THE woman on the High Street said: “She brought out the best in us.” Not everyone thought so. But in faces watching the coffin pass, or passing it in St Giles’, that unexpected pulse of feeling kept beating.

So it wasn’t fair to this hard-working, iconic old lady to float off her memory on an endless tide of queenwash. That was not her style, and her subjects on both sides of the Border have grown sick of it. Solemn ceremony, yes. Unceasing broadcast and tabloid grovel ... enough!

But there has been fine journalism too, mostly by Scots. Alan Little, his feet as ever on the ground, reminded BBC listeners that the matter of Scotland’s independence would recur in the reign of Charles III – an obvious truth, which provoked ridiculous splutters. Ian Jack, for his part, watched the people standing to see the Queen’s coffin go by on its drive to Edinburgh and wrote that feelings about the Queen had been “dualist” – a contradictory mixture. Scepticism and affection together.

Affection first. People around Balmoral and Ballater knew her personally, and liked what they knew. Others – the Edinburgh crowds – felt that a distant but sheltering part of their life’s architecture had fallen away. Abruptly, the world had changed, and they wanted to be part of that change.

Yet few identified with her. She was forever pictured launching ships, opening hospital wings, smiling warmly at nurses and schoolchildren. When she died, thousands who had paid little attention to her were surprised to feel loss, compassion for her imprisonment in duty, some gratitude for her often-repeated love for Scotland.

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But, on the other hand, her Scotland was not their Scotland. Her culture and tastes were really those of the English upper classes of the early 20th century: horses and racing, dogs, tweeds, an old English stately home and an immense sporting estate in the Scottish Highlands. With her remarkable memory, she had learned a lot about Scottish history – more, in fact, than many Scots. But she was wary about how she handled it.

Quite a few people, not only former first minister Alex Salmond, toyed with the idea that she could be persuaded to make something real – a distinct and defined role – out of her right to be titled “Queen of Scots”. But she never rose to that fly. Maybe this was because “Mary Queen of Scots got her head chopped off” by England’s previous Queen Elizabeth.

More likely, she saw that this was an attempt to lure her back towards the idea of two independent kingdoms under one monarch: the 1603 “Union of Crowns”. But she wasn’t having that. She seemed to believe that her Coronation Oath swore her to maintain “the United Kingdom”, the incorporating Union of Parliaments agreed in 1707. In fact, all the oath committed her to was to “govern the peoples of the United Kingdom ... according to their respective laws and customs”; a formula the flexibility of which may come in handy in the future.

But there is no serious doubt that the Queen was a sturdy Unionist. She was deeply suspicious of devolution when it was first proposed in the 1970s, although she took a liking to the Scottish Parliament when it was finally restored 20 years later. Her little “Think carefully!” remark before the 2014 independence referendum, apparently spontaneous, was seized on by media who had been warned in advance to make much of it. Her relief when Yes narrowly lost was noisily leaked by David Cameron (“she purred”).

But Scottish scepticism was always there, if often left politely unspoken. Between the British monarchy and the faith that “a man’s a man for a’ that”, there’s no common ground. But the discord is not just the hereditary principle. It’s the gigantic accumulation of wealth and privilege: the properties and personages exempt from democratically decided tax or regulation; the secret immunities to rules obeyed by everyone else; the “Crown consent” pre-censorship of legislation which might affect the royal interest. It’s unfair, unsustainable, unnecessary – and absurd. It’s not even ancient. Most of these privileges were invented or entrenched in the last hundred years.

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THE late Queen, for all her disarming warmth with “ordinary people”, did nothing to reduce this Disneyland castle of entitlement, beyond letting the media in to watch her family behaving almost like normal human beings.

So what will change under King Charles? Scotland isn’t very familiar with this tense, well-meaning man, so clearly damaged by the crushing pressures of his upbringing. He wore a kilt, and was cried Duke of Rothesay, before he wore the crown. But if scepticism about the monarchy is not to swell uncontrollably in Scotland, he should terrify the Establishment by slashing away those privileges, sacking most of his courtiers and – to the outrage of Westminster governments – continuing to say what he thinks about the environment.

But there are no signs that Charles III has the regal ferocity to tackle that. His reign seems to offer more of the same, performed with much less conviction. That poses the question of which matters more: the Crown as an institution or the person wearing it.

In England especially, the religious aura of the Crown used to make the wisdom or stupidity of a current monarch almost irrelevant. That was less true in Scotland, with its history of conflict between warlords and often defenceless kings. It wasn’t superhuman radiance but their human characters which made people revere strong rulers like Alexander III or James IV.

In today’s media world, and especially with a Scottish public, there’s no superstitious glow left in orbs and sceptres. One useless king, and monarchy itself becomes useless. Charles probably shares his mother’s instinctive hostility to Scottish independence. But if he stays out of the debate, and contributes no interesting suggestion (such as a Union of Crowns solution in a confederation of independent states), that future Scotland will find no need for him or his successors.

So a republic? Most people in Britain think that you get a republic simply by throwing out the monarch. But that’s only a fragment of the truth. A modern European republic is a consistent democratic structure, built on principles absolutely contrary to what passes for a British “constitution”.

The first principle is popular sovereignty – something repeatedly declared in Scotland’s successive Claims of Right, but alien to Westminster tradition.

Republican power starts at the bottom of society, in its sovereign communities which then “lease” authority upwards until a parliament is entrusted with defence, currency and other “national” matters. A written constitution, a “supreme law” with a court which can enforce its judgments, guarantees this republican structure.

The British state, “old Ukania”, is the opposite. It’s not just that it has a monarch. It’s that its whole design and spirit is monarchical. Power is top-down. It starts at the top – once the Palace, now Number 10 – and trickles down in strictly controlled doses.

Britain knows no popular sovereignty. Instead, there is the ridiculous principle of “parliamentary sovereignty”: royal absolutism simply transferred to a parliament, at the end of the 17th century. In its name, Boris Johnson was free to over-rule almost anything, and nearly did so: the right of MPs to sit and debate, the right of a Scottish government to form its own contacts with the outside world, the validity of signed treaties. Official information, for instance, is by default secret, and public access to it is technically a top-down favour granted in particular cases by the state (a nonsense now greatly reduced, but not reversed, by Freedom of Information acts).

A SCOTTISH republic, in other words, would have to stand the whole Anglo-British machine of governance on its head. Must that head fall off, if it’s royal? Not necessarily. Several north European countries are, in effect, modern republican democracies with a modestly decorative monarch on top.

Scotland might want to revolutionise its democracy, while leaving King Charles with a few pastoral and ceremonial duties at Holyrood. But even if that were the Scottish preference, it probably wouldn’t be his. Ancestors from the first King Charles to his own mother would look down and scowl at such betrayal of God-given authority.

In any case, there will be other candidates. Down South, where media-boosted contempt for all politicians is reaching new depths, it’s assumed that a non-royal president would be some clapped-out crony of Tory or Labour leaders. But Scots, less deferential but also less swift to sneer, could think of many men and women who could give steady moral leadership, rebuke an erratic government, do this country honour on visits abroad and talk honestly to the young.

The old Queen was worth mourning. But now Scotland faces a new, hostile and very right-wing British government, and a winter of mismanaged want.

It’s time, high time, to get independence done. Would the King come on this journey too? Whatever his answer, Scotland has no need to wait for him.