No longer are we bored united. The heatwave seems to have sparked life into the constitutional debate, with folk prepared to discuss some of the meat and bones of what independence might mean.
While a discourse on whether an independent Scotland should keep the monarchy is not quite an everyday issue for voters, it’s tangible enough for folk to take an interest. Especially when there is now a guaranteed lineage well into the next century.
The arrival of the newest member of the Firm reminds us all that this is a dynasty with longevity: some will be content with this state of affairs, but many others, who don’t ordinarily make the link between the Royal Family and its constitutional role, will have paused to digest this. This is exactly the purpose of a debate on our future – it creates a space for a blether about big things and wee, and gets us thinking about who we are and what sort of country we’d like to be.
Has the arrival of the new royal baby signalled a similar debate down south? Not if the media can help it. There was a great piece in yesterday’s Sunday Herald on how broadcast media, in particular, colluded in the construction of a narrative around the birth of Prince George which bore little resemblance to reality. The Scottish media might have mixed motives in encouraging such a debate within the context of the independence referendum, but let’s at least credit them with doing us a service. Different opinions have been invited, encouraged and given a place.
Indeed, the opportunity to let opinion flourish is exactly the point of Yes Scotland. Even if it doesn’t seem to think so. Its somewhat sniffy response to Dennis Canavan’s views on the monarchy missed the point completely. Its role is not to repeat or create a policy position but to welcome the debate itself.
Yes Scotland should have been much more effusive and enthusiastic in welcoming its Chairman’s comments – and encouraged him to speak in that capacity. It should have marked out the difference between here and there. “Isn’t it great that the referendum offers us the opportunity to discuss these weighty matters? Isn’t it good that we are all getting the chance to think about what kind of country we want to be? That’s what independence offers – the right and responsibility to consider and choose how we want to be governed. With the monarchy, that might involve a referendum at some point but that would be your decision – Scotland’s decision – to take. Polls suggest we’d opt to keep the Queen or King as our head of state, but at the moment, we don’t get to say how we run our affairs. That’s what independence offers. Isn’t it exciting?”
And it is exciting. Indeed, the response of Better Together implies just how so. Its dead hand attempt to dismiss Dennis Canavan’s views suggests it sees such opportunities as threats. Because the last thing the proponents of the status quo want is for people to start questioning the central thrust of its argument, especially within its own camp. For there are many, particularly from Labour ranks, who share his views: a debate on issues which highlights what independence offers is clearly a dangerous thing.
The concern is that the yes camp doesn’t seem to know how to seize such moments. Where’s the Yes Scotland online blog on this topic, with a range of views represented? Where’s the threading of a narrative combining the monarchy issue with other topical news items?
In the week that the hereditary right to rule was reinforced – a concept that rubs against the idea that we are all Jock Tamson’s bairns – we also learned that some of the richest landowners in Scotland whose position is maintained partly through significant public subsidy, also have the right to keep that information from us. Not only is it wrong that they as individuals, and not their businesses, benefit from taxpayers’ money, but worse, we, the body bountiful, don’t even get to know whom our largesse benefits.
This is the Scotland we currently live in, where a tiny percentage of very wealthy people get to preserve their status on account of who they are and to whom they were born. I know few Scots who are comfortable with this state of affairs and most would opt for a different set-up. The opportunity to change who owns Scotland, how Scotland is owned and who benefits materially from our rich resource base is fundamental to the concept of independence.
That’s the logic which underpins the idea of an oil fund for future generations. And it is implicit in Yes Scotland’s thumbnails on why people should vote yes and in all its literature. But it’s all too subtle and needs to be stitched together in much more emphatic fashion, with a range of voices encouraged, fostered and welcomed.
The point is that with independence, there is no official line, no single policy direction, but a range of choices available to Scotland to take. And therein lies the rub. Not only do we need to convince ourselves that we have the confidence and capability as a country to take the opportunities independence offers, but we need a campaign exhibiting the same qualities to get us there.
There are many big issues to be resolved which relate to independence. Whether or not we keep the monarchy isn’t one of them.
Nonetheless, it seems to matter sufficiently to the SNP that there has been considerable airbrushing of the party’s policy on the matter, whenever it is asked to comment, which is far too often. But then the meeja was always pretty good at focusing on minutiae when it suited them.
