A letter from Aberdeenshire

A guest post by Jim McWilliam

First of all let me set my stall out. I have been an advocate for Scottish Independence for as long as I can remember, perhaps it was because Alex Salmond was my MP when I was growing up in Banff and Buchan. He certainly had an effect, even if it was just to highlight the issue.

Having left school, and not doing particularly well at college, I joined the British Army when I was at the tender age of 18. It was the best thing I ever did. As a part of the process for becoming a member of the regular Army I had to swear allegiance to the Queen, as well as her heirs and successors. This I did, and I meant what I said when I said it. I served for 10 years and I enjoyed most of it, seeing active service in Northern Ireland and the former Yugoslavia.

While I was serving I would console myself, whilst doing some god awful and sometimes very dangerous job, that I was protecting the people of the UK and standing up for their rights. One of those rights was the right of free speech, something which was denied to me as a serving member of HM Forces. One of the other rights that I was standing up for was the right of self-determination, which is enshrined in various articles of law to which the UK has subscribed. So it was with a feeling of delight that I saw the current Scottish Government elected, with an overall majority, and with a clear mandate to ask the people of Scotland whether they wished to remain as a part of the United Kingdom or become an independent country.

They were as good as their word and they brought us the referendum, backed by the UK parliament. They also brought us the white paper, which I ordered but I have read only a wee bit. That book is a piece of history and I am going to cherish it. The Scottish government also brought us a draft constitution, a document which I place up there Declaration of Arbroath. But, being a draft document, it was always going to be subject to revision.

Part 2-2 of the draft constitution states, “In Scotland, the people are sovereign.” These are noble words indeed, but let us examine what they mean. If the people in a country are sovereign, that means that it is the people’s will which determines the direction of that country. In effect, all of the power within that country is vested in the people. The people wield that power by electing candidates to a parliament where, they hope, their elected representatives will make the changes which they said they would do as part of the election process.

This is in contrast to the current constitutional settlement which we have in the UK. We have an unelected head of state. She has the right to veto all legislation and nobody can find out how often that power is used because the monarch is not subject to any laws. In effect the Queen IS the law of the land. She is sovereign.

This arrangement leads to a system of patronage and privilege in which the rich get richer at the expense of everyone else. It leads to a governmental system in which the government of the day can stuff the unelected second chamber with rich party donors, burned out politicians and other chums. There they can rest their weary legs on red, upholstered benches and claim £300 per day expenses for the chore of doing so. They can become a minister in the government, even though they have not been elected. These people are called “lords” and they have the power to amend government legislation.

Which leads me to Part 2-7 of the draft constitution which states,”Scotland is an independent, constitutional monarchy.” What does that mean? Does it mean that we will be ceding our sovereignty to an unelected head of state that will have the power of veto over all laws and not be subject to them? Does it mean that we will recreate the system of patronage which exists around the palaces of London? I don’t have the answers to these questions but I have a question of my own; why do we need to have a monarch to which we are subject, to which we cede sovereignty?

There is a fundamental contradiction in the draft constitution, either the people are sovereign or the monarch is. It cannot be both. Why would we vote to regain our sovereignty then give it away to someone just because of who their mum and dad was? It’s just plain daft.

This is why I would like to see a Scottish Republic. A country where the people are sovereign and they exercise their power through the ballot box. A country where all people are equal and not subjects to an anachronism, a country where we don’t need kings and queens. That is the Scotland that I want to create once we have our independence. If this sounds like the Scotland that you would like to live in, the one that you will bequeath to future generations, then I would urge you to read the draft constitution and to decide for yourselves if it represents what you would want from an independent Scotland. Once you have done so then you can make representations to your elected representatives and tell them what you think.

But what of my contradiction I here you ask? Didn’t you once swear allegiance to the Queen? Yes, I did.

It is a difficult one to reconcile. The way I see it now is that the Oath of Allegiance which I swore, and I meant it at the time, was a part of the terms and conditions of employment. It was a part of the contract between me and the Crown if you like. But I am no longer employed by the Crown, so the contract is no longer valid. Now I choose to exercise my rights and no longer be subject to a royal command. Now I choose to vote Yes on 18th September, hopefully the majority of the Scottish people will do the same. That will give us the opportunity to rid ourselves of the monarchy and keep our sovereignty in our own hands. To do otherwise would be a betrayal of the future generations.

