GLASGOW, Scotland – The people of Scotland are deciding Thursday whether to end a partnership with the rest of the United Kingdom that has lasted more than 300 years. Here is a guide to Scotland as the historic vote nears.
WHAT IS SCOTLAND?
Scotland, with little more than 5 million people, is one of the oldest countries in the world, having been united as a single nation by King Kenneth MacAlpin in the year 843.
It remained an independent state for more than 800 years until the formation of Great Britain in 1707.
When England found itself at war with France in the early 18th century, fears that Scotland would side with the enemy prompted London to block trade and deprive Scots of property they owned south of the border unless they agreed to create a single country.
After much debate — and widespread Scottish hostility — both the Scottish and English parliaments were dissolved on May 1, 1707, and replaced with a new British one.
HOW IS SCOTLAND DIFFERENT FROM THE REST OF THE UNITED KINGDOM?
Scotland has its own legal system, and the national Church of Scotland was guaranteed under the Act of Union.
However, all monetary and finance matters are controlled by the government in London and the Bank of England, which was founded by Scotsman William Paterson in 1694.
DOESN'T SCOTLAND ALREADY HAVE ITS OWN PARLIAMENT?
A desire for more autonomy in Scotland led to Westminster holding a referendum in 1997 for the establishment of a devolved Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.
The idea was backed by 74.3 percent of the voters and in 1999 the parliament was opened for business by veteran politician Winnie Ewing, who chaired the first meeting, with the words: "The Scottish Parliament adjourned on the 25th day of March in the year 1707 is hereby reconvened."
Members of the Scottish Parliament can legislate on education, health spending, housing, tourism, transport and a few other areas; they have no control over immigration, defense, foreign policy, employment, trade, energy or the main levers of finance.
Most of the money used by the Scottish Parliament to finance public services comes from a grant allocated by the United Kingdom government.
WHAT ARE SCOTLAND'S ECONOMIC STRENGTHS?
The U.K. produces more than 75 percent of the European Union's offshore oil production, of which 90 percent is extracted from Scottish waters, according to the European Commission's Joint Research Centre. Based on 2012 figures, the Scottish government says this Scottish oil contributes around 24.4 billion pounds ($39.5 billion) to the U.K. economy.
In addition to oil, the Scottish government calculates the country could produce 25 percent of the EU's offshore wind and tidal energy and 10 percent of the EU's wave energy.
Scottish exports are worth around 100 billion pounds a year to the British Treasury, including more than 11 billion pounds from financial services, along with almost 9 billion pounds from food and drink, including whisky.
WHAT HAVE THE SCOTS GIVEN THE WORLD?
Scotland's influence has been out of proportion to its size.
The Declaration of Arbroath, asserting Scottish independence in 1320, influenced the American Declaration of Independence. A rare copy of the Scottish manuscript was given to the U.S. National Archives by the Scottish government in 2011 in appreciation of the U.S. Senate passing a resolution designating every April 6 as Tartan Day in the United States.
Over the centuries Scottish engineers, inventors, thinkers and business people helped create the modern world. James Watt helped develop the practical steam engine, Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, John Logie Baird pioneered television and Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.
It was Englishman Winston Churchill who said: "Of all the small nations on earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind."