Respect, they say, is earned and not given. This most definitely doesn’t hold true for one family in this supposedly United Kingdom, the family whose head is celebrating her 90th birthday. You may have noticed the wall to wall gushing sycophancy in lieu of news on the telly today. It’s hard to avoid it, deliberately so. You’re not allowed to avoid it because you’re a peasant who needs to learn how to respect your betters and the way you’re taught to respect them is by having Nicolas Witchell waffle insulting nonsense on the Six O’Clock news.
The fact that Prince Charles visited a garden centre and uttered a platitude is far more important than the fact that the UK government is stripping us all of our dignity and the money we need to make it through the week in order to reward rich wastes of space like Charles. It’s more important than illegal wars, than whitewashed reports into government misdeeds, than the lack of democracy in this country.
We don’t just have to pay this family respect, we also have to pay them vast amounts of cash to keep them in luxury. Palaces, flunkies, horses, landed estates, and an amount of bling that a Kardashian would think was a bit over the top, who knew that respect was so expensive? Who knew that it was going to cost us so much money to make ourselves look so powerless. Nicolas Witchell knows, but he doesn’t mind. He’s got a cosy supporting role in the world’s most expensive soap opera. A royal correspondent isn’t going to tell the unvarnished truth about the royals because his job depends on preserving the myths. That’s what his job is, preserving the myths and telling us fairy stories of magical princes and princesses. He makes me wish I had a magic fairy wand so I could turn him into a frog. Then at least he’d perform a useful role in the pondlife ecosystem.
Respect is apparently obligatory for this particular bunch, a family who truly deserve the tabloid title of wastrel benefits spongers. But you’d never see that in the Sun or the Mail, it’s only poor claimants who get ritually disembowelled in the tabloids, poor social inadequates who self-medicate on drugs or alcohol. Rich social inadequates who self-medicate on horses, fancy uniforms, Bentleys, and valets who squeeze their toothbrushes for them get gushing praise of the sort that Mediaeval hagiography writers would find a bit over the top. St Elizabeth the patron saint of walking and waving at the same time, isn’t she maaahvellous! Look at Prince Charles with a chest full of medals that his mammy gave him for services to being her wean. Walking and waving at the same time is what royals call working, and the state takes squillions of our taxes and turns it over to them for services to everyday pedestrianism. There’s another miracle right there.
Today the papers are full of the news that an old lady with access to the very best of healthcare is still in good health. This is a good thing, no one wishes ill on the elderly. And in this case we have particular reason to be grateful because the longer that the Queen keeps going the more she can stave off lumbering us with her meddling halfwit son. It’s the only real public service she performs, but then since she was the one who lumbered us with him in the first place that’s really not saying much. Royalists claim that Charles will be an excellent king. This is of course entirely correct, but only if we admit that this is an instance of the use of the word excellent with the meaning “utter constitutional distaster waiting to happen”.
The UK is a patronage state, it runs on graces and favours bestowed by the powerful on those that are in their good books and who do their bidding. And at the very pinnacle of this pyramid of privilege sit the royal family. A peerage is meaningless without a monarch. We can only have a House of Lords because we have a monarchy. The royals are the keystone in the arch of unaccountable authority that rules over us, that determines our laws and tells us what the national priorities must be.
Scotland, by and large, seems to be relatively immune to the dubious charms of the royals. The BBC was clearly embarrassed by the lack of enthusiasm that we surly Caledonians showed for Will-n-Kate’s nuptials. Since there was a national shortage of spontaneous street parties they had to fulfil their London ordered quota of royal themed items on the news by telling us how much we could get if you sold off your patriotic made in China commemorative teacup on eBay. Not much, as it turns out. The royals cost a lot of money, and they’re really cheap.
The lack of enthusiasm for the royal family in Scotland is representative of the disconnect between the British state and the Scottish people. Charles donning a kilt to attend some Highland games does not foster any affection for the institution of monarchy amongst the Scottish people. It just makes us see him as yet another rich and privileged aristo who owns vast tracts of our country and who has more of a say in running it than we do.
With the Westminster Parliament we’re going to be stuck with the royals forever. They’re central to Westminster’s mythology of itself, the absolute authority of the Westminster parliament derives ultimately from the monarch. They’re never going to concede that the people are sovereign, because that places a body above the Westminster parliament. The only chance we’ve got of getting rid of them is with Scottish independence.
The official line of the SNP might be to retain the monarchy. But in an independent Scotland the people will be sovereign and the people will decide, not any one political party. An independent Scottish parliament is far more likely to concede a referendum on the monarchy for the simple reason that republican sentiment is far stronger in Scotland, and few are thrilled by the prospect of Charles as king. Then we’ll get to decide whether the current monarch should be Elizabeth the Last.
BARKING UP THE RIGHT TREE Barking Up the Right Tree has now been published and is an anthology of my articles for The National newspaper. You can submit an advance order for the book on the Vagabond Voices website at http://vagabondvoices.co.uk/?page_id=1993
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