UNIONISM is facing an identity crisis, a top historian has suggested.

Speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Murray Pittock said Unionists are struggling to identify as both Scottish and British in the same way they used to.

The Glasgow University professor said society today is “dangerously” polarised, meaning Scots are much less likely to hold a sense of dual identity.

The author of Scotland: The Global History, 1603 to the Present said the British empire had made Scotland relatively prosperous with many in the nation feeling “comfortably Unionist and culturally Scottish”.

At the event, Scots writer Billy Kay said some Unionists speak out with “virulence” against parts of Scottish culture, such as the Gaelic language.

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Kay asked the academic if Unionism today lacked the balance between Scottish and British identity it once held.

Pittock said “the answer is yes” as he cited John Buchan, a Unionist politician.

He said: “The polarisation has created a new breed of Unionist completely unlike, for example, John Buchan [with his] support for a national theatre, or for the Scottish language.

“The idea of domestic patriotism, international visibility and British and imperial loyalties, that is a concatenation that simply, I wouldn’t say it doesn’t exist, but now is reduced to a few marginal areas in Scottish life, where once it was absolutely central.

“Far more than in 2014 [the Scottish independence referendum], there is the danger, and it is a danger for the integration of society, that the choice appears to people to be very stark.”

Scots are not as 'comfortably Unionist and culturally Scottish' as they once were, a Glasgow University professor has saidUnionism in Scotland is changing, according to historian Murray Pittock

Speaking about the image of Scotland internationally, Pittock said a focus on “Scotland, the brand” had taken away from the nation’s scientific excellence.

“Fundamentally, the whole brand of the country is developed from the basis of how Scotland was perceived between 1760 and 1830.

“Everything about Scotland almost derives from that.”

He said while Scotland had “the second or third-highest level of scientific citation per capita in the world … we are regarded much more highly for folk culture, castles, the stuff of Scottish song, music and buildings and to an extent, forever undermined by experience, for Scottish sport”.

He said a recent trip to Dubai showed there was international interest in Scotland’s surging space industries.

Scots are not as 'comfortably Unionist and culturally Scottish' as they once were, a Glasgow University professor has saidScotland should look to the future, such as its skyrocketing space industries, a historian has said

He said as well as the nation's history, “we have a duty to engage the world in the things Scotland does really well in the present, which are beyond the brand”.

He pointed to Ireland, which had taken on a new image after several large tech companies made Dublin their HQ.

“That image sits precisely with the sale of plastic leprechauns on St Patrick’s Day,” he said.

“To be able to do both is the mark of a country at ease with itself. If we can’t do either of those things or join them together properly, then we are not at ease with ourselves.”

READ MORE: Murray Pittock: Do the Highlands exist?

He added: “I see no objection to calling satellites Braveheart 1 — there are ways in which you can absorb the brand and build modernity at the same time.”

At the event, he was also asked if Edinburgh should follow Toronto and rename Dundas Street, which derives its name from a Scottish politician said to have obstructed the abolition of the slave trade.

He said Dundas was “interested but not wholly committed to the abolition of the slave trade”.

"No," he said. "I don’t think we should remove the names of streets on a systematic basis, because I don’t think you find out about your past by pretending it doesn’t exist.”

NEXT READ: Murray Pittock looks into how Scotland and the new world helped shape each other