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On September 18th this year, the voters of Scotland will decide in a referendum whether they want their nation henceforth to be independent of the United Kingdom, or remain within the union that has bound Britain together since the Act of Union of 1707.

In "Acts of Union and Disunion", Linda Colley, Professor of History at the University of Princeton, examines the forces that bind together the diverse peoples, customs and loyalties of the United Kingdom. And the often equally powerful movements that from time to time across the centuries threaten to pull Britain apart.

In her second talk, Professor Colley examines the island nature of the United Kingdom, and the way the geography, history and political rhetoric of Britain have often been at odds: "There are in fact over 6000 islands set around the island of Great Britain. One of these - Ireland - is large, almost 33,000 square miles. But many of these offshore islands are tiny, like most of the 500 islands of the Hebrides; and some are quasi-autonomous. The Isle of Man only came under the full sovereignty of the British monarch in the 1760s and retains its own parliament; while Orkney and the Shetlands were once linked to Scandinavia. It has never simply been a case, then, of what Winston Churchill styled "our long island history". There are multiple islands involved in the British past, with multiple and sometimes diverging histories."

Producer: Simon Elmes.

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15 minutes

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Tue 7 Jan 2014 13:45