33 comments on “A letter from Aberdeenshire

  1. Steve Asaneilean says:

    The decision for monarchy or republic is a decision for the Scottish people to take once Scotland becomes an independent state.
    There are already Scottish institutions where the British monarch has no special status – the Church of Scotland is a good example. The Queen is Head of the Church of England but she is an ordinary member of the Church of Scotland. She can attend the General Assembly – as can any member of the public – but she has no right to speak there unless invited to do so by the Assembly.
    So it is perfectly possible to a have a constitutional monarch whose role is solely symbolic with no power to interfere or veto and all this can be written into a new constitution for Scotland should the Scottish people choose to have a monarchy.
    Personally I am not really too fussed one way or the other although I have always believed we should have an elected Head of State that we can get rid of democratically if we do not like what they are doing. But if the majority prefer a king or queen I can live with that although I think they should be salaried and any palace or stately home they use should belong to the people with all that that implies.
    But at this stage I think by far the biggest democratic concern for me is the relative lack of democracy in Scotland at present. As pointed out by Common Weal and others we need to re-democratise Scotland. As they highlight the average population of a local authority area in Europe is just over 5600 but in Scotland it is 163,000; and the average size of a local authority area in Europe is 49 square km whereas in Scotland is is over 2400 sq. km. That all strikes me as profoundly undemocratic and something which a new Scotland should set as a political priority for addressing.

  2. bringiton says:

    Have to agree.
    This bit relating to the head of state has my concerns:

    “Her Majesty, and Her successors to the Crown, continue to enjoy all the rights, powers
    and privileges which, according to law, attached to the Crown in Scotland immediately before Independence Day.”

    Since I am unaware of the current rights,powers and privileges accorded to the monarch in Scotland,it is difficult to say what this actually means.

    • MBC says:

      There may be some legal and constitutional significance to this phrase relating to the sovereignty of Scotland which (I assume) we are trying to recover in full? The question is: Are we seceding from UK and establishing a new, separate state? Or are we dissolving the Union of 1707 to which we entered voluntarily and were an equally legitimate sovereign signatory? Whether we are a successor or continuator state has major bearings on our negotiating position should we vote Yes, so these weasel words need to be studied very closely or we could be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  3. Pam McMahon says:

    I would also like to get rid of these unaccountable parasites but, as Steve Ananeilan says, it is something to be decided by US, the Scottish electorate, after independence. There are still many sad people in Scotland quite happy to throw their money at the British monarchy and their offspring, employees and establishments, without asking for any kind of reckoning. I think that will change, with a constitution. Let’s vote YES first, and sort out the mess afterwards.

    • hektorsmum says:

      I am with you there, this is something which has to be decided by us and us alone, but in the meantime we have the much bigger issue with Independence, finish that and I really do think Liz will have her marching orders, too many people like me remembers when she flew the English quartering on her flag.
      We should remember also that it was a Monarch who gave us that sovereignty even if it was only to get him out of a hole. It was not something we fought for, like people in other countries.It is an anachronism in the 21st Century time for it to go.

  4. MBC says:

    You’re asking a very good question. Well spotted.

    Maybe I can help a little here, I studied history.

    A constitutional monarchy is a monarchy limited by the constitution.

    In Britain the constitution is however unwritten and ‘lives on in the hearts and minds of its subjects’. Scots have tended to be more constitutionally minded than the English who look on written constitutions with some suspicion and disdain.

    The short answer to your question is that it is a fudge. The unwritten British constitution is governed merely by British practice and precedent.

    The term ‘constitutional monarchy’ came in with the Whig Revolution of 1689 when James VII and II was deposed/ abdicated and William of Orange was offered the Crown in both Scotland and England by both parliaments, meeting separately.

    William was handed two documents, separately, by both parliaments, at different times by their representatives who offered him the Crown of their respective kingdoms, their parliaments having agreed to do so.

    This ‘Claim of Right’ placed limitations on the Crown. The Scottish one claimed that the people of Scotland were sovereign.

    William read the document(s) and made no comment. He accepted the Crown without any formal signed contract having been made. Those making the offer did not force him to sign anything as they had no such commission to do so from those who had appointed them.

    It was left as a tacit understanding that the King should respect the rights of parliament as articulated in the Claim of Right and not invade them, and this has remained the practice.

    Gradually the monarch took less and less direct part in parliament, and was represented instead by his/her ministers and his/her prime minister. Thus there came the legal idea (in the unwritten British constitution) of the ‘crown-in-parliament’ in which the ministers have subsumed the power of the Crown and the actual monarch is a mere cipher. Hope that helps.

