November 24, 2020 – Scotland Becomes First Country to Make Period Products Free for Women

Young Scot (the national youth information and citizenship charity for 11-26 year olds in Scotland) worked with the Scottish Government to survey young people about their views on accessing sanitary products.

The survey, completed in 2018, found that around a quarter of respondents in secondary school, college or university (26%) as well as those not in education (24%) said they had struggled to access sanitary products in the previous year. 61% of respondents not in education who reported struggling to access products said that this was because they couldn’t afford to buy sanitary products. (You can see the results of the survey here.)

On this day in history, November 24, 2020, the Scottish Parliament unanimously approved a bill making Scotland the first country to allow free access to period products. As a result of the legislation, menstrual products like tampons and pads would become be available to access free of charge in schools, universities, and other public buildings.

Activists rally outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh in February in support of legislation for free period products.
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The BBC reported that the bill was introduced by Labour MSP Monica Lennon. She had been campaigning to end period poverty since 2016. She said it was a “practical and progressive” piece of legislation made all the more vital because of the coronavirus pandemic.

October 22, 2003 – Dog Fouling (Scotland) Act 2003 Comes Into Force

In January, 2021 the UK Guardian reported that there were an estimated 9 million dogs in the UK each producing about 340g of waste a day – or slightly more than 3,000 tonnes between them. The paper observed: “The issue is of more than merely scatological interest.” Dog poop, they note, is full of viruses and bacteria, and moreover, arouses the ire of those who unfortunately step on it while out and about.

In Scotland, approximately 24% of households have dogs. A Highland Council Press release stated:

Almost 7 in 10 people rated dog mess as the item on our streets, parks and beaches that bothered them most; that is the finding of recent research into public attitudes to littering carried out by Keep Scotland Beautiful. . . “

The UK as a whole has taken a number of legal measures to alleviate the situation.

The Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act 1996 was an act of the UK Parliament which created a criminal offense if a dog defecated at any time on designated land and the person in charge of the dog at that time failed to remove the feces from the land.

Poster created by Keep Scotland Beautiful

It was repealed by Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 section 65, and replaced by similar legislation in the same act. But the act applied only in England and Wales. The situation was not regulated in Scotland until the passing of the Dog Fouling (Scotland) Act 2003.

The Dog Fouling (Scotland) Act 2003 repealed the dog fouling provisions of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, changing the emphasis of the offense from allowing a dog to foul in any public place to failing to clean up after it. It also introduced additional enforcement provisions to allow officers of local authorities and the police the option of issuing fixed penalty notices to those persons they believe have committed an offense. The full text of the act is here.

In 2016 the fixed penalty for leaving dog fouling was increased to £80, and can in some cases lead to conviction and a fine of up to £500.

Sign in Brora, Scotland

May 15, 2011 – Church of Scotland Admits it Persecuted Travelling Community

The Scottish Travelling community has been a part of Scotland since at least the 12th Century. It arose from Scottish workers who wandered the country taking seasonal farming jobs and providing goods and services, especially as tinsmiths and peddlers. In spite of their Scottish origins, they were and still are looked upon as outsiders.

Although there are no official figures on the number of Gypsy Travellers in Scotland, numbers are estimated at between 15- 20,000 people, or less than 0.5 per cent of the Scottish population. The 2011 census revealed that Scotland was the most common country of birth for Gypsy/Travellers in 2011 (76 per cent), followed by England (11 per cent).

Source: Scottish Government Report

A Fact Sheet for journalists points out:

Despite these relatively small numbers, there is significant coverage of this group of people in the media. A recent study by Amnesty International shows that a disproportionate amount of that coverage is negative.”

A report issued on this date in history by the Church of Scotland allowed:

The Travelling Community has historically suffered much discrimination. For example, in 1533 King James V issued a decree banning gypsies from Scotland saying they should ‘depart forth of this realme with their wifis, bairns and companies.’ Discrimination has continued and even intensified in the succeeding centuries as access to land for temporary sites has been more and more tightly restricted and legislation impacting on Travellers more rigorously enforced.”

