One of my top reasons for wanting independence is because I want a republic. From day one after Scotland votes Yes to independence in a referendum or in a popular vote, I’ll be campaigning for the abolition of the monarchy and for an elected Scottish head of state. It’s only when we have broken free from the publicly funded obscene wealth of the Windsors and their covert influence on our politics and public life that Scotland will truly be an independent nation.
The chances of the Westminster Parliament ever offering the UK a choice on whether or not to abolish the monarchy and have an elected head of state are precisely zero. Even if by some miracle they were persuaded or coerced into allowing a referendum on the future of the monarchy, Westminster would simply introduce some stitch up ensuring that even with an elected head of state there would be no fundamental changes to the structures of the state itself. The same elites would continue unchallenged, the same British establishment would waive the rules. A Westminster referendum on the future of the monarchy would operate along similar lines to the referendum of 2011, when Westminster offered the UK a choice between keeping the unfair and undemocratic first past the post electoral system, or the only alternative that was even worse.
Only in an independent Scotland is there a serious and realistic option of a Parliament which allows a truly free and fair referendum on the monarchy and the choice of a head of state. Personally I favour a system like that of the Irish Republic’s, where the head of state – the Uachtarán na hÉireann – is elected by a popular vote but the post is largely ceremonial in nature. The Ceann-Shuidhe na h-Alba / Preses o Scotland / President of Scotland should be elected in a similar way, and likewise have a largely ceremonial role.
The dangers of a hereditary monarch have been highlighted recently by two incidents. Firstly there was the intervention of the Queen in the Scottish independence referendum. The Palace not only enthusiastically cooperated with Prime Minister David Cameron’s suggestion that the Queen make some sort of public statement in order to assist the Better Together campaign, it also ensured that BBC and other reporters were on hand so that the Queen’s remark received the maximum possible publicity. It was the coordinated and deliberate intervention of a supposedly politically neutral institution in a democratic debate, with the blatant aim of influencing the outcome to one of the monarch’s pleasing.
This issue was widely known at the time, although it was dismissed as conspiracy theorising from a bitter independence campaign. It was confirmed recently when David Cameron described the episode in his memoirs. The reaction has been, not outrage that the monarch exceeded her constitutional role by intervening in a democratic vote, but outrage that she was found out. Apparently the real constitutional outrage as far as the British establishment is concerned is that David Cameron should never have spoken publicly about his private conversations with the Queen. The real crime is not that the offence took place, it’s breaking the vow of omertà. The real offence in the eyes of the British establishment is that the public should discover the political influence the Queen really has, not that she has any in the first place.
Potentially far more serious however is the role of the monarch in the recent decision of the Prime Minister to prorogue Parliament. We shall discover on Tuesday whether this decision was illegal. Rumours are that the ruling is likely not to be favourable to the government. If it finds against the Government, this ruling will be framed in terms of the Prime Minister having lied to the Queen. However everyone and their granny knew the real reason why Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson prorogued Parliament, so it beggars belief to imagine that a monarch who has been dealing with Prime Ministers for almost 70 years and who has her own team of political advisors didn’t know precisely what he was up to either.
An elected head of state would have had the authority from their own democratic mandate to tell Johnson where to get off and would have defended democracy by refusing to allow a Prime Minister without a majority to escape parliamentary scrutiny by closing down Parliament. Yet instead of preventing the Prime Minister from closing down Parliament in order to escape democratic scrutiny, Buckingham Palace colluded with him in doing so. The priority of the office of the head of state was not to protect what passes for a British constitution, it was to minimise any potential damage to the monarchy. In other words, the office of the head of state of the UK does not exist in order to defend the constitution of the UK, it’s a self-serving institution which exists solely to protect and defend itself – and bugger the consequences to democracy and to the rest of us.
These are all compelling reasons why the British monarchy is incompatible with proper democracy. A proper democracy demands that its head of state has as their main concern the defence of democracy and the upholding of the constitution. That is clearly not the role of the Queen. The role of the Windsors is to continue to enjoy their private influence and privilege at that same time as benefiting from their publicly funded highly expensive lifestyles.
All that said, it would be a mistake to fight the next independence referendum on an overtly republican platform. Fundamentally, independence is about one question and one question only, and it’s no more about deciding whether we are a republic or a monarchy than it is about accepting the Scottish Government’s proposals for the rate of Corporation Tax. Independence is about deciding who gets the final say on what choices Scotland makes, not about prejudging what those choices must be. Choosing independence means asserting and establishing the right of the people of Scotland to have the last word on what sort of country this is, and what path this country takes.
There should only be one question before the Scottish people when we next decide on independence, and that question is about establishing the sovereign right of the people of Scotland to decide what sort of country this should be. Just as the nature of our relationship with Europe is a question that only the people of an independent Scotland can decide after we have established our independence, so likewise the question of how we choose a Scottish head of state can only be decided after we have established our independence.
In my view Scotland should and must abolish the monarchy. But that’s a discussion for the people of Scotland to have once we have established and asserted our sovereign right as a nation to determine our own path. One step at a time to a republic.
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