Ties That Bind? Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Union, by Graham Walker and James Greer (Irish Academic Press, £17.99) ENGLISH imperialism has had a remarkable run. Initially by force of arms and then by force of its will, it managed to subjugate half the world. In so doing, a tiny country on a small island transformed itself into a Great Power. Its earliest major conquests were its immediate neighbours: Wales, Scotland and Ireland. These nations, with their own languages and cultures, were gradually, and violently, incorporated into an entity the English parliament came to regard as “Great Britain”. One major challenge to England’s hegemony over its nearest and not-so-dearest was the courageous decision by the Irish people to take up arms in 1916. England did its best (and, most definitely, its worst) to frustrate Ireland’s subsequent bid for independence, just as it did when confronted by later rebellions elsewhere in its global empire. As we know to our cost, England’s desperation to maintain a presence in Ireland culminated in a cynical act of partition and the establishment of an inherently unstable quasi state. Thus was born, in 1927, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. From its inception, the “united” bit of that title was little more than a polite fiction. Irish aspirations to reunite the country were always apparent and have become increasingly clear since the electoral success of Sinn Féin on both sides of the border. Scottish ambitions to break the link with England, though less obviously expressed for a long period, emerged with the rise to prominence of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the narrow loss of the independence referendum it engineered in 2014. So, taking that recent history on board and their belief that we have reached a seminal moment in the state of affairs of both the Six Counties (a term they never use) and Scotland, the authors of this book register their disquiet about the future of the Union. Hence, of course, the question mark in their title.