All of the articles out there that point out that Scotland isn't a country also tend to point out that England, Northern Ireland and Wales aren't countries either. Yet nobody from those places nor with ancestry from those places seems perturbed by this. Only on the Scotland portion of the issue do people suffer from some form of fact-impervious mind-melt that precludes all reason on the issue.
In the case of the Scots I imagine some sense of shame over the region's domination by England, combined with the contrasting (largely) successful revolt of the Irish to create the Republic, and perhaps one too many viewings of Braveheart, have combined to make this a very touchy subject. A lot of Scots or people claiming some ancestry (in the latter case this is a bad joke; you're completely American culturally) have stated in comments on this blog and in other forums that Scotland "is a country in their heart" and for some reason the rest of us need to recognize that officially as reality, and I need to accept that as a quiz answer.
Among other problems, this leads to people claiming that Altoona "is the capital of Pennsylvania in my heart" and so forth, and would pretty much be the end of any and all trivia games anywhere.
One poor delusional fellow writing in from Scotland - who maintains a Scottish nationalist blog with what appears to be an, um, interesting version of history - spent about 7 weeks trying to sell me on the idea that the United Kingdom never existed/doesn't exist as a country, a "delusion" that I have because I'm an ignorant American who doesn't understand the political culture. At this point I had to wade into the literature and found out pretty quickly exactly what one would expect - that even the devolved Scottish Parliament recognizes the supremacy of the Westminster Parliament and agrees that they are now, have been and for the forseeable future will be a province-style chunk of the UK, with local government powers akin to those the Tenth Amendment cedes to US states.
Interestingly I've asked him or any other Scottish resident - that is to say a UK citizen who lives in Scotland, much the same as an American citizen who resides in Nebraska - to produce any form of document that makes even an informal reference to the "Country of Scotland", in the same way that a driver's license or birth certificate would read "State of New Jersey." A lifelong resident of the place, he admits he couldn't come up with one. Not one. Not a single instance of the Scottish political entity itself using the word "country."
For some reason, this hasn't shut people up either. I've gotten emails, I get blog posts, I had one person come up to me with computer print outs of internet pages (which after a very quick review, using basic reading comprehension skills, actually bolstered my arguments...)
The UK has no formal constitution as such that would lay out "The UK is comprised of nouns we offically call _________s ...", so this seemed like giving him a sporting chance, since he was pretty civil if also arguing some fairly bizarre lines of argument. From there I expected to enter into an argument over the difference between what Scotland means by "country" in context and what "country" means in an international context, akin to how Vermont is not the equal of Belgium even though in some context in certain usages both are sometimes called "states."
So far as I was concerned, the inability of the other side of the argument to produce threads of evidence to even get that far should have killed the debate dead.
What you have in a lot of cases are dictionaries and encyclopedia entries - not all but a few, and that's all it takes when Googling a phrase you'd like to read - that make a quick reference to Scotland and/or the other UK parts as "countries." Some of these are even written in the US, and none of them I'm abundantly sure were written by poli sci people. This is what I get triumphantly quoted at me by people who think that 10 seconds of selective Googling an educated response makes. More on this below.
In the case of Americans who've been arguing that Scotland is a country who don't seem to have an ethnic ax to grind on the issue, the trend has been far more disturbing. There's a rabidly anti-intellectual angle to both the tone and content of the arguments from some people that I've likened to Idiocracy, to creationists, to the Obama birthers, to the 9/11 truthers.
The facts simply don't matter. A person can Google "Scotland + country", find any sentence with the two together, then post this as a logical "proof." Any attempt to point out how many of these references are flat out incorrect, or need to be interpreted in context, is dismissed out of hand as me "talking like a fag" to use the Idiocracy term. The "common folk" call Scotland a country, and the anonymous person who updated the Wikipedia entry on Scotland, and an intern over at infoplease.com who condensed an article on Scotland used the word "country", thus I am both wrong and a pompous ass for suggesting anything else can be true.
I've also been hit with the (unstated) postmodernist argument that Scotland is a country because the hearer of the question believes that to be true, either because the listener determines the reality of what I meant when I used the word, or because the reality of what countries are is determined by the listener. Why even have a quiz, then? Why even go on living, in your world without sanity?
The fact that I have a political science degree from a top school, the fact that I worked for the US Department of State for a short time, the fact that I spent a year and half heading a geographic encyclopedia project, the fact that I spent 7 years working for a UN-registered geography teaching NGO as the head of the Research Department - are these points in my favor? Certainly not!
These only serve to make people angrier with me, because as a college boy with my fancy book-learnin', I refuse to see the simple truths perceived by the common people when they read a quick dictionary defintion, or any other line, out of context. Or add their own context, because what any of us thinks is presumably equally valid as anyone else. (Not my thoughts, though, because I have formal experience in the area; this only works in one direction.)
In fact HOW DARE I even mention the fact that I spent about 14 years of academic study and professional, compensated work days dealing with precisely these issues. This is the homeopath's retort to the (normal, effective) doctor, and the creationist's answer to the biologist: your experience and education is an active negative, because I have Google and basic reading (if shaky comprehension) skills. A degree is a liar's license, and professional experience counts for less than shit.
