On 18 September, people eligible and registered to vote in Scotland (including 16- and 17-year-olds) will be asked ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ This year’s independence referendum provides the impetus for these two books. In both cases, the writers have had to scrutinise the past in order to contextualise the present. This means that the books could, I think, be read profitably for years to come, whatever the outcome of the vote. Both Linda Colley and Robert Crawford have expertise in the field. Colley’s Britons was a ground-breaking investigation into how Scots, perhaps more than others, contributed to a new ‘British’ identity in the wake of the 1707 Act of Union. Crawford, although a poet in his own right and a keen-eyed reader of T S Eliot, is perhaps most lauded for Devolving English Literature, his seminal book that explained how, for example, Scottish universities created the first ‘Eng Lit’ courses to facilitate their graduates making their way in England.
The subtitles of both books reveal something of their agendas. Colley’s is ‘What has held the UK together – and what is dividing it?’ Her divisions are plural: England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland have had varying degrees of integration and the urge to separate for centuries. It is not just