Scottish country dancing derives from the rich history of country dancing popular at one time through much or Europe.
To understand where this form of dance, termed "Scottish Country Dancing" derives requires a review of the history of dance in France, and the British Isles beyond the scope of this simple article. While there is the possibility of academic dispute over the details of origins and influences (somewhat like a 'who influenced who'? question) it appears that country dancing was clearly present in Scotland during the seventeenth century.
Country dancing appears to have been prevalent throughout the British Isles. The form of dancing expression popular throughout Scotland, the jigs, reels, and hornpipes, were danced, it appears, by all levels of society. As the English Court's influences, the influence of "dancing masters", and even the influence of France later, developed the form of dance, unique characteristics began to develop such as forms of "progression", a means by which a dancing couple moves to a new location through each repetition of the dance allowing a social feel to the dance as dancers participate with differing couples through the dance. Ongoing developments saw unique elements develop and as this social form of dance gained popularity, it developed distinct characteristics in differing geographies as a result of differing influences.
Affluent society would frequent the elegant assembly halls and engage in social dancing, but so too did those less prosperous communities in the countryside engage in dance in less elegant surroundings. It appears that the Scots developed a love for dance - not just as a social vehicle, but for the enjoyment of the dance itself.
The Scots provided significant contributions to the form of the country dance. Various figures, or patterns of movement through a dance, can be attributed to Scottish origin, such as those known as "reels" for example. As well, the unique rhythm of music known as the strathspey is quite notably of Scottish origin and is generally considered to be unique to Scottish country dance.
Through the nineteenth century the country dances became less popular and more modern forms of dance began to prevail. While it is arguable that Scotland was unique in the extent to which the country dance form continued to exist, even here the popularity of the dance declined and the breadth of dances remembered, or danced regularly, dwindled.
In the years following the First World War there was a small revival of interest in the traditional dances of England and the Girl Guide Association was quick to utilize books published by the English Folk Dance and Song Society to facilitate the teaching of dances. Mrs. Stewart of Fasnacloich, the Guide Commissioner for Argyll, thought that it would be more appropriate for Guides in Scotland to learn Scottish Country Dances. She undertook to create a book of such dances, and in completing the necessary research was introduced to Miss Jean Milligan, a lecturer in physical education for the Jordanhill Teacher's Training College, Glasgow. Together, the two formed a society dedicated to "practise and preserve country dances as danced in Scotland; to collect old books and pictures illustrative of Scottish dances; and to publish from time to time descriptions of country dances, with diagrams and music in simple form at a moderate price."
This "Scottish Country Dance Society" was formed in November of 1923 with 27 people expressing interest. Today with ~170 Branches and 360 affiliated groups around the world and more than 14,000 members (and countless Scottish country dancers and groups who are not formally "members" of the society), this society (Now the "Royal Scottish Country Dance Society") has been a dominant force in the preservation and proliferation of Scottish Country Dance around the world.
Scotland Through Her Country Dances, G.S. Emmerson
The Manual of Scottish Country Dancing, The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society