Single Nucleotide Polymorphism in four Scandinavian populations of willow grouse (Lagopus lagopus) and two Scottish populations of red grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus) were assessed at 13 protein-coding loci. We found high levels of diversity, with one substitution every 55 bp as an average and a total of 76 unlinked parsimony informative SNPs. Different estimators of genetic diversity such as: number of synonymous and non-synonymous sites, average number of alleles, number and percentage of polymorphic loci, mean nucleotide diversity (πs, πa) and gene diversity at synonymous and non-synonymous sites showed higher diversity in the northern populations compared to southern ones. Strong levels of purifying selection found in all the populations together with neutrality tests conforming to neutral expectations agree with large effective population sizes. Assignment tests reported a clear distinction between Scandinavian and Scottish grouse suggesting the existence of two different evolutionary significant units. The divergence time between willow and red grouse ranging between 12 500 and 125 000 years, in conjunction with the presence of ‘specific’ markers for each subspecies prompt a reassessment of the taxonomical status of the Scottish red grouse.