These are the kind of issues upon which the SNP has a safety first approach: we don’t do or say anything that creates a raft of negative headlines, puts us on the backfoot, or creates a lot of noise and fury when what we need is light and calm. Sometimes, though, good intentions get forgotten, why is why last weekend, the SNP felt sufficiently rattled to rush out a media release responding to Willie Rennie’s calls for clarity on its position on the monarchy post-independence.
“…an SNP spokesperson confirmed that the 1997 conference resolution calling for a referendum on the monarchy is not the policy post-devolution – which since the
Scottish Parliament was established in 1999 is now for a referendum on a White Paper setting out the full detail of independence, including the Queen as head of state.“
The spokesperson went on to say “Since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, the SNP’s policy is now for a referendum on a White Paper setting out the full
details of independence – which will be published in November 2013, with the referendum taking place in autumn 2014 – and will include the SNP’s long-standing policy for the Queen and her successors to be head of state“.
This will come as news to many in the SNP – I’ve blogged on this aspect before, but the central thrust of the assertion – that the SNP changed its position on the monarchy post-indy in 1999 – is also inaccurate.
In the party’s manifesto for the 2001 UK General Election, in the vision for independence section, it stated:
“with independence, the Queen and her successors will remain as Head of State of Scotland, as defined within the written Constitution, subject to the democratic consent of the people in a referendum“.
Sometime in the early noughties, the party also produced a wee booklet called Talking Independence for its members and activists. It’s great – it actually provides answers to some of the thorny issues and negative propositions put by (among others) bored journalists on an almost daily basis. I’d heartily recommend that all current spokespeople seek it out and refer to it when writing media releases in the future.
This is what it says in response to the question “will the Queen be Head of State?”
“The SNP proposes that the Queen and her successors remain Head of State, in the way that she is presently Head of State in fifteen other independent Commonwealth countries. The constitution which the SNP favours will define the powers of the Monarch, removing a number of her present powers, though she will still confirm Parliament’s nomination of a Prime Minister…. If, in the future, the people of Scotland wished to change these arrangements, they would be free to do so by amending the constitution through a referendum, and it is the SNP’s policy that the issue should be tested by such a referendum once Independence is fully in effect. Ultimately, the decision rests with the people of Scotland.” (bold emphasis my own)
I’m not sure what current SNP spokespeople find so troublesome about this: it seems to make perfect sense to me. We keep the Queen as Head of State as a transitional arrangement until the people of independent Scotland get round to holding a vote on it. Thereafter, the monarchy might – or might not – continue to provide us with our Head of State.
Now, there are some who argue – and they do – that this is all flotsam and jetsam. Booby traps being set by the meeja to hold Scotland back, to divert the SNP’s attention from the big prize. All focus must now be on winning the yes vote; everything else is a distraction. When directed at the likes of me, the inference is to keep schtum and let these things pass.
For one, it ain’t the likes of me making an issue out of a non-issue. At the time of the SNP’s debate on the matter – which I remember well – I was one of the most disinterested parties in the room. I agree there are much bigger issues to be talking about in the run up to the referendum. There are much more pressing matters to be considered and addressed with independence. But in the absence of the SNP – and anyone else – talking about these or engaging a debate on things like what a progressive taxation policy might look like, the kind of welfare state we might fashion, how having all the levers of government at our disposal might allow us to take a different approach to tackling poverty and inequality, a vacuum is created and filled.
And if the SNP is determined to make this an issue, then there are some – myself included – who might just be prepared to disagree with what the official, airbrushed policy on the monarchy post-indy should be.
This may come as a surprise to some, but I ain’t no royalist. I do not want the monarchy to remain as Head of State of independent Scotland beyond what is necessary to ensure an orderly transition. But if that means she and her successors get to hang around for ten years and more while we sort other stuff out, then so be it. Ultimately though, I absolutely believe – and will continue to uphold – that it is the Scottish people’s place to decide and support that there should be a referendum on the matter. Sovereignty to the people an’ awr’at.
So let’s start the ball rolling with our ain wee poll. It’s only a bit of fun, it won’t even be representative, but it will allow all those frustrated republicans out there to make their views known. Maybe.