Five of Scotland's stereotypes: fact or fantasy?

Agence France-Presse

You might think you understand Scotland because you’ve seen Braveheart, but how much of your knowledge of the bonny land is just a stereotype?

Agence France-Presse |

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For all the great artists, philosophers and scientists that Scotland has produced over the centuries of its proud history, most stereotypes about Scots tend to involve kilts, ruddy complexions and whisky.

But are they true? Let’s look at five common clichés about Scots, as they prepare to vote in a historic independence referendum on Thursday:


Miserly Scots?

FALSE – The idea of a Scot enjoying a drink but being reluctant to pay for it is a persistent stereotype.

“Originally it reflected Scots’ poverty and then became complimentary, focusing on the fact that Scots are very good at money, good at business,” said Murray Pittock, a professor at the University of Glasgow.

Many studies have shown the penny-pinching reputation is way off, including a poll from last year found that found Scots on average give £365 (HK$4,595) a year to charity compared to £268 for wealthier Londoners.


Bad diets?

EXAGGERATED – Scottish cuisine includes many alternatives to the much-loved haggis – sheep’s stomach stuffed with meat and vegetables. But bad diets are a problem and alcohol consumption is high, compared to other parts of the United Kingdom.

“Is it true? In parts of Scotland yes, in particular in the wet parts of Scotland, in the west,” Pittock said.

The Scottish national health service said bad eating habits partly explain a life expectancy that is lower than in England and Wales – 76.5 years for a boy born in 2012 and 80.7 years for a girl.

Often held up as an example is fried food, including the notorious deep-fried Mars bar. Pittock said the gooey treat is “largely exaggerated” and “a bit of a legend”.


Hard to understand?

SOMETIMES – Heavily Scottish-accented English can be hard for an English person or foreigner to understand, but it shouldn’t be confused with Scottish Gaelic, a distinct Celtic language that is only spoken by a small minority.

“That tends to be post-1940 when you started to hear on national radio and later on TV, union leaders of the west of Scotland speaking with a thick accent,” Pittock said. “They were rather difficult for people in England to understand,”

The professor said Scottish speakers then were sometimes subtitled on television, but there is now greater pride in accents that people would have tried to tone down in the past. Additionally, accents across Britain are slowly becoming more uniform.


Patriotic Scots?

TRUE – A recent study found that 69 per cent of Scots feel “Scottish first” and 20 per cent feel “British first”. In comparison, the number of English people who feel “English first” is just 43 per cent.

“As a small country, a very marginal place in the European world geographically, Scotland has always had some strong form of patriotism,” Pittock said.

“The idea has a long heritage going back to the Middle Ages,” he added, pointing to the French proverb: “proud as a Scot.”

Some of the patriotism is associated with anti-Englishness.

As one Scottish comedian, Frankie Boyle, quipped: “In Scotland, we have mixed feelings about global warming, because we will get to sit on the mountains and watch the English drown.”



TRUE – Or at least it used to be. A woollen skirt woven with the family’s tartan pattern, kilts were the traditional attire for men from the Highlands since at least the 16th century and they are one of the most popular symbols of Scotland.

Kilts are rooted in history and are associated with patriotism as they were banned following the Jacobite uprising in the 18th century and only re-introduced in the army.

“Obviously, most Scots don’t wear kilts every day,” Pittock said, adding “Kilts, bagpipes, tartan are all rather kitsch interpretations of Scotland but people are embracing them, saying at least it is a visible brand”.

Asked what they wear underneath, if anything, Scottish men like to joke they have “the future of Scotland”. That can make something as simple as sitting down pretty complicated , as this video shows!