On Monday, the day before my exam, I gave my students in Celts to Vikings a little lecture about the origins of Scotland. I find this instructive because Scotland is now full of nationalistic people who think there is something important and profound about being Scottish. Yet Scotland originated from a disparate group of peoples. The natives were people the Romans called the Picts, which just seems to be another version of the same word that gave us Britons. They spoke a Celtic language. Before the Romans they were already different from the wealthier and more commercial societies of the south, which is one reason the Romans decided to wall them off from the part of the island worth ruling rather than try to conquer them. By the time the Romans left they were even more different.
After the empire fell, the southern part of modern Scotland, up to Edinburgh, was ruled by Welsh kings and was culturally part of Britain. The north remained Pictish. The western isles were overrun by invaders from Ireland, who at the time were called Scots. They brought their language, Gaelic, with them, as well as their bards, stories, and music. The Highlanders of the western isles, considered by many people today to be the heart of Scotland, are Irish immigrants. Then the Anglo-Saxons came and overran much of southern Scotland, where their language became dominant. Then the Vikings, who conquered the northeast and settled heavily in the Shetland and Orkney islands and some coastal areas. And then the Normans, who were invited in by the Stuart kings after 1066 and supplied much of the Scottish leadership in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Nor is this division all ancient history. Scotland was divided by intense and bitter conflicts in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, many of them pitting conservative highlanders against the modernizing commercial elite of Glasgow and Edinburgh. And yet somehow, through some political alchemy, these elements fused enough to form a Scottish identity. The Scottish people have already partially seceded from Britain and may yet take themselves all the way out. I find this all bizarre, but then as I have said many times nationalism is something I simply don't understand.