In its 2011 report, the church made a public statement admitting its complicity in the persecution of Travellers and in forcibly removing children from Traveller families and sending them abroad. Church ministers were even present sometimes when youngsters were forcibly taken from their families and sent to Australia and Canada during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

But it proposed an excuse:

With hindsight, we can regard with regret some of the attitudes which the Churches have displayed towards the Travelling Community and, when it occurred, deplore their historic failure to stand alongside a minority group facing discrimination and even persecution. However, it should be acknowledged that proposals . . . were made in the belief, at the time, that they would bring benefit both to the Travelling Community and to wider society.”

In recent times, the Human Rights Act of 1998 and the Equality Act 2010 have recognized Travellers as an ethnic group which provides them with greater protection against discrimination. Nevertheless, many Travellers report continued biases affecting them in such areas as housing facilities, education, healthcare, and legislative representation. The BBC reported in 2017 that discrimination against Travellers in Scotland has become the last form of “acceptable racism.”

The Scottish Parliament focused on the issue of Traveller discrimination for Human Rights Day 2017. It admitted that research showed “entrenched and stubbornly high levels of discrimination” against the community. A recent Scottish Social Attitudes survey found 34% of people in Scotland believed a Gypsy/Traveller was “unsuitable” to be a primary school teacher, and 31% would be unhappy if a close relative married a Gypsy/Traveller.

Davie Donaldson, a young campaigner for Travellers rights, argued that people in the “settled community” needed to be more willing to meet Travellers: “We are the same as everyone else. We may have a unique culture but we have always been here. We are rooted here the same as everyone else. We are your fellow man.”

Davie Donaldson is a campaigner for Travellers rights

A Scottish government spokesman said: “We recognise that Gypsy/Travellers are among the most disenfranchised and discriminated against in society, which is why we are determined to do all we can to remove barriers to achieving equality. . . . “

To that end, the Scottish government published “A Fairer Scotland for All: Race Equality Action Plan 2017-2021” on December 11, 2017. You can access it here.

July 27 – National Scotch Day & The Laws Relating to Scotch Whisky

A “National Scotch Day” in America seems like a contradiction in terms, but this “holiday” is more about drinking Scotch than making it.

Technically, by law, whisky can only be called “Scotch” if it is distilled in Scotland according to a specific set of rules. [It is generally spelled “whiskey”— with an e — if it is made in the United States and Ireland. It is spelled “whisky” — without the e — if made in Scotland.]

According to the UK website “Metro,” the difference in the spelling comes from differences in the Scottish and Irish Gaelic forms. The Scots spell it whisky and the Irish spell it whiskey, with an extra ‘e’. This difference in the spelling comes from the translations of the word from the Scottish and Irish Gaelic forms. Whiskey with the extra ‘e’ is also used when referring to American whiskies. This ‘e’ was taken to the United States by the Irish immigrants in the 1700s and has been used ever since.


However, this doesn’t mean that single malt whisky can’t be made anywhere else, nor that it can’t “compete” against Scottish Scotch in international tasting tastes. Indeed, to the consternation of Scots, in 2014 a leading whisky critic ranked a Japanese single malt as No. 1. The Washington Post reported that Jim Murray awarded “World Whiskey of the Year” to the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013, giving it a score of 97.5 out of 100. According to the Post, Murray “described it as a drink of ‘near incredible genius’ with a taste ‘thick, dry, as rounded as a snooker ball.’”


Similarly, Murray praised the 2018 “World’s Best Single Malt,” The Hakushu Single Malt Whisky aged 25 years, also from Japan, as “a malt which is impossible not to be blown away by.” Japan even came in first in the “Best Blended Malt” category, with its Taketsuru 17-Year-Old whiskey.

The New York Times explains the difference between single malt and blended whisky:

“Single malt is simply whisky made from only water and malted barley at a single distillery. In Scotland, single malts are distinguished from blended Scotch, the province of familiar names like Johnnie Walker, Dewar’s and Chivas Regal, which are a blend of one or more single malts with whiskies distilled from other grains. Another category, blended malt Scotch, which used to be called vatted malts, is a blend of two or more single malts.”

