Throughout Scotland, there's a mood of change in the air. "We call it post-Enlightenment excitement," one burly Scot told us. A big reason for this is that natives with Scottish blood are coming home from abroad, as there are far more opportunities here today than when they left to seek their fortunes elsewhere. This is true in spite of the downturn in the global economy. Fewer and fewer young people are leaving now, deciding instead to take their stand in their native land.
In the 19th century, Scotland sent its sons and daughters around the world to find a better life. It is estimated that today 20 million Scots -- four times the population of Scotland itself -- live outside the country. Fortunately, there is no need for such massive migration now. Today, even the population of the Highlands is the highest it's been in a century.
A lot of this increased optimism is generated by the prospect of eventual Scottish independence from England. Scotland has had its own Parliament since 1999. But even a Parliament of its own may not satisfy the rising tide of Scottish separatism. Under the present arrangement, the queen is still the head of state and the British prime minister the chief of government. At sporting events, Scots can be heard singing "Flower of Scotland" instead of "God Save the Queen."
"Scots are overlooked and condescended to by London's Anglocentric cultural elite," said James Kelman, author of How Late It Was, How Late, written in dense Glaswegian dialect. Polls show that many identify themselves as Scots first, Britons second. Young people, in particular, are drawn to the idea of independence. But a warning is sounded by Magnus Linklater, former editor of The Scotsman: "Scots like putting independence forward as an idea, but when confronted with the reality of it, they retreat."
Since the dawn of the millennium, a new morality seems to be sweeping the land. Blue laws are giving way, nightlife is looking up, and opportunities for enjoying Scotland's great outdoors are being vigorously developed, as ecotourism abounds.
Even more startling developments are on the way. Ever since Scots cloned a sheep, in 1997, scientists in Scotland are now asking, "What's next? Is human engineering really on the horizon?"