10 Turning Points in Scottish History

Are there any real turning points in history, or is it just one continuous story with a series of little diversions on the way? Historians debate these issues endlessly and never reach agreement. But here are ten points in time that genuinely contributed to making Scotland what it is today:

  • The end of the Ice Age (c. 7500 BC): Until the ice caps melted, there was no possibility of human settlement – there could be no Scotland. When the ice caps did melt, it was a very different place. Bits that were previously joined had become disjointed as sea levels increased. The Orkneys and Shetlands had become islands.

  • The Roman invasion (80 AD): Unlike the English, the Scots north of the River Forth withheld the Roman onslaughts, despite being slaughtered at the Battle of Mons Graupius in 84 AD. So, the Romans didn’t have the impact they had in England, but they did leave a couple walls and some handy roads. The Roman invasion encouraged the peoples of Scotland to band together, and that laid the foundation for the creation of petty kingdoms fixed on warrior rulers, which later grew in size.

  • The coming of Christianity (c. 390–450): The Romans introduced Christianity to the peoples of England and Ireland, but it was the Irish who introduced Christianity to the Scots through St. Patrick (God bless him), and, later, Columba and Ninian. But it was a Celtic Church with Celtic saints until after the Synod of Whitby in 664, when it became a Roman church.

  • The Battle of Dun Nechtain (Nechtansmere; 685): Some historians see this battle as one of the most decisive battles in Scottish history. King Bridei of the Picts halted the northward expansion of the Northumbrians, although they continued to dominate much of southern Scotland. Failure would have meant the end of any possibility of a Scottish nation because it would have been part of a greater Northumbria.

  • The kingship of Kenneth MacAlpin (c. 843–858): If you’re looking for the origins of the Scottish nation, you’ll probably find it here, where in 843, MacAlpin became king of most, but not all, of Scotland. His successors established a dynasty that would last to the 13th century, with a few interruptions along the way.

  • The Battle of Bannockburn (1314): The Battle of Bannockburn was the decisive battle in the struggle against English domination and secured the independence of the kingdom of Scotland. It didn’t mean the end of hostility between the two countries, but it put an end to the likelihood of Scotland being incorporated as a province in a greater England.

  • The Reformation: Scotland began the 16th century as a Catholic country and ended as a Protestant one. This amounted to a revolution in faith, but it took over a hundred years of fighting and bloodshed to establish Presbyterianism as the official religion of Scotland. When they spoke of ‘Blood of Christ’, they meant it literally!

  • The Treaty of Union (1707): This was one of the great defining moments in Scottish history, when the nation voluntarily gave up its independence to join in an incorporating union with the English. Sovereignty was lost, but the union allowed the Scottish economy to prosper and grow as it became part of the largest free-trade area in the world.

  • The steam engine (1765): James Watt’s invention of the steam engine was fundamental to industrialisation. His application of steam power to machinery transformed society in Scotland and the rest of the world and allowed for the early growth of the cotton industry and the emergence of the factory.

  • The formation of the Scottish Labour Party (1888): Keir Hardie, a miner and journalist, along with others fought a by-election at Mid-Lanark as an independent Labour candidate. He lost, but it led to the formation of the Scottish Labour Party, which became the forerunner of the modern Labour Party. In time, Hardie’s actions completely transformed the political landscape of Scotland and the rest of Britain.

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