It has begun.
The inexorable build-up to the Diamond Jubilee of our dear Majesty.
I caught the giddily gaudy and fawning advertisements on the BBC of all the goodies in store for us on 5th June for the first time last night. Just as the Queen was hosting a posh dinner with monarchs from across the globe to celebrate her milestone.
The most exclusive lunch club in the world consisted mostly of constitutional monarchs, and a few embarrassing uncles. If it wasn’t for Peter Tatchell making a fuss, I doubt if the UK news programmes would have noted any of this. Apparently, Buckingham Palace draws up the guest list, the UK Government approves it, or otherwise. It was plain sailing for the Kings of Bahrain and Swaziland, despite the former leading a regime accused of brutally suppressing opposition and the latter’s commitment to polygamy being much more tangible than addressing the absolute poverty which afflicts much of his population.
The BBC is supposed to be the state broadcaster and free from bias. We’ve already had the documentary detailing the Queen’s life and service, as seen through the intimate eyes of her children and grandchildren. A big strike for those in favour of maintaining a constitutional monarchy.
So where’s the equivalent documentary questioning the appropriateness of this arrangement in the 21st Century, querying the costs of all those stately piles, retainers and assorted family members? Where is the televised debate between monarchists and republicans? Surely, no moment in time is better to try and capture the nation’s view?
If it were down to broadcasters, they’d have us believe that everyone loves the Queen and everyone thinks she makes the ideal Head of State. Even Prince Charles appears to be in a process of rehabilitation. His wee tour of the Scottish provinces and that footage of him presenting the Scottish weather? Didn’t it make you warm to him? Good, job done then.
According to a poll for the Telegraph – the epitome of unbiased news gathering and reporting on such matters – we are all Royalists now. Kate – their one, not this one – has had a big effect. And there is no doubt she has been like a breath of fresh air with that wonderful smile, the clothes recycling and what is known in the parlance, as a common touch. Much like her late mother-in-law before her then.
But it’s also down to the Diamond Jubilee. Apparently, we are all “stirred with a sense of patriotism“. Given that a very one-sided view of the Jubilee and its meaning for us as a democracy is being presented by all and sundry, it is little wonder that more of us think it is the only game in town. We’re being presented with Hobson’s choice, of the Jubilee as a great big celebration denuded of its wider political and constitutional context.
Our First Minister and the SNP want it like this too. They don’t want a stushie over the future role of the monarchy in independent Scotland to colour folk’s voting intentions in the referendum. Despite the debate on whether or not to keep the monarchy or go republic after independence being one of the biggest, most passionately argued in the SNP in the last thirty years, even the compromise reached on that day – we keep the Queen for the time being and the Scots get to decide in a referendum – was too much for the leadership.
So, it was airbrushed away, tucked into the National Conversation document that formed the first basis for a referendum bill, with said document being passed at a National Council in October 2007. And no doubt never mentioned in dispatches to the media nor to delegates that the White Paper contained an important reversal of current party policy. People will have nodded it through not realising that that was what they were doing. The Leadership might consider a job well done but it leaves me feeling somewhat queasy.
If we cannot be trusted to have a mature debate on the type of country we want to be, in terms of its constitutional framework, then what is the point? If the only way to deal with difficult issues which would cause divide is to sneak them away under cover of thousands of words, then what does that say about our capacity as a country to stand on our own two feet and to accept responsibility for the big stuff in a grown-up way?
I used to think the monarchy v republic debate was flummery. A distraction from the things that really matter. But increasingly, I understand its relevance. The kind of constitution we put in place for independent Scotland matters because it says a lot about the country we aspire to be. Do we wish to continue with a society where it is acceptable for the accident of birth to result in some having inordinate access to power and privilege? Or are we all equal, with all people in Scotland having the same rights and opportunities to succeed?
These are big important constructs and debates to have in the run-up to the independence referendum. But they are just as relevant to the United Kingdom as it is now. Why are we not being treated like grown-ups by being allowed to consider what the Jubilee means to who we are? Why are we being told by the establishment that the monarchy is good for us and to celebrate it, with no opportunity given for dissent or even to make our own minds up? Whether we want it or not, we are all being given a day off from school and work.
Instead, there will be street parties, pomp and circumstance, pop concerts, memorabilia and Union flags. Everywhere.
In a country, where 250,000 children grow up in poverty and where nearly 1 million people live on low incomes, we are being encouraged to celebrate the glorious reign of a fabulously rich woman by spending money we don’t have on tat we don’t need and to rejoice for one single day in a sense of solidarity. And to question it – any of it – is to invite contempt and opprobrium.
I’m not the only one to feel less than enthused here in Scotland. A poll in December 2011 found that while 39% of Scots were proud when asked to think about the Olympics and the Jubilee, 34% were embarrassed and 25% neutral; 48% were excited, 35% bored and 16% neutral.
So, how about you? Are you giddy with excitement, polishing your silver and preparing to hang out your bunting or preparing to head to the hills on 5 June? Are you a monarchist who supports the concept of a Royal Head of State? Or a republican who believes there is no role for the monarchy and would prefer an elected Head of State?
Here’s your chance to have your say.