Vote! Should the Queen be Head of State in independent Scotland?

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.

Aye but.

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.

21 thoughts on “Vote! Should the Queen be Head of State in independent Scotland?

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  4. Graham – as Angus Robertson pointed out on twitter today the SNP has published almost half a million words on independence – including on the monarchy.

    Why haven’t you read any of it?

    This is the culmination of everything we have ever worked for. The next two years will decide everything. And you are moaning about whether the 2003 manifesto is on the website and the exact wording of whatever the SNP comes up with to try and kill off the monarchy as an issue until after independence.

    Seriously? This is your priority right now?

  5. Should this not be a 2 question poll?

    It’s hard to argue against the democratic point you make, but what’s the weight of (current) preference in such a referendum?

  6. “…the SNP’s long-standing policy for the Queen and her successors to be head of state“.

    I’m deeply suspicious about this. Do you think this could be a precursor for the maintenance of Royal prerogative if independence is achieved?

    Probably a daft question but not outwith the bounds of (in)credibility.

  7. I agree with Graham. I find it outrageous if we are being expected to vote ‘Yes’ on independence (oh oops+ monarchy for 10 years). It may be less extreme but it is as ridiculous in principle as the article which argued if there was a ‘No’ vote independence should not be on the table again for 700 years. Scotland is full of 80+ women and they all deserve as much respect (but not fawning deference) and feeling (but not mindless sycophancy) as we’re encouraged to have for Elizabeth Windsor. It is utterly pathetic and rather insulting to be waiting for someone to die in order to progress an entire country. I already heard another deluded soul say Charles “should be allowed to have it and he should be the last” so there will always be this silly argument, for any of them. Forget it! It’s nonsense. Burying our heads in the sand on this issue is deeply unhealthy and undemocratic and if Scotland is told we can’t debate these points it does not bode well for the fabulous vision of the future we’re told there is. Everything must be up for discussion so the best way forward can be determined. Offer the Windsors citizenship if you want with the human rights to vote, stand for election and determine their own destiny. If they don’t understand that’s the best thing they’ve ever been offered, Hell mend them. But either way they should be left in no doubt whatsoever that any hereditary position in Scottish government is up to the people of Scotland and therefore up to the vote.

    • Eh? WHo said Scotland is told we can’t debate these points?

      This article is about SNP policy – not Scotland being told what it can and can’t debate.

      If you want to go out and campaign for a republican independent Scotland who’s stopping you? If you want to debate that, who’s stopping you?

      Or, if you are in the SNP, what has stopped you bringing forward a resolution on the SNP’s position on the monarchy at any point over the past ten years or so?

      Cos I have been annoyed enough at this debate to check with SOAC – and nothing has been submitted.

      • “…nothing has been submitted”.

        Might this be at least partially due to many people being unaware (understandably) of the policy ‘change’? Please could you refer me to any notification that the policy had been ‘changed’ – prior to the response to Kenny Faquharson’s question in July 2011?

        I note that the SNP 2003 manifesto – the last one to contain any reference to the policy – has disappeared from the website. Poor show.

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  9. I suspect support for a continuing monarchy might reduce considerably once its realised that along with it goes the demeaning imposition of a “Governor General” from London!

  10. The way I see it is thus. If we were to start from scratch, and set up a new country as a wholy progressive and democratic enterprise, the very last thing you would be doing is to find room for a constitutional monarchy as the figurehead of this country. An unelected head of state that sees power pass on through generation to generation would be anathema to the country that you would be trying to create, and would undermine democracy in favour of a human symbolism of power and privelidge.

    No I would not like the current constitutional monarchy to contunue very much longer into a possible Independent Scotland. Preferably, the referendum should be held as soon as possible.

  11. It is commendable that you raise the matter for open discussion and express an honest opinion on it.

    I agree that it is perfectly rational to distinguish between and prioritise the two different issues of independence and head of State. The policy of holding a post-independence referendum was reasonable, transparent and democratic (and democratically determined at conference). The substance of the matter has almost been eclipsed by the significance of the:

    (a) Manner in which the policy ‘change’ was determined and handled;
    (b) Lack of awareness and expression of opinion of the rank and file; and
    (c) Continuing obfuscation of the Scottish Government.

    The above is one half of my argument, if you like. The other half concerns the prevalence of the thinly-veiled assumption that the policy change is merely expedient dog-whistle politics; that de-facto the head of State issue will be returned to in future, probably by means of a referendum and probably when there is a change in monarch.

    Perhaps that assumption will prove to be correct. It has to be said though, it’s some leap of faith. I have a greater than average appetite for risk but considering the manner in which the policy change was implemented and viewed against the backdrop of an era when even manifesto commitments are fluid, I’d probably sit this one out. We shall see – I’d take a punt on that😉

  12. There was a time (pre-2005) when this was solely a matter of preference between an elected head of state or a hereditary monarch. Of course, the choice between democracy and hereditary privilege is not difficult for most of us. Frankly, I find Indy’s ’emotionale’ bizarre. With respect, it is unreasonable to suggest that the national self-determination of five million people is subordinate to the sensitivities of one person, even an elderly woman who has lived a rich but hard life.

