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Romantic Scotland, tragic England, ambiguous Britain : constructions of 'the Empire' in post devolution national accounting.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date07/2006
JournalNations and Nationalism
Number of pages20
Original languageEnglish


This article compares the ways in which references to ‘the (British) Empire’ were constructed and used in interview accounts of national identity and domestic politics in Scotland and in England. In Scotland, spontaneous accounts of Empire were typically formulated in conjunction with nationalist moral meta-narratives. Respondents variously inferred heroic national character from Scotland's role in Empire, or cast Scottish history as an enduring struggle between progressive forces of nationalism and atavistic forces of Anglo-British colonialism. The construct of Britishness was often seen to derive from, and to be synonymous with, the history of Empire. In England, the Empire story tended to be framed within anti-nationalist meta-narratives. Imperialism was generally understood to represent a product of excessive nationalism, and tales of Empire were used to draw exemplary moral lessons concerning the deficiencies of Anglo-British national character and of the catastrophic consequences of the pursuit of national self-interest more generally. The existence of Britain, and the construct of Britishness, were generally understood to both predate and postdate the history of Empire.