IT is frustrating that so many in the movement are harming the case for an independent Scotland by highly critical comments of the monarchy at this time of King Charles’s coronation.

Many are explicitly calling for the abolition of the monarchy and for Scotland to become a republic. Some suggested that even in the present structure within the UK, the First Minister should have nothing to do with the King and should not even have attended the coronation.

While the monarchy is clearly in need of reform, calling for its abolition seems to be a strange departure from Scottish history. Such calls are confusing the case for independence by treating the monarchy as though it is part of the Westminster government. I suggest the following points are relevant this debate.

(1) Surely everyone learned in school about the 1603 Union of the Crowns, and hopefully realises that it is completely separate from the 1707 Act of Union. The significance of 1603 is that the Scottish King James VI became James I of England and all subsequent monarchs have at least some link back to James VI, notwithstanding the Jacobite defeat. So the present monarchy is fundamentally a Scottish monarchy – it is more Scottish than English – so it seems extraordinary for supporters of an independent Scotland to reject this.

(2) While monarchs may have neglected Scotland from 1651 to 1822, no one could accuse recent monarchs of doing so. Queen Elizabeth and now King Charles clearly both have a profound love of Scotland and appear to spend proportionally more time in Scotland (relative to our population) than in the rest of the UK. They clearly understand the constitutional and historic differences between the nations of the UK (much more than most politicians at Westminster). When in Scotland, they embrace different flags and they have different officers of state and a different expression of their faith (Church of Scotland rather than Church of England).

(3) There is a suggestion by some that no modern nation would have a hereditary monarchy and that a hereditary head of state might create problems in terms of Scotland’s EU membership. This is nonsense: there are six constitutional monarchies in the EU, plus Norway in the EEA. Of course a monarchy is undemocratic as it is based on hereditary succession, but any system to elect a president is fraught with the problems of unsuitable persons being elected on the basis of political allegiances or personal wealth – one only has to look to the US.

I accept that there are arguments for and against an elected head of state, and will be happy to explore those once Scotland becomes independent, but it is vital to keep those arguments separate from the independence debate. But provided the head of state has no executive power, it is hard to see a fundamental problem in having a non-elected monarch as head of state.

(4) Even those who believe that an independent Scotland should ditch the monarch accept that that is a separate issue from the issue of independence, but often they fail to make this clear. When Scotland becomes independent, it will at least initially have King Charles as its head of state, in much the same way as many other Commonwealth nations – Canada or New Zealand are perhaps the closest parallels.

It remains the policy of the SNP that independence should not in itself change the monarchy – even Humza Yousaf as a committed republican suggests it would take a good five years after independence to replace the monarchy, and such a decision would almost certainly need a further referendum. So even in an independent Scotland, the Scottish ministers will owe allegiance to the King as head of state for some years at least.

Few voters who are undecided on the question of independence will be won over by the idea of abolishing the monarchy – the majority of these undecided voters are generally in favour of the monarchy (Scottish Opinion Monitor, November 2022). It is vital to be able to reassure voters that no more will change than strictly necessary in order to achieve the benefits of independence.
Gareth Morgan
via email