Linda Colley asks why the English have been susceptible to periodic bouts of self-scrutiny and anxiety over identity.
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.
Programme 6: England
"Why exactly have the English been susceptible to periodic bouts of self-scrutiny and anxiety over identity? After all, in terms of geographical size and wealth, England has always been the preponderant country in these islands. In population terms, too, it has been the biggest player, and is becoming more so. Now, England contains over 53 million people, more than five times the total number in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined. As the onetime Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau, once remarked of his country in relation to the United States, it is not comfortable being a mouse lying next to an elephant: "No matter how friendly or even-tempered is the beast...one is affected by every twitch and grunt".
Producer: Simon Elmes.