  5. Doug Porteous says:

    Jim like yourself I am an ex-serviceman I my case RAF. I have long pondered on the oath of allegiance and I would like to thank you for resolving this for me. I believe that any future head of state should serve in an honorary/ceremonial capacity with no political power if nothing else it would stop Scotland getting into the mess that the USA gets itself into every six years or so as the incumbent president begins to approach the end of his term.

  6. yerkitbreeks says:

    Jim, I suspect you’re swearing allegiance was a bit like my taking the Hippocratic oath on qualifying at Aberdeen – it’s what you did and what was expected.

    Most medics no longer take this oath, so let’s see. I would propose there’s no hurry for the Republic since the next time to take stock is the appointment of ” Charles King of Scots “.

  7. Steve Bowers 74% win says:

    Very good and very interesting post. i agree with what Jim says and I also agree with what Steve Asaneilean says ( better have some cereal to calm me down). My wife is a very keen royalist and so would perhaps be in favour of retaining a Monarchy but it’s not for me.
    Perhaps this is a discussion better saved for the 19th.

  8. Capella says:

    My understanding is that the monarch is the “Queen of Scots” not of Scotland and that the people can choose another monarch if the incumbent fails to impress. But it’s a debate that can wait till Independence, surely? I can think of some Republics which I wouldn’t want to live in and the Scandinavian countries we all admire are monarchies. Pros and cons.

  9. seanair says:

    I would like Scotland to become a Republic, but I can see that the time is not right to press for it because the Queen is popular, especially with older people.
    BUT when she departs the mortal coil I think that there will an eruption of bad will against Charles who wants to interfere in politics, treated his wife very badly, adulterer, and general all round prick.
    If he wants to be King of Scots he’ll have to convince us why.

  10. FergusMac says:

    I consider the main advantage of retaining the constitutional monarchy is that is that the Head of State is above the party political fray. Sweden follows this approach. The Swedish monarch has no powers at all, and his/her main duty is to represent the state and carry out ceremonial duties.

    With a republic there are a number of models, e.g.

    1. The President has traditional monarchical powers and is a political partisan, often at daggers drawn with the legislature, with a constant jockeying for power between executive and legislature. The USA and France have this arrangement (somewhat less noisily in France).

    2. A President may also be a figurehead apart from politics. This is the case in Israel.

    3. The President may be in a half-way house: a party political figure with certain defined powers, but with the everyday conduct of government and the adoption of policy in the hands of the head of government. This is the current German approach.

    Most modern monarchies are constitutional, and the nominal powers of the monarch have been transferred in practice to the government of the day to exercise, leaving all monarchs effectively representational and ceremonial. Many republics are the same – e.g. India and Ireland.

    Given that maintaining the monarchy would spare us the cost of elections (which the scumbags in the Labour Party would immediately politicise anyway, even if the post was supposed to be apolitical – there is no gravy train they are too proud to jump aboard – President JoLa anyone?), and that tourists do love to see a monarch and all the ceremonial, I would be inclined to revert to a Dual Monarchy. Whether it would be better to seek a specific resident monarch (as Norway did, in fact, in 1905, by inviting in, in an astute political move for the times, a King who was a member of the Danish Royal family and who was also married into the British Royal Family) or rest content with a Head of State resident in London, who comes to Scotland to be Crowned, to open Parliament, hold investitures for the award of Scottish honours, go on holiday to Balmoral and so on, but otherwise keeps out of everyone’s hair, is an open question. Canada and New Zealand, for example, each have a Governor General as the resident representative of their monarch.They, of course, were colonies that achieved Dominion status. Scotland’s king became England’s king as well in 1603. Even though we had the Hanovarians imposed on us, the position is still the same. We are not legally a colony (though treated as such by Westminster governments – “Roll up! Roll up, see the lovely nuclear warheads!). The monarchy of the UK is 50% ours, not 9% on a pro-rata population basis. We can take our half back, if we want to.

    All this is a debate for a later date. Let’s keep the current issue simple; Scotland an independent country or not. I hesitate to given any ammunition to the No thanks/No surrender/Bitter Together people. There will be a swine of a lot to do, a lot of decisions to be made. LIke the currency, we can keep the present arrangement for the moment, and see how things develop. If, after a few years, it appears that a purely Scottish solution to the Head of State and/or the currency is required, we can look at it again.

    I think the republic/monarchy issue would probably require a referendum at some stage in the future. That’s what Norway did in 1905.

    • Skip_NC says:

      Greetings from Raleigh, North Carolina.

      That was a very useful summary, FergusMac. Frankly, the US system is a pretty scary one when you think about it. In fact, the whole US system of government needs a thorough overhaul. It was cutting edge for its time, but we are in the 21st century, not the 18th.