Yamazaki, the maker of the winning single malt whiskey in 2014, is Japan’s oldest distillery, founded in 1923 and now owned by Suntory, the world’s third-largest distiller that also bought Jim Beam. Making matters worse, the Post cited Ron Taylor, a Scottish spirit judge who claims to be a “nonpartisan” drinker, as saying that it’s no surprise a Japanese whiskey won. Comparing the whiskeys of the two countries to cars, he says Japanese single malts are like a Lexus: “beautifully crafted, no vibration, smooth, consistent and always pleasant.” Think of Scottish whiskeys, on the other hand, like Maseratis: “They’ll knock you around and slap you around the face a little bit.”

So if these Japanese malts keep winning, why can’t they be called “scotches”?

This definition is not only traditional, it is enshrined by law. Laws regulating scotch whisky have been on the books in the U.K. since 1909 and recognized in the European Union since 1989. The Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 expanded the scope of previous legislation from not only governing the way in which Scotch Whisky must be produced, but how Scotch Whiskies must be labelled, packaged and advertised, as well as requiring Single Malt Scotch Whisky to be wholly matured and bottled in Scotland.

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 6.13.24 AM

(Note: This flow chart is very basic and doesn’t show all possible categories of scotches. There is also a difference among aficionados, for example, between single cask whiskies and cask strength whiskies. You can read more about the distinctions here.)

Furthermore, the law goes the other way as well, providing that “The only type of whisky which may be produced in Scotland is Scotch Whisky.” (There are a number of other complex requirements; you can read them here.) An amendment just added in 2019 expanded the range of casks permitted to be used to mature scotch.

The regulations also specify other differences between whiskeys make in Scotland and elsewhere, including the size and shape of distilleries, the use of peat in Scotland to dry the malted barley, the use of barley itself and the “terroir” itself in which the barley grows. (“Terroir” is the set of all environmental factors that affect a crop’s qualities, and that lend it its character, from type of soil to water conditions, etc. Even water alone can affect taste, which is why New York claims its bagels are different from all other bagels.)

If you read a lot of detective books, you will no doubt be familiar with one of the most famous of Scotch whiskys, Laphroaig (pronounced ‘La-froyg’, from a Gaelic word meaning “the beautiful hollow by the broad bay.”) Laphroaig is made on the remote island of Islay in the Western Isles of Scotland, where the distinctive peat is said to give Laphroaig its rich flavor.

starwars pic from

starwars pic from

This single malt is a favorite of Peter Robinson’s Yorkshire Inspector Alan Banks, Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh detective John Rebus, and even Barry Eisler’s free-lance hit-man John Rain. Other whiskeys also soak the pages of fiction, from Loch Lomond, the Scotch whisky consumed by Captain Haddock in Hergé’s famous comic book series The Adventures of Tintin, to the many brands of scotch (mostly American) consumed by James Bond, to even a fictional scotch you will see in the movie Pulp Fiction, in which the character played by John Travolta drinks a creation by the director, McCleary Blended Scotch Whisky.


So how to “celebrate” National Scotch Day? I’m not much of a scotch drinker – okay, I think it tastes like face cleaner, not that I would know, but anyway, but I have had Scotch Fudge. I was afraid to try it at first, but the word “fudge” won me over, and I found it is very good indeed, and a perfect way to mark the day!

There are a number of recipes you can find on google – this one seems good.


You can also buy it online already made, such as this tin of scotch fudge from Edradour. Edradour is the smallest traditional distillery in Scotland, dating back to 1825. You can read more about this distillery here.


Happy National Scotch Day!!

Book Review of “Scotland” The Story of a Nation” by Magnus Magnusson

Each chapter in this somewhat quirky history is preceded by a summary of the events to be discussed as they were described by Walter Scott (1771- 1832) in Tales of a Grandfather. As explained by the Walter Scott Digital Archive of Edinburgh University Library:

While putting the finishing touches to his Life of Napoleon in May 1827, Scott had the idea of writing a History of Scotland addressed to his six-year-old grandchild . . . The project was partly inspired by the success of John Wilson Croker’s Stories Selected from the History as England (1822), but Scott felt that Croker underestimated the intelligence of his juvenile audience. Children, Scott believed, disliked books ‘written down’ to their level, preferring a challenge to their understanding and curiosity. He hoped to cater, moreover, for both a juvenile and a popular audience and thus to find a way ‘between what a child can comprehend and what shall not yet be absolutely uninteresting to the grown reader’ (Journal, July 8, 1827).”