    It’s still about that but now it’s also about the integrity and transparency of the Scottish Government, contempt for democratic decision-making within the SNP, and lack of awareness and freedom of thought and expression among its rank and file.

    It is not true that the head of state has no political power and it is absurd to assert that none of this matters. http://candhu.wordpress.com/2012/01/30/mugged-off

    • Re your last bit. I don’t say head of state has no political power though (whisper it) SNP policy is to clip monarchy’s wings considerably (or at least that used to be the policy). And also not asserting that it doesn’t matter at all, just that sorting out other things are more of a priority. For me at any rate.

      Thanks for link though, good piece and excellent links! Been looking for that TV debate for ages. I remember voting at least 20 times that night😉

    • Hallo? There will be a general election after independence. Vote for whoever and whatever you want then, Meanwhile excuse me if I would rather not alienate everyone who has some sympathy for the royals in the run-up to the referendum.

      I never said my personal feelings should decide things – but I think they are typical of many people and that’s why the SNP is frankly dodging the issue.

      I know why, so do most active members. Quite honestly as a rank and file active SNP member this debate can be summed up pretty easily in my view.

      Ardent republican = armchair nationalist.

      Find me a single active member who thinks that campaigning for a republic at the same time as campaigning for independence will add, rather than lose, votes?

      It’s pretty straightforward. People who are anti-monarchy/British establishment are likely to vote for independence anyway. It’s not like they are going to say I am going to vote for the Union because i don’t approve of the SNP’s position on the monarchy are they?

      It’s the swing voters in the middle who will decide this. Keep them in mind at all times because they are going to decide this thing. And without indepedence any debate about the monarchy is meaningless.

      • To be clear, again, it is perfectly rational to distinguish between and prioritise the two different issues of independence and head of State. The policy of holding a post-independence referendum was reasonable, transparent and democratic; I’m questioning:

        (1) The reason for its change;
        (2) The manner in which it was changed;
        (3) The integrity of the Scottish Government;
        (4) Internal SNP democracy;
        (5) The awareness of the rank and file SNP; and
        (6) The assumption that it’ll be sorted post-independence.

        Apologies if this is ripping anyone’s knitting but these are not trifling matters. It’s important that we discuss them without fear of the shouty party mouthpieces.

        Indy, I don’t mind the ‘ardent republican’ tag but I’d be equally happy with ‘democrat’.

        I can’t think of anything that would stop me voting for independence in a referendum but this saga (amongst other things, to be fair) has turned me against the SNP; I would neither join it nor vote for it.

  13. The problem is that you put the question in the way most people think of it – should The Queen be head of state in an independent Scotland? The Queen – not a monarch – but The Queeh, the actual woman that we all know.

    Now personally I am fairly ambivalent about the monarchy as an institution, I probably am a republican but I don’t really care becasue I don’t really think it’s that important. Whoever the head of state is they will be a figuehead who will carry out ceremonial functions so I just don’t think it matters that much.

    But I think it would be really quite shitty to hold a referendum on the monarchy while the present Queen is alive. Maybe that’s a bit silly but the woman is 85, she hasn’t had a particularly easy life – yes she is rich but that isn’t everything. She’s also known her share of tragedy and she has lived with a level of media intrusion into her own life and her children’s lives that has been painful at times. I think most people would agree that she has conducted herself with as much dignity as anybody could in those circumstances. So it would leave a bit of a sour taste in the mouth to have a vote on whether we want to allow her to complete her reign at this stage in her life when she is heading into the final straight.

    So really I think we need to wait until she is not around to decide on whether we want to continue to have a monarchy. That’s quite a blunt thing to say though! i think any SNP press officer or spokesperson would struggle to find a way of saying that which did not come over as “We are not going to talk about this until the Queen is dead”. So i don’t blame them for trying to find a way around that!

    • I thought about how to word the question and agree absolutely. There is no way a referendum will be held while the present Queen is still in situ, as she will be entering her 90s and beyond by the time we get to actual independence and considering these sorts of things. If there were to be a referendum, it would be after her passing – that’s when a clamour for it is most likely to arise in any event.

      So I did think about wording it to read properly which is should the monarchy provide the head of state. But then realised I’d be accused of trying to rig the vote to suit my beliefs. In any event, what has been talked about is the Queen being head of state, that’s the way everyone is phrasing it. So I went with the populist pull.

      And still got it wrong! Sigh…

      • The results of your poll so far are interesting. Pity about that third option – bet at least 80% of them are small ‘r’s.

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