Scotland is Not England

Scotland is not England. This is something that I hear is very important to keep in mind when visiting Scotland. There is actually a very specific hierarchy of how the various places within the United Kingdom are named.

Let’s start with the islands. The British Isles refers to the group of islands off the northwest coast of continental Europe, and includes the island of Great Britain, the island of Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, the Orkney Islands, the Shetland Islands, and many others. Geographically speaking, Ireland is not a part of Great Britain, although Scotland is.

The political designations are even more confusing. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (or as all the kids are saying these days, “the UK”) refers to the sovereign state composed of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Now here’s the tricky part: Great Britian, the island, includes England, Scotland, and Wales. Ireland, the island, has two countries occupying its landmass: Northern Ireland (as part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (a separate sovereign state entirely). Ireland is not England, or Great Britain. Northern Ireland is part of the UK, but not part of Great Britain. The Republic of Ireland is not part of either.

And this of course is ignoring the fact that there is a whole different set of names for each place in their respective local dialects: Scotland is Alba in Gaelic (and in fact, Gaelic is spelled Gàidhlig in, well, Gaelic), Ireland is Éire in Irish (which in turn is Gaeilge), and Wales is Cymru in Welsh (Cymraeg or y Gymraeg, your choice). There is some very fascinating history behind the different languages of the British Isles. There are also strong separatist or devolution political movements  in each of the different countries, seeking varying degrees of autonomy from the United Kingdom.

People are passionate about their homes. I can understand why Scots would take offense at being called English–it’s because they are not English. I would be offended if people persistently referred to all Americans as New Yorkers, wouldn’t you?


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