'A Mere Geographical Expression'? Scotland and Scottish Identity, c. 1890–1914

Andrew Geoffrey Newby

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Citations (Scopus)


Since Scotland has ceased to be a nation for over a century and a half, and has become a mere ‘geographical expression’, under the geographical fate of close contact with a stronger power, one would suppose that the world was in no great need of having any more histories of that country 1 This reaction to Hill Burton’s History of Scotland in The New York Times encapsulates the prevalent discourse on Scottish identity by the 1870s, that Scotland had subsumed its status as a nation in favour of being a mere region of a ’stronger power’. For many, this pragmatism was admirable, particularly in the context of British imperial expansion, as it demonstrated that previously competing countries could unite to achieve economic, political and cultural hegemony over nations far greater in size or in population.2 There was, nevertheless, a considerable tension bound up within the definition of that ’stronger power’. In London, and for many looking in from abroad through a London prism, it was generally presumed that Scotland was now simply a northern region of England. In Edinburgh, however, the ’stronger power’ was not England, but Great Britain or indeed the British Empire, and Scotland was no more considered to have surrendered its identity than had England in consenting to form a union in 1707. This tension had been the basis for a reassertion in the 1850s of Scottish identity, coming particularly from urban elites in Edinburgh. Through popular literature, a vibrant local and national press, and, particularly in the mid-1880s, increased popular participation in all forms of politics, the question of Scotland’s relationship with London and its constitutional status transformed into a much wider social and political issue in the period 1890–1914.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRegion and State in Nineteenth-Century Europe
EditorsJoost Augusteijn, Eric Storm
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan Ltd.
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-137-27130-3
ISBN (Print)978-1-349-33940-2
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • National identity
  • Strong Power
  • Domestic Affair
  • British State
  • Urban Elite


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