THERE have been some interesting reactions to my column last week on the secretive private club for some of the wealthiest members of the Scottish establishment, the Royal Company of Archers, which exercises significant influence as the King’s Bodyguard in Scotland.

They were on show on Monday again, with six of their senior officers standing outside Westminster Abbey ready to accompany the Queen’s coffin as it processed through London. So far so good. Their uniform of pastiche tartanry may be overdone but my objection to the company is not about how they look.

Rather, it is about accountability, oversight, and democratic consent, and in those regards, the things I have learnt in the last week have increased, not alleviated, my worries.

I thought that I didn’t know any of the current members, but I was wrong. I have now been told of several whom I have met on a variety of occasions though never, to my certain knowledge, at an SNP branch meeting or a Yes event.

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The Royal Company is very much the Conservative Unionist establishment at play as could have been surmised by what set me off on this voyage of discovery, namely the television pictures of two UK Tory Cabinet Ministers – Alister Jack and Ben Wallace – dressed in full Archers uniform standing guard at the late Queen’s lying in state.

But had I looked more closely at the pictures of the Archers on parade in Edinburgh a few days earlier, standing armed behind the Lord Lyon as he read the Royal Proclamation, I would have seen someone else I recognised beneath his eagle feather, the ken-speckle figure of Jamie Blackett, former Leader of the obsessively Unionist fringe political party All for Unity.

The very definition of a club most of us would not wish to be a member of is one that includes Jamie Blackett.

An old Etonian, he publicly and loudly brays about the Scottish Government and its imagined evils, has claimed that the SNP is hell bent on what he openly calls the “Ulsterisation” of Scottish politics, and once suggested that the South of Scotland could break away if the rest of the nation chose independence.

He is also a contributor to the unwatchably right-wing GB News channel, and as recently as May 2021, stood as an “All for Unity” Scottish Parliament list candidate alongside George Galloway, Ukip founder Alan Sked and a bizarre gallery of political misfits and conspiracy theorists.

Scotland wasn’t fooled though, as they received less than 1% of the overall vote.

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Blackett is, of course, like the rest of us, entitled to his opinions and free to be a member of any political party he chooses, or – given that membership of the Royal Company of Archers is by invitation only – of any club misguided enough to choose him.

However, not just the wisdom of those who invited him needs to be questioned. Neither he nor any of his colleagues should be standing with bow, arrow and small sword on official duty protecting anyone, anywhere.

Those who go uniformed and armed about the streets in this country do so only with public consent. They are there at the behest of the public and are trusted because of that.

In order to retain the public’s confidence they must be seen to be steadfastly politically neutral, no matter what views they privately hold.

They must also be subject to democratic regulation and oversight, ensuring that there is always a clear answer to Juvenal’s two thousand year old question – who will guard the guards themselves?

The Royal Company of Archers as a self-perpetuating and unaccountable private club fails all those basic tests. If the new King is serious about a reform of the royal household – and I am told he is – then he should take an early and close look at his bodyguard in Scotland.

One of the main sources of the wealth that underpins privilege in Scotland is land. It is no coincidence that the landowning Blackett and Jack are members of the Royal Company, as the head of the organisation, the Duke of Buccleuch, is the largest landowner in the country.

Scotland remains a place where democratic anomalies like the Royal Company continue to exist because, in part at least, we have not yet tackled the issue of land reform as thoroughly as we should.

It was good therefore to see the talented Land Reform Minister Mairi McAllan extending the timescale for consultation on the next step on that journey. People have until October 30 to show support and make comment – and I hope many will.

I strongly back the introduction of binding land use rights and responsibilities statements, as well as penalties for failing to ensure full and meaningful consultation with all those affected by a landowner’s plans. I am glad that this new legislation will put in place such normal democratic checks.

But I would like it to go further. It should encourage sustainable farming and the production of food whilst cracking down on the wasteful use of vast acreages for so called “country sports”. It should ensure that communities can more easily and frequently exercise their right of purchase and it should set limits on individual holdings.

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It should insist on absolute transparency with regard to ownership and financing of estates and require clear public benefit from any expenditure of public monies.

Yesterday’s obscene Tory giveaway will encourage some who are benefitting to seek to become Scottish lairds. We must firmly discourage such ambitions whilst reducing the power and reach of those who already own too much of what should be an asset for us all.

Land reform is about fairness and equality. Making more of it happen will spread those virtues throughout our society in a way Scotland needs more than ever.