IMMIGRATION to Scotland and the rest of the UK is often presented as a recent phenomenon, only becoming common after 1945 and then increasing after joining the European Union.

Some politicians and pundits would like to claim this was entirely unprecedented, that Scotland is not used to hosting migrant communities, but in fact it was home to migrants for centuries before the Irish immigration of the 19th century, the Windrush Generation and EU membership.

As far back as the medieval period, there was significant foreign settlement in Scotland. Much of western and northern Scotland was settled by Vikings in the eighth and ninth centuries.

The Western Isles and Caithness were owned by Norway until 1266, and Orkney until 1472. Norn, the Scandinavian language of Orkney, Caithness, and Shetland, only died out in the mid-19th century.

Further south, medieval Scotland was home to many settlers from northern France and the Low Countries. There were Normans living in Scotland as early as 1052 when knights were driven out of England and fled north, joining the court of Macbeth, then king of Scots.

In fact, many of Scotland’s most famous families, including the Stewarts, Cummings, Bruces, and Balliols, all originally came to Britain from northern France, either with William the Conqueror in 1066 or in the decades that followed.

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Many were brought to Scotland by David I, who had spent many years in England and at the Anglo-Norman court there in his role as Earl of Huntingdon before he became King of Scots in 1124.

The Flemish also came to Scotland, as hinted at by the continued presence of the surname Fleming among Scots today.

During his reign, David I undertook a transformation of Scotland’s urban centres, creating a system of burghs across the kingdom. Two of these, Berwick and St Andrews, were designed by one of his servants, Mainard the Fleming. Aberdeen, Dundee, and Inverkeithing were all home to foreign merchants, mostly from Germany and the Low Countries.

There were also visitors to medieval Scotland from much further afield. A troupe of Africans were at James IV’s court in 1505, performing a dance for the King on Shrove Tuesday. James took to the group’s African choreographer and drummer, giving him clothes, a horse and other gifts.

One of the women in the troupe was even the subject of a poem by the famous Scots makar William Dunbar, which describes her central role in a staged Tournament of The Black Knight and the Black Lady. Other Africans appeared at the royal court for the rest of the century.

From the 18th century onwards, Scotland’s involvement in the British Empire led to further migration, as people travelled from Britain’s colonies to its centre. Some would only settle for a short while, such as Tiyo Soga, a young Xhosa man who came to Scotland in the 1840s to train to be a priest.

He studied at Glasgow University and a theological college in Edinburgh, married a Scot, and then returned to South Africa to become the first black ordained priest there.

Glasgow was home to a large lascar community in the 19th century. Lascars were sailors, usually from India or south-east Asia, who worked on European ships. In 1895, there were over 8000 lascars in Glasgow, though many would come and go with the shipping. Others settled more permanently, like Ahmad Aziz, an Indian scholar living in Glasgow by the late 1800s.

The country’s part in the slave trade also saw enslaved people from Africa and Asia being brought to Scotland. In April 1773, the Glasgow Journal ran an advert for the recapture of an African man called Thomas Diddy who had fled the home of his enslaver, the merchant John Alston. Alston offered money for his arrest and threatened to sue anyone who helped hide Thomas or helped him escape.

Glasgow University’s Runaway Slaves in Britain project found 67 such adverts placed in Scottish newspapers between 1719 and 1779.

Some Scottish newspapers even carried adverts for the sale of enslaved people. In 1766, Peter Thomson, an Edinburgh auctioneer, posted an advert selling scientific equipment.

Almost as an afterthought, he added an enslaved “East Indian black boy, 16 years old. He can wait at table, and is very ready at learning any thing,”

Some of these enslaved people managed to win their freedom and build lives for themselves in Scotland. During his enslavement in Guyana, John Edmonstone accompanied the naturalist Charles Waterton on several scientific expeditions, during which he was taught the art of taxidermy.

After being brought to Scotland by his enslaver in 1817, he was freed, and by 1824 he was working for the University of Edinburgh’s zoological museum and offering private tuition in taxidermy. Among the students he taught was a young Charles Darwin, who would later put these skills to good use on his famous voyage on the Beagle.

A great many immigrants to Scotland in this period came from Ireland, due the Potato Famine and greater opportunities in Scotland. Much of this was to Glasgow, Greenock, and Paisley, but also further east to towns such as Dundee. By the middle of the 19th century, more than 7% of Scotland’s population was Irish-born.

Other communities came to Scotland as refugees. The late 19th century saw many eastern European immigrants come to Britain, particularly Jews fleeing pogroms in the Russian Empire. By 1901, almost a quarter of the foreign-born population of Scotland was made up of Russian Jews.

Another large community were Lithuanians, many of whom settled in Lanarkshire in the early 1890s to work the coalfields there, particularly in Coatbridge.

These stories show that Scotland has long been home to foreign visitors and migrant communities, both from Europe and far beyond, and including many other communities not mentioned, such as Italians, Poles, and Afro-Caribbeans.

The country has a centuries-long history of diversity and multiculturalism, no matter what some political figures and pundits may think.