The Queen who Stares at Boats

The Jubilee.  Day Four.  And so it continues.

Some of us are losing the will to live.  Or just avoiding the housework while appreciating a day off.

Others have given up and have started watching it all – you know who you are.

But!  There is hope!  We might not have a media capable of anything other than sycophancy.  We might not have a single comedian worthy of the name willing or able to satirise the whole schtuck.

But there will always be Jon Stewart.  I cried laughing.  The best coverage of the Jubilee I’ve seen so far.

Can’t wait to see what he makes of last night’s concert.  Big hat tip to Sunny Hundal at Liberal Conspiracy for finding it.  Even bigger one to Mediaite for daring treachery, no doubt under muttered threats about the Tower of London.

The Queen Who Stares at Boats


The hidden purpose of the Jubilee jamboree

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.




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.