If one aspect of life in Scotland could have been designed specifically to confuse visitors to the country (and most of us who live here) it's our system of Bank, Local & Public Holidays. Actually, using the word "system" is already getting off on the wrong foot: what happens in Scotland is the outcome of the interaction of a number of different systems.
The current rules regarding Bank Holidays in the UK were set out in the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971. The Bank Holidays set out for Scotland were different from those set out for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. There have been some amendments since then, the most recent coming into effect with the addition of St Andrew's Day in 2007.
As things stand at present, there are nine legally recognised Bank Holidays in Scotland: 1 January (or next nearest weekday); 2 January (or first weekday after New Year's Day Holiday); Good Friday; Early May Bank Holiday (first Monday in May); Spring Bank Holiday (last Monday in May); Summer Bank Holiday (first Monday in August); St Andrew's Day (November 30 or next nearest weekday); Christmas Day (or next nearest weekday); Boxing Day (or next nearest weekday after Christmas).
So far, so straightforward. The first complication comes when you realise that since Easter 1996 banks operating in Scotland have harmonised the days they actually close with banks in England and Wales. In other words, though Scotland still has a separate set of Bank Holidays, all Scottish Banks adhere to English Bank Holidays (though as an added twist some additionally take some Local Holidays, see below). As a result, Scottish Banks are open on the Scottish Bank Holiday on 2 January, but are closed on Easter Monday, which is not a Scottish Bank Holiday. In the same spirit they stay open on the Scottish Bank Holiday on the first Monday in August, but close on the English Bank Holiday on the last Monday in August.
But things really get confusing when you find out that no-one else takes much notice of the legally recognised Scottish Bank Holidays either. Scotland has a strong tradition of Local Holidays, which are decided upon by the relevant local authority. These Local Holidays often vary from one local authority area to another: indeed this is partly their purpose, as traditionally Scots used Local Holidays to visit other parts of the country, where they provided a boost to trade.
The result is that in any given local authority area, schools and many employers are guided by a list of Public Holidays published by the local authority. Each of these lists combine some of the statutory Scottish Bank Holidays with some Local Holidays. It follows that the only sure way to find out which Public Holidays will actually apply in a given area in a particular year is to check with the relevant local authority. Most list the dates of Public Holidays in their areas on their websites, though not always where it's easy to find them.
To summarise all this, unless you are worried about banks, the only thing that matters are the dates listed as Public Holidays by each local authority for its area. Any Scottish Bank Holidays not included in the local authority list of Public Holidays will not apply in that local authority area, and most people in the area will ignore them.
To give an example of how the dates can vary from area to area, in 2008 Edinburgh listed ten Public Holidays: 1 January; 2 January; 21 March; 24 March; 21 April; 5 May; 19 May; 15 September; 25 December; 26 December. Glasgow, on the other hand, listed just nine Public Holidays in 2008. Their list differs from Edinburgh's by omitting 21 March, 21 April, 19 May, and 15 September, but including 26 May, 21 July, and 29 September.