It’s also a history that includes extensive detail only up until the Battle of Culloden. With the end of the Jacobite Movement, there is only one more chapter covering the period after 1746, which is mostly about the personal history of Sir Walter Scott. A short Epilogue takes us to the 1990s. But Magnusson seemed to be “finished” even before the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie; clearly the author lost heart for the story of Scotland with the Act of Union in 1707 and “the end of an auld sang.”


Thus, most of the book is focused on warriors and royalty of old. Those looking for information on the cultural advances that followed Culloden and about the great Scottish Enlightenment should look elsewhere; there is practically nothing on it in this book. On the other hand, if you want to know how punitive the English were toward the Scots throughout the history of the two countries, this is a great place to begin. You also get a large dose of how rough the austere Protestant fundamentalists were on their own people in Scotland. In fact, this is not a book at all about religious toleration or Christian mercy; religious realism, one might say, is more like it.

The author served at one time as Chair of the Ancient Monuments Board for Scotland, and so peppers his history with tidbits about where to find markers today commemorating some of the historical events he describes. Additionally, there is a chronology at the end of the book as well as a list of Kings and Queens of Scotland.


Evaluation: This is an entertaining book, often reading more like a television history broadcast than a standard history, with elements of a travelogue. The addition of passages from Tales of a Grandfather is very illuminating. It is rather heavy on battles though, and I wish the author had added more information on what happened after Culloden. On the other hand, it already weighs in at 700 pages.

A number of maps and pictures are included.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by HarperCollins, 2000

December 16, 1653 – Oliver Cromwell Becomes Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland

On this day in history, Oliver Cromwell was named Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. Unfortunately for Catholics and especially the Irish, he only considered himself Lord Protector of the Protestants.

Portrait of Cromwell by Samuel Cooper, 1656

Portrait of Cromwell by Samuel Cooper, 1656

Cromwell had been one of the signatories of King Charles I’s death warrant in 1649, and, as a member of the Rump Parliament (1649–53), dominated the short-lived Commonwealth of England. (The “Rump Parliament” was the name for what was left of the English Parliament after it was purged of members hostile to the actions taken against the King.)

Cromwell commanded the English campaign in Ireland in 1649–50, and oversaw a series of “Penal Laws” passed against Roman Catholics (a significant minority in England and Scotland but the vast majority in Ireland). These harsh laws stipulated that Catholics could neither teach their children nor send them abroad; persons of property could not enter into mixed marriages; Catholic property was inherited equally among the sons unless one was a Protestant, in which case he received all; a Catholic could not possess arms or a horse worth more than £5; Catholics could not hold leases for more than 31 years, and they could not make a profit greater than a third of their rent. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church was banished or suppressed, and Catholics could not hold seats in the Irish Parliament (1692), hold public office, vote (1727), or practice law. Cases against Catholics were tried without juries, and bounties were given to informers against them. (You can read more about the penal laws in A History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century by W.E.H. Lecky summarized here.)


In addition, while in Ireland, Cromwell not only confiscated a significant amount of land owned by Catholics, but also he also made a point of destroying only half of towers, castles and churches, so that inhabitants could see, and be reminded of, what happens if Cromwell didn’t like you.


After Cromwell’s death in 1658 he was buried in Westminster Abbey, but when the Royalists returned to power in 1660 they had his corpse dug up, hung in chains, and beheaded. Considering the miseries he inflicted on the Catholics in Ireland, it was probably too good a fate. Needless to say, Cromwell remains an unpopular figure in Ireland to this day.

Statue of Oliver Cromwell outside the Palace of Westminster. It is in front of Westminster Hall.

Statue of Oliver Cromwell outside the Palace of Westminster. It is in front of Westminster Hall.

May 1, 1707 – Scotland Enters a Political Union With the Kingdom of England, Creating the Kingdom of Great Britain

On this day in history, as a result of the 1706 Treaty of Union, the Kingdom of Scotland joined the Kingdom of England (which included Wales), to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. (Great Britain added the Kingdom of Ireland to its domain in 1801.)


There was widespread opposition to union among Scots, but proponents believed that failure to agree to the treaty would result in something worse; indeed, English troops were stationed just south of the border and in Ireland as an “encouragement.” Also, significant financial payments were allegedly made to Scottish parliamentarians.

