EDINBURGH’S New Town is well known for its architectural significance – it’s a comparatively early example of a city based on a grid plan and sits among some of the major cities in the world that follow a similar design principle – such as Glasgow, New York, or Barcelona.

What it is less well known for, though, is its political significance.

In my view, Edinburgh’s New Town is one of the best examples we can give to show the deliberate building of British identity in Scotland – specifically through the naming of public spaces.

It isn’t unusual for states to use public spaces in order to commemorate themselves – in fact, it’s the norm. Indeed, many newly independent countries or countries that have just undergone a significant change set up dedicated committees to assess and adapt how well public spaces and monuments reflect the country the new country they are seeking to build.

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Following the collapse of communism in Czechoslovakia, for example, Red Army Square in Prague was renamed Jan Palach square, after the student who self-immolated in protest at the Soviet invasion in the late 1960s.

In our country today, there is a debate about how we should (or should not) publicly memorialise those with links to slavery, as we’ve seen with debates over statues and street names in recent years. After all – isn’t it right that public spaces should mirror the ever-changing public they claim to represent?

The logic, therefore, follows that a construction of British identity in Scotland was necessary post-Union, and Edinburgh’s New Town is a fantastic example of how this was done through one of our nation’s most significant locations.

The design for the New Town was finalised in 1768 – just 23 years after the ’45 Jacobite Rebellion, and 61 years after the 1707 Union. The main consequences of the failure of that rebellion were that the House of Stuart was defeated, with the House of Hanover becoming the uncontested royal family of the Kingdom of Great Britain, and that Scotland’s place within the Union was absolutely cemented.

By looking at the names of the streets and squares in Edinburgh’s New Town, we can see clearly that the intention was to monumentalise the Union.

The two parallel squares St Andrew Square and George Square, named after the patron saints of Scotland and England respectively, are connected by George Street – named after the king of the time – with Frederick Street named after his father. This is a clear nod to the political union of Scotland and England, joined together by the monarchical union of then king George.

This is a fantastic example of what was dubbed “spatial logic” in commemorative street names by Israeli academic Maoz Azaryahu.

By linking St Andrew Square and George Square through George Street, the designers built an implied historical narrative through the city’s street names. Let’s look at the name of the other streets – Hanover Street, for example, was named after the recently consolidated royal family, which had defeated Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobites.

The nods to the Union in Edinburgh’s New Town go beyond just the names of the places, though. Some of the earlier proposed designs included one to build the New Town in the shape of a Union Jack.

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A journal article from 1971 called Plans for the New Town of Edinburgh, tells us that the original designs by James Craig were in the shape of the UK flag. Though the original designs no longer exist, a map from 1766 titled A Plan of Edinburgh and Places Adjacent show what this may have looked like from above, under the label, “New Edinburgh”.

 I think Edinburgh’s New Town is among the best examples of the construction of British identity in Scotland in relation to public spaces, at least.

Re-enforcing the state identity through the naming of public spaces is extremely common across today’s world, and as another example of the “Banal Nationalism” I’ve written about previously, it’s important for all of us to understand how states seek to reinforce their identities – and for what purpose.

Editor’s note: James Craig’s original design for the New Town named what is today known as Charlotte Square as St George's Square, however it was renamed in 1786 in order to avoid confusion with George Square to the south of Edinburgh's Old Town.