On Friday, I felt a little like a stranger in a strange land. Driving down the A77, seeing Union flags fluttering from houses was jarring, simply because it was such an unusual sight in Scotland. It wasn’t house to house but a smattering; discombobulating nonetheless.
But why so? The occasion of the Diamond Jubilee has emboldened royalists and loyalists alike into displaying their allegiance in their red, white and blue glory. But a mature country at ease with itself, surely, can tolerate a little difference? People in Scotland feeling that they can wear their colours on their window sills is a good thing, even if they might not be my colours.
Perhaps this should be the view of all Jubilee agnostics and opponents. It’s a weekend of fun; grit your teeth and bear it, and by Wednesday it will be all over.
Except. It does matter, for this is not just a kingdom-wide party for a little old lady who has done her bit and deserves a reward, but a display which has constitutional and political resonance and importance.
The documentaries shown in the run up to this weekend were telling. We had the Queen and the role of the monarchy, as told by her children and grandchildren; we had the Queen of Scots, with a cast of ordinary and not so ordinary Scots; and then we had Prince Charles guiding us through a suitcase full of family cine-film.
A pal opined that it amounts to the kind of propaganda that the Soviet Union would have been proud of. Few dissenting voices on whether or not monarchy is a good thing; whether hereditary principles have any role to play in a modern state/kingdom; whether 60 years of service is worth the cost, the limitations and the privilege it epitomises and embodies.
Revisionism is all the rage – God Save the Queen! – and look, here’s the twelve hours a day TV and radio coverage to prove it.
There is no denying the Queen’s indefatigability: even I’m prepared to concede that an old lady of 86 and her bidie-in of 91 deserve a party – or at least a gin and dubonnet – for standing to greet all those boats and watercraft pass her by in the grimmest of weather conditions. But did we need to know what Celebs listed C to F on the scale were wearing to prove their patriotism? I’d rather Richard E Grants Union underpants had stayed where they belonged.
In Scotland, there were a few street parties, but only where the police wanted us to hold them. Public money was bestowed on organisations and communities to allow them to celebrate; yet, that same money could have been spent on giving disabled people, of all ages, and their families a break. A wee treat for the Jubilee if you like, to show that we understand the point of public service. Which is not to enable the continuation of class divides nor embolden difference and prejudice. But there’s my ingratitude showing through.
We’re not nearly finished yet though. There’s a big pop concert, a horse parade, a church service, beacons and no doubt a balcony wave. There will, of course be more inane wittering throughout.
More easily coped with being at work – not all of us got a four day bumper pack of time off from work and school. And by arranging different get-togethers – Jubilee afficionados aren’t the only ones who can be jolly.
But as an historian, I cannot deny that my interest is piqued.
Whether or not the monarchy survives its next throne-warmer, few of us are likely to witness a Diamond Jubilee again: there have after all, been only two in history. I would have liked a thoughtful documentary or two along these lines. The river pageant on the Thames resurrected an old tradition: it was interesting to see how it had been brought up to date and it made for an extraordinary sight. Though a five minute package on the news, rather than five hours wall to wall would have done.
The supermarkets were doing a roaring trade on Saturday, as families stocked up on celebration essentials: junk food and booze. What does that say about our idea of a good time? It would be interesting to be able to track the stats on alcohol-related admissions and offences and domestic abuse incidents over these long four days.
But most interestingly of all is the purpose of this splurge, which has been subtly woven into the celebrations. The Queen is nothing but a canny operator; her lifetime of service, though couched within a realm of privilege and patronage, is still remarkable; her ability to steer her House through turbulent times is pretty astonishing. Especially as it has emerged in rude health.
And all those documentaries, all that coverage, all those activities, presented with a bias and an imbalance that is stunning, given that – still – nearly half the Scottish population would declare themselves republican, or at least, not monarchist, are there to achieve one thing. To secure her successors and succession, and to ensure the continuation of the constitutional monarchy.
As you charge your glass and toast HRH today and tomorrow, you might want to reflect that not only are we paying for it all, this weekend more than ever, but are likely to do so for a long while yet.