Queen Anne (already Queen of both England and Scotland) formally became the first occupant of the unified British throne, with Scotland sending forty-five members to the new House of Commons of Great Britain, as well as representative peers to the House of Lords.

Although part of the UK’s constitutional monarchy, Scotland’s legal system has remained separate from that of England and Wales and Northern Ireland, and Scotland has its own judicial system. Unlike most western systems, courts can come back with a decision of guilty, not guilty, or not proved.


The continued existence of legal, educational and religious institutions distinct from those in the remainder of the UK have all contributed to the continuation of Scottish culture and national identity since 1707. In fact, many Scots have never given up on the idea of disunion. The introduction in 1989 by Margaret Thatcher’s government of a poll tax in Scotland one year before the rest of the United Kingdom added impetus to the growing movement for a return to direct Scottish control over domestic affairs.

In 1997, a referendum showed Scotland to be in favor of a separate parliament for Scotland with varying tax powers. In response, the Scotland Act was passed in 1998 by the United Kingdom Parliament to establish a devolved Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government with responsibility for most laws specific to Scotland. Nevertheless, the Act specifically declared the continued power of the UK Parliament to legislate with respect to Scotland, thereby upholding the concept of Westminster’s absolute Parliamentary sovereignty.

In May 2011, the Scottish National Party won an overall majority in parliament and scheduled a referendum on independence in September, 2014. The referendum question, which voters answered with “Yes” or “No”, was “Should Scotland be an independent country?” The “No” side won, with 2,001,926 (55.3%) voting against independence and 1,617,989 (44.7%) voting in favor. The turnout of 84.6% was the highest recorded for an election or referendum in the United Kingdom since the introduction of universal suffrage.


After Great Britain voted for “Brexit” to leave the European Union, Scotland once again began to talk about independence. Under the Scotland Act, Scotland must seek the approval of Westminster under a section 30 order to hold a referendum. So far that permission has not been forthcoming. As of February 2018, the 45% who voted to leave the UK have not wavered, with polls consistently showing a slight increase in those in favor of independence.

Independence supporters gather in George Square, Glasgow, in March 2017

The situation remains fluid and contentious. The UK Guardian covers updates on the situation, such as this article from April, 2021.

Scotland has a reputation for “quick tempers”; studies report Glasgow has more violent incidents per capita than Rio de Janeiro or New York City, although their murder rate is half that of New York City. Gun ownership is rare in Glasgow, so violence occurs face-to-face with knives and fists.

Thus it may seem odd that Scotland’s official animal is the symbol of grace, purity, healing and happiness: the unicorn. The unicorn has been a Scottish heraldic symbol since the 12th century, when it was used on an early form of the Scottish coat of arms by William I.

The Scottish Royal Arms featured two unicorns as shield supporters and after the union with England, in a gesture of unity, King James replaced the one on the left with the English lion. The symbolism was not only potent but portentous, since the lion and the unicorn had long been conceptualized as enemies, vying for the crown of king of beasts.

Royal Coat of Arms - England

Royal Coat of Arms – England

Today, the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland still has the English lion on the left and the Scottish unicorn on the right, and the Royal Coat of Arms for use in Scotland has them the other way round.

Royal Coat of Arms - Scotland

Royal Coat of Arms – Scotland

March 6, 1457 – James II Bans Golf and Football in Scotland

James II had become King in 1437 at age 6 following the assassination of his father. He had regents, however, who presumably prevented him from outlawing timeout chairs and other anathemas. But when he was 20, no one stopped him from outlawing golf and football. The country was under constant threat of invasion, and the King wanted males over age twelve to undergo military training, and to practice skills like archery. Instead, they preferred to chase balls around (and still do, it seems).

James II of Scotland

James II of Scotland

The 1457 ban was repeated in 1471 by James III and again in 1491 by James IV, so clearly it wasn’t obeyed or enforced effectively. When the ban was lifted in 1502 in Perth, the Kirk (church) continued to complain about it, because of playing on the Sabbath. King James VI decreed in 1618 that golf on the Sabbath was acceptable, so long as it was not played during the times of service, because Sunday was the only day the great mass of people would have free to play.

Golf in Scotland, with a mixed foursome

Golf in Scotland, with a mixed foursome