Scottish political culture adhered to a form of universalism from the Enlightenment until quite recently. In that sense, it denied its own distinctiveness, asserting as part of the very definition of the nation that national distinctiveness ought to be subsumed into liberal principles that are applicable everywhere and at all times. These universalistic ideas changed as society changed, and became more truly universal with the advent of universal democracy and the end of Empire. They are one reason why Scotland remained attached to the British union, and indeed Britain itself came to embody the concept of universalism from the middle of the eighteenth century until well after the middle of the twentieth. Recent Scottish political assertion has, however, moved away from this self-confident universalism. The article discusses the implications for the current debate about Scottish independence of both the longer history and the recent change.