      If we go for a purely ceremonial head of state, I wonder if it would be cheaper and simpler to have a HoS appointed for life. It might be the sort of thing that could be passed down from parent to child, assuming the child is acceptable to the people who are, after all, sovereign. That way, you don’t get any messy elections every four or five years, distracting from the real work of running an independent country. You also don’t get any washed up politicians who, after the 18th, will not have a future in the House of Lords.

      I haven’t thought much about a HoS with limited powers. Doesn’t that run the risk of political disagreements, where none should exist. Would free and fair elections, held frequently, have the same effect of controlling government excess?

  11. WRH2 says:

    Doug has concerns about having a president but if we did decide to become a republic, due to our present type of government, we would be more like the Republic of Ireland. The Irish president is a figurehead with very little political power and they have had two excellent presidents, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese.

  12. john says:

    I think if the people of this country vote yes ,,on the 18th we should not cede power to anyone the real power must remain with the people. We have people with criminal records sitting in the house of lords as far as I a lead to believe.. We can get shot of that whole system.

  13. David Christie says:

    Surely a grown up country elects its own Head of State!

  14. James Kay says:

    I see no problem about reconciling the oath of allegiance with a desire to have a republic. No matter how others interpret the words, I think that the phrase “heirs and successors” incorporates those elected Heads of State who will follow the abolition of the hereditary principle.

  15. Clootie says:

    I am always baffled by the acceptance of someone born above you.

    However as a young reservist I had to take the same oath. The question should be why would you need to take such an oath to a person and not your country.

  16. macart763 says:

    Have to say I don’t think about the royals at all. To far removed maybe?

    A conversation we do need to have though and I quite like FergusMac’s summation of the situation. Anyroads a conversation when we’re putting that constitution together I think. Right now this:


  17. handclapping says:

    The Declaration of Arbroath was not about “the settled will of the Scottish people”. It was setting out that any representative of Scotland could, and would, be recalled if they did not respect the will of those they represented.

    It is not for nothing that the title is Queen of Scots not Scotland. And it will be interesting to see the panic when politicians begin to understand what that means for them.

  18. Edulis says:

    I think that the Queen as head of state in Commonwealth countries is a simple case of an easy option. My problem with it is that it has historically led to sycophants and ‘hingers oan’ trying to curry favour with the monarch and so that has led to the elitism which is so much of the character of the English aristocracy.

    It is debatable whether we could get away from that by simply becoming independent because the period between 1603 and 1707 saw the whole court decant to London and political power being lost to London even though we had a sovereign parliament.

    I look forward to the written constitution levelling all the built-in social mores of the British state. For that I think we need wholesale peaceful revolution, not tinkering.

  19. A Meringue says:

    Jim I have a similar background to yourself. Sixteen years in the Army (including boy soldier) I crossed my fingers behind my back while taking the oath. I had after all only just turned fifteen. 😉

    Like yourself I have wanted an Independent Scotland for as long as I can remember. In 1964 (I was eleven) the Queen drove through Uddingston. All us weans got the day off school and were presented with a wee union jack.

    Me and my pal binned ours and from somewhere can’t remember where we got our hands on a full sized Saltire and Lion Rampant tied them to broom handles and ran the length of Uddingston. Through the packed pavements we ran keeping level with “Brenda`s” convoy for as far as we could.

    If there was a referendum on the monarchy I would vote to retain them for one simple reason. For as long as we have a monarch we are saved from having a president. I for one can’t think of one single living precedent that isn’t having his strings pulled from somewhere. Anything is better than that.

    I would like a scaled down monarchy though something along the Dutch lines. No big deal and a lot less forelock tugging. It doesn’t bother me if they maintain a house in Scotland. Balmoral is a private residence after all.

  20. A Meringue says:

    Just to add that I think that the monarchy have been very fair during the referendum. Hardly a peep from them on the subject. More than can be said for a lot of overprivileged, self entitled halfwits without a vote.

  21. arthur thomson says:

    A good post Jim and thank you. A matter to be resolved once independence has been achieved in my view.

  22. I affirmed (not swore) allegiance to the Queen and her heirs and successors when I became a Canadian citizen. I chocked as I was doing so. But I did not affirm allegiance to the queen as a person, an individual. I swore allegiance to her as head of state. When Scotland becomes independent, and later on a republic, the head of state of the Republic of Scotland will be the heir of the present head of state, the queen, or an heir of her body if she’s dead. So my choking did not asphyxiate me.

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