BIG changes ahead. 2024 will be an election year in both the UK and US. But for my last column of the year, I want to focus on something that is unlikely to get a mention in the main party manifestos. Something major nonetheless, and central to the way in which Britain is run. The monarchy.

Might 2023 go down in history as the year the tide turned on the royals, the year the public fell out of love with the crown?

Certainly, the times they are a changin’. Between 2018 and 2023, support for the monarchy fell in the UK as a whole from 75% to 60%.

READ MORE: 'The year of Charles's no clothes': A look back on the King's 2023

YouGov – which regularly polls on the question of whether we should keep or abolish the monarchy – reports a slight boost in support with the death of Queen Elizabeth in September 2022, but a continuing downward trend since then.

Digging into the stats shows significant differences in different parts of the UK and amongst people of different ages. For people aged 18-34, support for the monarchy is already a minority opinion. And for people in Scotland, the royal love affair is toast. A Savanta poll earlier in the year put support for the monarchy in Scotland at just 37%.

The National: PA REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2023 ..File photo dated 07/11/23 - The carriage carrying King Charles III and Queen Camilla passes by protesters from anti-monarchy pressure group Republic demonstrating outside the Palace of Westminster in London, during the State

These changes are taking place despite an almost total exclusion of republican views from mainstream news reporting. Open any newspaper and you will find prurient obsession with the affairs and foibles of the various royals, but no criticism of their constitutional role.

Watch the BBC, particularly during their coverage of royal events, and even the most mild-mannered liberals will get angry at the level of sycophancy and deference on display. Republicans, if they are referred to at all, will be portrayed as minority fringe groups, oscillating between extremism and irrelevance.

Things are pretty much the same in parliament. Given that more than a quarter of people in England – never mind Scotland – say they are republicans and support an elected head of state, it is strange that there are so few proponents of this view elected to parliament.

The redoubtable Clive Lewis (below) – probably the most decent Labour MP in the Commons – and myself have talked about trying to establish an all-party group on alternatives to the monarchy. But we can’t get to first base because it is simply impossible to find a single Conservative who would sign up. You can usually find one rogue Tory for even the most liberal of causes – Palestine, drugs, electoral reform – but not for this one.

The National: Clive Lewis has been trying to speak to the government about the "dental desert" seen in Norwich

But despite being ignored and derided by the political classes, support for republicanism is solid and growing, not only in Scotland where it is very near the majority opinion, but in England too. And it is getting organised.

The pressure group Republic has grown more in the last four years than in the rest of the four decades since it was established. This year it has really taken off.

In part, this is a result of the ham-fisted way in which the government and the Metropolitan Police sought to stifle dissent during the coronation six months ago. The scenes of peaceful protesters being bundled in police vans before they even got to their demo did not play well; donations and membership soared.

So, might this be the turning point? Well, things are not going to get any better from a royal perspective.

READ MORE: Pro-independence voices should be in House of Lords, Stephen Noon says

With the death of the late queen, the monarchy lost what Republic CEO Graham Smith calls their heat shield. A protective layer formed by seven decades of continuity. A woman to whom a great many were prepared to exercise deference and respect has been replaced by a man who will command a lot less of either.

There is an international dimension to this debate too. The King is King of the Commonwealth – and they are getting uppity.

In Canada, support for the monarchy is below 50%. In Australia, the government has appointed a Minister for the Republic. And across the Caribbean, states are lining up to become republics and remove the King as head of state.

The National: King Charles was crowned in 2023, but how many welcomed it?

Much of the argument against change used to revolve around a sense that this was just the way things always were; it wasn’t worth the effort the shake them up. But changes here and abroad mean that no longer holds. So now, we can have a real debate between keeping a hereditary monarchy or having a democratically elected head of state. Those who support the status quo are going to have to justify it. They have questions to answer.

The first is: Why should this grotesque offence against the very notion of democracy be allowed to remain? Why should the head of state be a position that is only open to members of the Mountbatten-Windsor family and no-one else? What does it say about our society if we accept that for the next 100 years, this position will be filled by three, very rich, white men and no-one else?

This arrangement frustrates and opposes the development of a genuine democracy with engaged citizens having equal rights and everyone getting the same opportunity no matter who they are or where they were born.

There is a disturbing symbiosis between the monarchy and the British political elite.

READ MORE: Ruth Wishart: The safest choice for Scotland in a divided world is independence

The Government – all UK governments – likes the fact that the unelected nature of the head of state means the institution lacks the authority to challenge the government of the day. Power is centralised and entrenched, and the constitutional checks and balances other countries enjoy are non-existent here.

In return for the royals playing this compliant role, they are feted and rewarded with adulation and with money. Our money. Any neutral observer would regard this as corrupt.

THE monarchy has a long history of siphoning off public money for private gain. And the British government has a long history of enabling them. This continues with knobs on today as these exceptionally wealthy people refuse to pay the taxes the rest of us are obliged to.

These are not insignificant amounts. The late queen’s estate is estimated at £650 million. The exemption of that estate from inheritance tax represents a loss to the exchequer of around a quarter of a billion pounds. You’d get a lot of doctors and nurses for that.

We do not know if the King or other members of his family pay income tax. Certainly, they are not obliged to. Charles and William run the duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall respectively, commercial operations using state property, from which they make a surplus of around £22m a year each. Unlike any other business, they pay no corporation tax.

In total, the monarchy costs the taxpayer around £350m per year. That is an awful lot for a head of state that is designed not to have any meaningful constitutional or political role.

And because the Palace is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, we have literally no idea where this money goes.

We know not how much is used to boost their private wealth, and because – unlike all other citizens – their wills are sealed, we know not whether they are passing it on to their friends.

Today’s royals claim to be concerned about climate change.

Yet they travel by helicopter and private jet rather than by car.

They claim to be concerned about animal welfare yet exempt their estates from legislation.

They claim to be concerned about homelessness whilst maintaining multiple palaces for themselves.

They claim to be concerned about poverty but won’t pay their taxes.

So, in this, the panto season of fairytale princes and princesses, we should resolve to consign the medieval notion of royalty to the history books and seek a modern democratic constitutional where all people are equal.

That is part of the promise of a new independent country.