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Saturday, April 13, 2024
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HomeNewsMonarchists or republicans? The Scots’ dilemma

Monarchists or republicans? The Scots’ dilemma

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THE Queen’s inspired last act was to die in Scotland. It must have been a dagger in the heart of president-in-waiting Nicola Sturgeon to see the homage paid by so many Scots to their monarch.

Inside themselves, are the Scots monarchists or republicans? Or in post-modern terms, are they perhaps non-binary or monarchy-fluid – for the throne on Mondays, against it on Tuesdays and for neither one nor the other on Sundays?

The fact that the Scots were first to bid the Queen farewell gave an additional dimension to the debate among them about their future and who they are within these islands, part of Europe but not in Europe and definitely part of Great Britain.

How do SNP voters reconcile their wish to leave the UK and their evident respect for the role of the monarchy as the premier emblem of the union which began in 1603 when James VI succeeded the first Elizabeth?

SNP leaders such as Sturgeon – whose separatism was inspired by a childhood hatred of Margaret Thatcher – claim they will keep the monarchy if Scotland separates. Scots who waver between the pull of union and independence should not believe them. What the SNP mean is that if they succeed, they will keep it for the time it takes to legislate a republic.

The mourning for the Queen and the welcome for King Charles demonstrated the worm in the independentist case, which is a denial that the Scots and the English are true kith and kin.

The ugly 2014 referendum campaign showed how deeply divisive the independence issue is among the Scots who, like the rest of the UK, are a mongrel nation of Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, French and Scandinavian ancestry. Until recent decades they blended with the English, Welsh and the Protestant Northern Irish into a single family despite cultural differences which were respected.

The border peoples overlap. For those who live in the very north of England, Edinburgh and Glasgow are their nearest cities. Practically, they have more in common with their neighbours in the Scottish borders than they do with the southern English.

It’s not the Barnett formula which holds Scotland together with England. It is shared history. The Queen’s death at Balmoral reminds everyone of what binds the countries.

England, with ten times the population of Scotland, has never played the dictatorial neighbour. In fact, if anyone’s national identity has suffered, it is that of the English. It has been government policy for generations to repress overt English nationalism which became an issue – and a minor one at that – only with the rise of politics-driven nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales.

No British government has denied the exceptionalism of Scotland, which under the union has kept separate legal and education systems and its own church, the foundations of identity. Unlike Ireland, Scotland was never colonised. The union has never stopped Scotland from being Scotland. In fact it has provided a broader stage for Scots and advantages which will disappear if they separate from England.

Dr Johnson – whose flame has been kept alive for 250 years by his Scottish biographer – was prejudiced against Scotland and said the finest sight a Scotsman ever saw was the high road to England. He meant it as a sneer but the many who took it have been at the centre of British power and the former empire in disproportionate numbers.

The Scottish Enlightenment would probably never have happened without the union, which helped Scotland emerge from backwardness, isolation and bankruptcy through reconciliation with its historic enemy.

Political nationalism arose in Scotland as a result of the post-war choices made by the impoverished and indebted UK and particularly the loss of the empire which had a more severe effect north of the border, an area reliant on obsolete and uncompetitive heavy industry.

The SNP has sold nationalism as a path to economic freedom and escape from Tory government when a majority of Scots are left of centre. The party has grown since the 1930s from a band of cranks – laughed at as Tartan Tories – into a formidable political machine with a stranglehold on the devolved government.

Sturgeon claims that an independent Scotland would be richer than England – something that no independent economist believes – and fairer to its own people despite the domination of the Borders, the Highlands and the Orkney and Shetland islands by the votes of the working-class central belt.

There’s no denying the SNP’s political supremacy. Knowing she probably cannot hold another referendum, Sturgeon intends to make the outcome in Scotland of the next British general election a vote for independence because the SNP will win a large majority of the Scottish seats. In itself, that might not be enough but it could force agreement to a second referendum on Westminster.

The Queen’s death may, however, have changed the prospects for independence. We have seen how much the Queen – the daughter of a Scottish mother – was loved and respected. King Charles and Prince William who will succeed him were both educated in Scotland. Economic differences matter but so does history and respect, and Scotland has never lacked that from England.

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Donald Forbes
Donald Forbes
Donald Forbes is a retired Anglo-Scottish journalist now living in France who during a 40-year career worked in eastern Europe before and after communism.

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