TONY Benn once said of the Labour Party that “it is not a socialist party, but it has always had socialists in it”. Much the same could be said of republicans in the SNP: the SNP is not a republican party, but it has always had republicans in it.

The SNP’s stance of keeping the monarchy in an independent Scotland has been remarkably consistent, ever since 1934 when the newly formed party demanded “dominion status within the British empire”.

Yet official unanimity on the monarchy has masked deep disquiet among party activists, supporters and the more radical wing of the independence movement, many of whom desire nothing less than a republic.

The birth of yet another royal baby probably brings out the republican sympathiser in many of us. There is something repulsive in all that bowing and scraping, coo-eyed fawning and sycophantic drivel.

One might sympathise with republican sentiments, however, without drawing from them a republican conclusion. More than a dozen other countries have chosen to keep the monarchy on independence from the UK – and with good reason.

Keeping the monarchy does not impair independence or sovereignty. The Queen reigns in each country independently – as Queen of Australia, Queen of Barbados, Queen of Canada and so on. In each country she acts on the advice of the country’s own ministers and in accordance with the country’s own democratic constitutional rules. It is true that in the UK – and in some of the countries with older (19th-century) constitutions – the powers of the Crown are broad, and the “reserve powers” that by convention can be exercised personally by the Queen or her representative are poorly defined.

This can, indeed, have undemocratic consequences – as in 2008, when the Prime Minister of Canada advised the Governor-General to prorogue Parliament to avoid a vote of no-confidence.

The solution, however, is not to transfer those broad, ill-defined powers to an elected president – who might cause more havoc with them – but to pin them down in a tightly codified constitution. The Queen of Scots would have a narrowly constrained, purely ceremonial role. There are plenty of examples around the world of how this might be done.

Heredity succession is admittedly a silly way to choose a head of state, but it does at least keep the office free from the arrogance and short-termism of party politics.

The economic argument is a good one, but it misses the target. Economic inequalities and injustices are highlighted by the monarchy, but not caused by it. Norway, Sweden, Netherlands and Luxembourg have lower child poverty rates but still have a hereditary head of state. A democratic Scottish constitution would enable an independent Scottish Government to address these inequalities, with or without the monarchy.

Above all, the monarchy can be an instrument of unity, healing the breach between Nationalists and Unionists. It is a symbolic representation of the continuing “social union” that will be transformed, not broken, by independence.

The Crown is a valuable symbol of identity for many of those whose loyalty to a Scottish state is most in question. Keeping the Queen as head of state – at least during a transitional generation – reassures them that an independent Scotland is their country too.