Who has the ‘Freedom’ of Scotland’s cities?

World leaders, sports heroes, comedians and scientists have all been given Scotland’s biggest civic honour: The Freedom of the City, which dates back hundreds of years.

Former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev - pictured here with Ronald Reagan - given Freedom of Aberdeen in 1993


Former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev was given Freedom of the City of Aberdeen in 1993 and was said to have happily indulged in the city’s most traditional fare - the buttery for breakfast - during his time in the North East,

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Gorbachev was awarded for his “unique contribution” to freedom, democracy, justice and peace after leading reforms to bring the Cold War to an end.

Andy Murray Picture: PA

Links between the Soviet Union and Aberdeen continued to thrive, mainly through the university and the work of Professor Archie Brown, emeritus professor of politics at Oxford University - and former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, and Professor Paul Dukes, emeritus history professor at Aberdeen University.

The first Freedom of the City of Aberdeen was awarded in the 12th Century with relaxed trading rights and a waiver on the payment of tolls part of the privilege.

Sir Alex Ferguson received the honour in 1999 due to the “unprecedented success” of Aberdeen Football Club from which the derived “great benefit”.

In 2006, the entire Royal Regiment of Scotland was honoured. The Gordon Highlanders received Freedom of the City during the 1970s but the honour was updated to take account of the merging of the Scottish regiments.

And in 2008, the last Freedom of the City was bestowed on ‘Scotland The What’ trio George Donald, William “Buff” Hardie and Stephen Robertson. They were given the highest civic honour for service to fine arts, the Doric language and the North East of Scotland culture - and, above all, for “makin a’body laugh.”


Sir Sean Connery was given Freedom of the City in 1991, in front of a packed Usher Hall.

The 007 actor, who was raised in Fountainbridge and famously worked as a milkman, appeared genuinely moved to take the honour from his home city, which he had long left behind.

He told those gathered: “I feel like I have gone 15 rounds with Mike Tyson - and won.”

He joined the likes of Nelson Mandela and Burmese democracy fighter Aung San Suu Kyie on receiving the honour.

In 2012, Britain’s most successful Olympian Sir Chris Hoy was given the freedom to his home city following his six-gold medal success in London that summer. Hoy, who lived, studied and trained in the city, said it was the greatest honour he had ever received.

Nobel Prize winner Professor Peter Higgs added the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh to his accolades in 2014.

He received the honour in recognition of lifetime’s work and contribution to theoretical physics.

It was in the city in 1964 that his “big idea” about the substance of the universe emerged and a new particle, known as the Higgs boson or God particle, was discovered.


Possibly the world’s most famous Glaswegian, Billy Connolly received Freedom of the City in 2010 and said his “breath had been taken away” by the honour.

Former provost Bob Winter said it was a fitting tribute to the man who had presented himself as a “proud citizen” of Glasgow who had reflected the humour, generosity and resilience of the city’s people.

The freemen and freewomen of Glasgow have historically enjoyed some extra perks over an above the traditional relaxation of trading laws.

They do not have to associate with un-Freemen, have the right to graze their cows on the common land of Glasgow Green and to fish in the Clyde.

But with the honour came responsibility. The freemen were expected to patrol the town and defend it by arms. If they didn’t, they could expect to be imprisoned. However, their status did give them a prison cell all to their own,

On receiving his honour, Connolly said he would want his own prison cell “more than anything in the world” and that he was “perfectly prepared” to defend Glasgow, which he had done on many occasions in the past.

Like Edinburgh, Glasgow has also given Freedom of the City to Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Other recipients include Govan-born football manager Alex Ferguson, footballer Kenny Dalglish and former lightweight boxing champion Jim Watt .

Sculptor and artist Dr Benno Shotz, originally from Estonia, was honoured in 1981 with William Burrell, the philanthropist who gave his art collection to Glasgow, given Freedom of the City in 1944.


Andy Murray fought back tears when he received Freedom of the City of Stirling in 2014 amid an emotional acceptance speech.

“Everybody knows how proud I am of where I came from...and I apologise for this behaviour,” he said.

Murray was honoured in light of his contribution to tennis, both locally and nationally, with a ceremony at Dunblane High School.

In 2009, Irvin Iffla, former cricketer with Stirling County, was made a freeman of the city given his contribution to public life in the city.

Somewhat of a legend in the city, Iffla transformed Stirling Country into a title winning squad and is credited with changing the face of cricket in Scotland.

Former Prime Minister Winston Churchill was made a freeman of Stirling in 1954.