved parliament and its own Government.

On 18 September 2014 the people of Scotland voted in a referendum to remain part of the United Kingdom.


Scotland's religious history is different from that of England. The national church, the Church of Scotland, is presbyterian, and does not have bishops, unlike the Scottish Episcopal Church, which is part of the Anglican Communion. The Roman Catholic Church is strong in certain areas.

Local government

Local government in Scotland has been reorganised a number of times (1890, 1929, 1947, 1975, 1996). Historically there were about 33 counties. Currently there are 32 council areas (including three island areas).

There are a single national police service (Police Scotland) and a single national fire service; until March 2013 the police and fire services were organised within eight areas corresponding to the pre-1996 regions.

The map shows the pre-1996 regions and island areas, which are the most convenient to display at this scale.

The current local government areas may be grouped by (former) region as follows:

LGBT issues

Scotland was excluded from the Sexual Offences Act 1967 which partially legalised homosexuality in England and Wales; decriminalisation happened with the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980. See age of consent for progress since then.

Since devolution, Scotland has on some issues been ahead of the rest of the United Kingdom. For instance Patrick Harvie MSP proposed civil partnerships originally for Scotland alone (but this was in the end achieved by UK-wide legislation). In mid-2012 there seemed a real possibility that equal marriage would be achieved first in Scotland, but this turned out not to be the case: equal marriage was introduced by the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 which came into force on 16 December 2014. See Marriage equality (Scotland).

Trans issues polarised

The Scottish National Party together with the Green Party want to simplify and speed up the existing process by which people can obtain a gender recognition certificate - the legal recognition of a trans person's "acquired" gender- by endorsing self-identification by people who want to change gender. The Scottish government proposal would see applications handled by the Registrar General for Scotland, rather than the UK panel. No diagnosis or medical reports would be required, and the period in which applicants need to have lived in their acquired gender would be cut to three months. The Scottish government has held two consultations on its plans, which between them attracted more than 30,000 responses. Responses were fairly polarised between the two sides, one "area of shared concern" was identified - that the debate around the issue had become "toxic" and was "underpinned by a social media culture in which people are being bullied and harassed by those taking a different view" [1].

In 2022 the Scottish Parliament passed legislation allowing self identification for anyone aged 16 years or over [2]. However the UK government blocked the legislation as clashing with the Equality Act 2010. In December 2023 Judges ruled that the UK government acted lawfully in blocking Scotland's gender self-ID reforms [3]. The Scottish government dropped their attempts to challenge this ruling in December 2023 [4].

The Green Party and the SNP ended their power-sharing agreement in April 2024. One of the issues they split on was the Scottish government decision, following the report by Dr Hilary Cass, to stop prescriptions of puberty blockers drugs to children.

LGBT organisations

Scotland has long had its own LGBT organisations, separate from those in England or Wales, including:

In September 2015, the Equality Network hosted the first Scottish LGBTI Awards.


Pride festivals have been held as follows:

Resources for LGBT history

  • BBC accessed 3 March 2022
  • The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill was backed by MSPs from all parties, passing by 86 votes to 39 following heated debates. Those opposed to the changes have warned they could risk the safety of women and girls in same-sex spaces such as hospital wards and refuges. Supporters argued it would make the process of obtaining a gender recognition certificate easier and less traumatic for trans people. The legislation would remove the need for trans people to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria by a doctor before they are allowed to change their legally-recognised sex in Scotland, and would lower the age that someone can apply for a GRC from 18 to 16. The period in which applicants would need to have lived in their acquired gender would be cut from two years to three months
  • accessed 16 Dec 2023
  • Scottish government abandons court case over gender law veto