Acts of union and disunion

"Perhaps Britain will start breaking up after the Scottish referendum, but I don't think that we should see it as pre-ordained" – Linda Colley talks to Matt Elton about her new book and radio series exploring the historical links within the UK, its relationship with the rest of the globe, and the current state of the union

Author Linda Colley.

How important has our ‘island story’ been in constructing identities in the United Kingdom?

Islandhood has been very important in different ways. The fact that the main island of Great Britain is an island was enormously helpful from very early on to those people who wanted to push the idea of a political union. They could say “this has been ordained by the almighty – we wouldn’t have been an island had God intended us to be split up”.

Of course, this kind of geographical determinism is unsound. The Iberian peninsula – which was once politically united – is split into Portugal and Spain. But these geographical constitutive stories are incredibly powerful, particularly once the Royal Navy emerged as the strongest on the globe, because people could then say: “Not only are we God’s chosen island, the new Israel, but we have our wooden walls. We are defended.”

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