IN his book Shadowlands, Matthew Green explores places in these islands which have been deserted, starting with Skara Brae. These fascinating accounts of decline, sudden or gradual, remind us of how impermanent human effort – and human artefacts – can be.

Take Winchelsea, in East Sussex, which was a port of such importance to England in the early Middle Ages that the town was expensively and impressively rebuilt on a new site by royal command after the original settlement was destroyed by worsening weather.

Now a mere village, Green notes that as the physical and human presence in the new site declined, those who were left to run the community “developed something of a feverish obsession with arcane ritual and civic power, in the absence of real status and power”.

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That line came back to me during the State Opening of the UK Parliament, particularly when the jewel-encrusted Imperial State Crown was pictured being driven into the Palace of Westminster in a vast glass topped Rolls-Royce which (and I looked it up,) is capable of running for no more than eight miles on every gallon of fuel poured into it.

It was accompanied in that environmentally disastrous vehicle by a former senior military officer, decorated with loops of ceremonial gold braid, who rejoices in the title of Comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office.

When it got to Parliament, the crown was taken from its velvet-clothed splendour by the Queen’s Jeweller (another official designation) and then given back to the Comptroller to be carried in procession into the House of Lords, followed by two titled people, one holding a massive gilded sword, first seen at the coronation of James II and VII in 1685, and the other parading an ermine hat on a pole, the “Cap of Maintenance”, the original of which was given by a Pope to an English king almost 500 years ago.

These three items were then displayed during the entire ceremony which takes place not in the democratically elected Commons but in the chamber of the wholly unelected peerage.

Moreover, MPs were summoned (not invited) to attend by someone dressed up in knee breeches and lace. In fact, on this occasion, because the Queen was not present, the crown was particularly prominent, ominously placed on a table right next to Prince Charles who, sitting on a throne, was himself dressed as an Admiral of the Fleet.

The contrast between the busy formality of all this and the emptiness of what the Duke of Rothesay was given to read by the Tory government was stark. Brexit was centre stage, probably because if Johnson can claim (however falsely) that the wicked EU is even partially to blame for the cost of living crisis it will bolster his support among the obsessive Brexiteers who now make up much of his parliamentary majority.

Johnson also needs to continue the fiction that there are benefits – or as the Tories now deceitfully put it “freedoms”– to be had from the folly that is leaving the EU, so the speech contained further plans to victimise migrants, suppress individual liberties and give free reign to bad business practices.

Of course there wasn’t a mention of the long-promised protections for workers, necessary as EU law is shredded, nor was there a single specific item in the speech which provided material comfort to those facing the biggest domestic financial threat in generations, with soaring prices, rising interest rates and spreading hunger.

The reality is that the UK now has a serial liar as a prime minister, who has personally presided over the worst lockdown breaking in the whole of the country.

Institutional corruption has been fuelled by money from Putin and his oligarchs, which also bought Brexit, while the current government spin machine is focused on character assassination of opponents aided and abetted by a salivating right-wing press owned by a few very rich people.

We have Tory MPs, and even ministers, whose advice to the hungry is to eat a cheaper brand of cake or to learn how to bake it.

The UK political system refuses to heed the democratically expressed wishes of the Scottish people to choose their own future while Tory ministers, including a chief law officer, want to throw away an international treaty they themselves signed in order to pander to the threats of Unionists in Northern Ireland, despite Sinn Fein’s election victory.

Yet all the while, the state that is doing those things is proudly displaying to the world a crown dripping with precious stones being driven in a luxury car, with a military guard and attended by the monarch’s own jeweller, in what looks more and more like the political establishment playing with expensive baubles while Rome and the Romans burn.

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I have never come down on one side or the other about having the existing monarch as the head of state in an independent Scotland, though it is essential we get rid of aristocratic titles and all that goes with them. Norway managed that in the 19th century, while retaining a much-reformed monarchy. For me, securing independence is the greater priority. Then, in the making of our new permanent constitution, the people themselves can reach a consensus about what suits us best.

But what we saw this week was not just irrelevant, it was also insensitive. In the third decade of the 21st century such an expensive mishmash of fake medievalism dressed up with extravagant historic artefacts is far distant from the lives of citizens, as well as from modern constitutional reality.

I have no doubt that Johnson is greedily and cynically exploiting this pretence and flummery as a useful smokescreen to hide the actions of the worst, most anti-democratic and most authoritarian UK government in many generations.

However, he tarnishes everything he touches which in this case includes the monarchy itself.

In Scotland it is time for independence. But in England it is also past time for urgent constitutional reform.