Thus I also hear that "we're both right", which is precisely to say that the people insisting on one objectively correct answer are wrong.
The frightening bit is that everyone insisting that Scotland is a country also insists that it's my responsibilty to prove that it is not, thus reversing the Enlightenment. Somehow we now believe that burden of proof is on the the person refuting a positive assertion without supporting evidence. "Salem Witch Trials, here we come!" Argument from ignorance is the order of the day, dominating most aspects of American debated life and "winning" more often than not, and we should believe anything we'd like to be true in the meantime, while the egghead fag-talkers attempt to prove a negative.
Repeatedly people will introduce a reference which specifically backs up my argument, but because they have poor reading comprehension or because they read selectively, this somehow simply doesn't matter.
Facts simply don't matter to the majority. Most people can't determine the difference between a fact and a fallacy, and as long as this condition doesn't confront them with ugly truths, are content to live that way.
My "favorite" few proofs for Scotland = country thus far:
- Showing me an article written by a poli sci professor which lays out some ways we could define a "country." Some of the items lend some support to a Scotland bid (most didn't). The word "Scotland" did not appear in the document. This of course was one poli sci professor; all of the other ones who would lay out some other criteria for countries - as well as the objective reality of the international community of nations - are to be ignored. The kicker: this guy had a link to a commonly accepted list of the world's countries. The UK was on the list and Scotland predictably wasn't. Somehow this was not acceptable as a point in my favor.
- There are a lot of dictionary definitions for the word "country", thus when I ask a trivia question asking for "countries", I should accept the answers the listener thinks I meant, regardless of the context of the question and all other answers to that or similar questions. Hand in hand with this, it's perfectly OK to switch out different numbered definitions of one word in a sentence occuring once, regardless of context. Presumably then Red Sox fans, as a "nation", are a country the way that France is. Amish Country is a similar unit to Bolivia. Delaware, as a "state", is a like unit to Canada. [My eventual counterargument to this is to ask if a cop knocks on your door and says "We think your 6 year old son may have a gun!", should we take this as granting permission? Think that'd hold up in court..?]
- The UK doesn't exist as a country, because if Scotland left then the Kingdom wouldn't be United any longer. [Wales? Northern Ireland..? What about them..?] Thus the UK - which simultaneously doesn't exist - is a larger entity than country, and Scotland is a country inside of it. Except when it isn't inside of it, because it never was part of the UK to begin with.
- "Assume nothing." Except, apparently, to assume that you're correct and I'm wrong.
- Showing me a section of a Googled 1930 [?! - this was the best we could do?] US customs training document which noted that someone might list "Scotland" as a country of origin for goods. And it's true, they might. [A person might also answer "Yes" to Sex? ______ on a job application...] The document went on to say paragraphs later that "Great Britain" or "UK" might also be listed, and to treat all as "UK." But we ignore these bits.
- The dictionary-definition crowd will use an edition of a dictionary that refers to Scotland as a country en passant, but this edition won't have that definition for Wales, while simultaneously claiming in a separate entry that the UK is "four countries", including Wales, also deemed correct. Thus if Wales is a region on one page of the book, but a country on another page of the same book, they'll go with the second if that supports the Scotland argument. If neither Wales nor Scotland are called countries in that dictionary, we drop it and pick up a different one with "more favorable" definitions. The UK is usually also claimed to be a country, meaning that the UK can be defined as 1, 2, 3, 4 or FIVE countries, simultaneously, depending on which combination of definitions in which dictionaries one chooses to use at the moment. For some reason it's perfectly OK to mix editions, mix publishers, mix British and American publications... just to keep moving, just to keep the argument "in play." When I point out that varying definitions are clearly a reason the dictionary is the wrong tool to use for this, and this is clearly not what the UN (for example) is using, I am ignored. When I point out most of the world doesn't speak English, I am ignored. When I bring up my educational background in this and suggest using a comparative politics method instead of abusing dictionary.com, I am accused of using an appeal to authority argument - which is exactly what is used when claiming that condensed dictionary writers are infallible in all matters... even when they contradict themselves from one portion of a book to another.
- 2+2 = 4 [which is somehow its own formal math proof now?!], thus 2+2 can't equal 5 [I'm pretty sure a math professor would not follow this path]. Thus 2+2 =4 means that an infinite number of negatives were just formally proven, thus it's possible to prove a negative, and I have the burden of proof to refute the non-documented assertion that Scotland is a country. And until I do that, Scotland is a country.
- Showing me an OED reference that called Scotland a "country in the UK." The same sentence listed "Ireland" as a country in the UK, which is plainly wrong. The claim was then that the word "Ireland" actually just means "Northern Ireland." (I assume that this was a very old and/or biased reference; I wasn't shown the original nor given a date.) And what was the "proof" that the word "Ireland" is used by British people only to mean "Northern Ireland"? Some quoted chat room discussion from Britain in which some Brits noted that they hated it when people say "Ireland" just to mean the north. Thus the chat room discussion proves that sometimes Brits are wrong about what to call Northern Ireland, as was the person who wrote the OED entry, which therefore proves the same author who goofed on Ireland was therefore right about Scotland. This might be the most tortured argument I've ever encountered on any subject, and I still have trouble trying to understand how these steps connect in any fashion.
It's all very simple, don't you see?