7 things associated with Scotland that aren't actually Scottish

CULTURAL items such as the kilt, whisky and haggis are instantly identifiable as icons of Scotland throughout the world. But just how many of these so-called Scottish icons have been appropriated from elsewhere? The answer may surprise you.

Monday, 20th November 2017, 3:05 pm
Updated Monday, 11th December 2017, 10:02 pm
Haggis, whisky and tartan; these are all Scottish, right? Picture: iStock

As much as it pains us to admit this, most of Scotland’s core cultural totems have been borrowed from elsewhere.

Bagpipes, kilts, tartan, whisky, even the very word ‘Scotland’, all of these things can trace their origins back to foreign shores.


Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

There is nary a town centre in Scotland where you won’t hear the skirl of the famous bagpipes. Over the centuries the sound produced by this most peculiar-looking musical instrument has come to aurally define us.

Delve into the annals of history and you’ll discover that the bagpipes go back to the very dawn of civilisation.

It is thought that they were first played by the ancient Egyptians before spreading across the Middle East and Mediterranean. The earliest versions of the instrument would have consisted of a set of reeds stuck in a bag made of goatskin.

Bagpipes first became popular in Scotland during the Middle Ages, centuries after they were invented.


The word kilt is thought to have been derived from the Old Norse word ‘kjalta’, relating to a material that is folded or tucked around the body, kind of like a toga.

Up until the 16th century, Highland Scots wore full-length versions called Feileadh Mòr (Gaelic for great plaid – plaid translating loosely as ‘woollen cloak’)

The kilt as worn at all manner of formal functions in Scotland today was invented, it is believed, by an Englishman, Thomas Rawlinson, a Quaker from Lancashire.

Rawlinson was working in Scotland in the iron smelting business and saw the need to develop a smaller version of the Feileadh Mòr that wouldn’t catch fire quite so readily, thus the fèileadh beag (the small kilt) was developed around 1720.

The kilt was famously banned in the wake of the Battle of Culloden, but became synonymous with Scotland when it was resurrected in 1822. King George IV kicked off its revival by wearing the garment on a historic visit north of the border.


Just like its best pal the kilt, tartan is also alien to Scotland. Many experts believe the word originates from the Middle French ‘tiretaine’, describing a woollen material of no particular pattern or colour.

Designs similar to those we would recognise today were first used in Ireland, while some say the first tartan goes back even further. Examples of a tartan of sorts was found covering mummified remains in the Xinjiang region of western China and they dated back to around 1500 BC.

Modern Clan tartans, which now exist for each and every Scottish surname, were first developed by the Victorians.

Read More

Read More
Myth buster: Was tartan really banned after Culloden?


It’s one of Scotland most valuable exports, contributing around £4 billion a year to the UK treasury, but whisky – our national drink - was originally an import.

The first documented record of whisky originates from Ireland. The Annals of Clonmacnoise dating back to the early 15th century, state “A.D. 1405. Richard Magrannell Chieftain of Moyntyreolas died at Christmas by taking a surfeit of aqua vitae. Mine author sayeth that it was not aqua vitae to him but aqua mortis.”

In Scotland there is no written record of whisky until 1494. The Exchequer Rolls of that year make mention of “eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vita”.

All that said, it’s probably fair to say alcohol was consumed fairly regularly in Scotland long before the tail end of the 1400s.


The Romans coined the word Scot to describe a tribe that sailed from Ireland to raid the British mainland. Over time, the Latin ‘Scoti’, was applied as the naming term for all Gaelic tribes and, eventually, the land north of the River Forth became known as Scotia.

St Andrew

Born in Galilee around 5 or 6 BC, our patron saint never even set foot in Scotland.

Legends state that relics of St Andrew, including a tooth, a kneecap, arm and finger bone, were brought to Scotland in the 8th century.

St Andrew was effectively ‘claimed’ by the Scots in the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, in a bid to gain favour from the Pope in Rome.

The X-shaped cross St Andrew was crucified upon provided the basis for the design of the Saltire flag.


We have our national poet to thank for our national dish.

A dish called ‘haggas’ was referred to in an English cookery text dating from 1615 – predating the dish’s popularity in Scotland by more than 150 years.

Scholars say that Robert Burns’ 1786 Address to the Haggis marks the moment the famous pudding became common fare among Scots.