FIFTY-FIVE years after taking its first steps towards independence, the Caribbean island nation of Barbados has declared itself a republic, ending the reign of Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state.

Questions of the legacy of colonialism, imperialism, racism and slavery have become ever harder to ignore with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, with many former Commonwealth colonies said to be considering following the Barbadian example.

Could Scotland – a country that has often struggled to accept its own complicity in the trans-Atlantic slave trade – follow Barbados’s lead and find its own independence movement becoming a republican one?

For many years, it has been something of an accepted wisdom that support for the monarchy in the UK often rests on the goodwill that Queen Elizabeth II receives from her subjects (we’re not really citizens after all), including those in Scotland.

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With the continuing persistence of the drive for Scottish independence refusing to go away – last week’s ­Ipsos MORI poll put support for independence at 55% – how an independent Scotland would constitute itself is a question that hasn’t really been answered.

The SNP (in contrast to its Green partners in government) currently proposes a policy of independence within the Commonwealth, leaving Queen Elizabeth – and her successor – as an unelected head of state of a newly independent Scotland, despite speculation of dissent within the SNP ranks over this very question.

For some independence supporters, this has always been a cop-out, a fundamentally undemocratic sop towards a system that entrenches land and wealth in the hands of a minority of people who simply had the good fortune to be born into a life of unearned privilege.

HOWEVER, given Queen Elizabeth’s advancing years, this is a question that will present itself sooner rather than later. The coronation of a septuagenarian King Charles is often pinpointed as the moment when support for the monarchy will quickly begin to erode, a phenomenon that has only been exacerbated by allegations of sexual abuse made by Virginia Giuffre towards his notoriously “unable to sweat” brother. Prince Andrew denies the allegations.

Two YouGov polls would seem to show just how drastic approval of the monarchy has fallen over the last decade. In 2012, support for the monarch continuing as the UK head of state polled at 72% in Scotland, whereas that figure had fallen to 49% by May 2021. It’s hard to imagine any scenario that improves that figure for the royal family any time soon, if ever.

As guest of honour at the ceremony to swear in its new, elected head of state Sandra Mason – the first president of Barbados – Prince Charles acknowledged the legacy of slavery on the island that the UK profited from, calling it an “appalling atrocity”.

Barbados was one of the very first colonies of the neophyte British empire, from 1625 all the way through to 1966.

SCOTLAND’S own complicity in the slave trade has long been an awkward fact for those within the Scottish independence movement, their belief that the country is itself a victim of English imperialism at odds with the fact that rather than becoming a brutally supressed slave population, Scots were by and large willing participants in the imperial project – to this day, many of Glasgow’s streets remain named after men who made their wealth on the backs of slaves.

Should a potential second independence referendum yield a Yes vote, questions of how an independent Scotland would compensate former colonies for its own role in the slave trade is one that must be asked.

Would the Scottish political establishment be able to adequately handle such a loaded question so soon after a momentous event such as winning independence?

Would the royal family – who would remain head of state under current SNP policy – accept further scrutiny into the crimes carried out in its name by an upstart Scottish nation? To use a royal affectation, one would expect there to be quite a bit of pushback from the landed classes who own much of Scotland, afraid of their name being tarnished by the stain of slavery.

Would the new Scotland – still a member of the Commonwealth – want to open that particular can of worms amid an already volatile situation? These questions, along with how an independent Scotland would be constituted, would certainly have to be asked – indeed, questions about our role in slavery and how we atone for it should be being asked in any case.

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That’s not to say that a republic isn’t immune to committing its own crimes, entrenching its own corruption, setting up its own systems of unearned patronage – they self-evidently aren’t.

However, as Sir Hilary Beckles, the new republic’s most renowned historian, has said: “It (the monarchy) cuts into your dignity as a citizen. It reduces you psychologically in terms of being a citizen of your nation, and then you have public officials who have to swear allegiance to this sovereign who is not a part of their reality.”

With attitudes towards the monarchy seemingly on a downward trajectory in Scotland, perhaps the day that we follow the Barbadian example isn’t as far off as we may think.

This article was written as part of a collaboration between The National/Sunday National and City of Glasgow College in which we are seeking to find and support the journalists of the future