chapter  11
33 Pages

Communities and Countries: Believing in Britain c.1745–c.1945

To believe in Britain entailed allegiance to a protean entity over some two centuries. 'It is in the interest of the United Kingdom,wrote Sir John Sinclair of Ubster in the 1790s,‘to keep alive those national, or what, perhaps, may now be properly called local distinctions of English, Scotch, Irish and Welsh/ 1 His language, with its uncertainty about what was 'national5 and what was ‘local,is revealing. It was a fundamental issue in Britain, though by no means invariably considered as such. Were its inhabitants after 1707 ‘British,or in the process of becoming ‘British,or did they remain funda­ mentally - insofar as they reflected on the matter - English, Scotch and Welsh respectively? Was there a conflict between the acceptance of a 'British5 identity and continuing identity as English, Scottish or Welsh? Was it a matter of choice? Were the contexts in which the question of identity might be asked all-important? Within Britain its inhabitants might identify themselves primarily as ‘English, or 'Scottish5 but in relation to 'foreigners' they were British.