Richard Murphy: The Queen's Scottish lobbying reveals a deep constitutional issue

In 2008 I was one of a group of economists, environmentalists and activists who wrote about what we called a Green New Deal. We were the first to do so. 

Our argument was straightforward. In the face of a climate and biodiversity crisis that meant existing forms of capitalism were already failing (we predicted the financial collapse that hit soon after we published) it was essential that the economy be transformed to build a sustainable future.

We focused on renewable energy, the need to create new jobs to replace those a fading system would shed, and the need to invest in new energy, transport, agriculture and housing infrastructure as the economy adapated to the new world in which we had to live if climate challenges were to be met.

The demand we made was universal. We wrote in the UK, but there is only one planet, which we all live on. The need was urgent. The crisis was already very real by 2008. And there was no one who could be excepted from the process of change: we were all going to be in this together.

READ MORE: Holyrood: Queen has had advanced access to 67 bills, new investigation reveals

The initial impact was surprising: within months a US presidential candidate called Barack Obama was referring to a Green New Deal. As the global financial crisis hit hard in 2009 it looked as if the moment for reform had come.

But we got austerity instead. Austerity was the politics of denial. It tried to put the Humpty Dumpty that was the world’s broken financial system back on its wall by making all of us bear the cost of repairing the broken balance sheet of banks. The claim was that without financial capitalism we were nothing. Implicit was a belief that keeping financiers and the political elite surrounding them happy was the real purpose of our politics. They were exceptional, it was suggested. For some, including them, different rules applied.

This logic did, of course, conflict very heavily with the "we’re all in this together" claim of the Green New Deal. The evidence that the elite won this argument can easily be found: the climate crisis is getting worse, and COP26 in Glasgow already looks to be failing in the face of the massive predicament that we face.

The reason why is not hard to see. We were starkly reminded of it this week. As research by the Cornish LibDems had revealed, the exceptionalism of some in society still means that they refuse to accept that saving this planet for the future of us all requires that we radically change our behaviour now. What that research showed though was that the elites that refuse to accept this are not just in the big business sector, but are also present in the royal family.

Richard Murphy: The Queen's Scottish lobbying reveals a deep constitutional issue

Using arcane powers inherited from Westminster we now know that the Queen’s office vets Scottish legislation before it is passed, and lobbies for changes that suit her own private interests. As a consequence the Queen is now the only landowner in Scotland who is exempt from a legal requirement to facilitate the construction of pipelines to heat buildings using renewable energy.

What can be concluded? It is that apparently climate change is not a royal concern. It is also that the Queen and her estates are not with the rest of us on this issue. And the very clear message is that whoever else must bear the very real consequences of climate change, the royal estates need not do so.

The message that action to tackle climate change can happen so long as the existing status quo of power is not disrupted could not have been more clearly delivered. The Queen is happy for her Scottish subjects to address climate change if they wish, but it would seem that she wishes to deny the problem and, as a large landowner, her role in addressing it. The message is that this is a problem for others.

But that is not true. No one can buy themselves out of climate change. It is real. It is happening. It is threatening. We must address it. If we do not the consequences are catastrophic. And you’d have thought that as a great-grandparent the Queen would have understood that. But apparently not.

READ MORE: Queen lobbied Scottish Government for exemption to climate law on her private land

The structures of government that Scotland should enjoy should, whatever political differences there might be, enjoy the consent of the people of Scotland. They should also be consented to by all those tasked with fulfilling the role of governing. The Queen and her estates should not be exempt from that requirement. If she cannot apparently consent to the will of the Scottish Parliament on an issue as big as this, why should Scotland consent to her role in its constitution?

The Queen’s refusal to embrace her climate change obligations is bad enough, but the manner in which she has done so indicates that there is a much bigger constitutional issue to address. If the royal family wants a role in Scotland it is time they realised that they are subject to its laws. There is no place in any country for those who think otherwise.