Margo MacDonald: Monarchy question cannot be ducked

The royal couple and their new baby. Picture: Getty

The royal couple and their new baby. Picture: Getty

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Guess what’s the hot topic in the referendum campaigns so far?

It seems as though a 
sizeable chunk of the Scottish electorate wants to decide whether an independent Scotland would retain the royal family to rule over us, or choose to become republican and elect our own head of state, probably to be called a president.

I know which way I’ll vote. It’s unthinkable that the campaigns Yes and No have come this far without explaining that it’s not over and done with after Scots have made their mark on the question “Whither Scotland?” After a Yes result, the talking will start: firstly, amongst the parties represented in Holyrood because they’ll have to start talking to MPs in Westminster about how handovers are going to be effected between departments in London and Edinburgh.

At the same time, meetings will be taking place to work out how the new Scottish constitution will be constructed. Certain aspects of that rulebook for Scotland will be put to the people. Amongst the details for public decision will be the choice of an elected president, perhaps a president selected by an electoral college, or we might establish a senate, that would act as a second chamber for Holyrood and from amongst Scottish Senators one would be chosen by his or her peers to act as head of state.

I’m tempted to go for something akin to the latter choice. Theoretically and philosophically, I think our society is more likely to be equitable in its dealings with each other and communities other than our own if we practise equality of status for every person in the land. Some people dismiss that as pure hogwash: they quite fairly point to the inbuilt inequality amongst our fellow Scots that will be a fact of life for as long as the gap between the haves and the have-nots remains as it is under the Union. The Better Together gang have the brass-neck to tell us that’s as good as it gets.

But the moral, financial and social attitudes and policies to tackle extreme poverty, and minimise the corrosive effect of extreme wealth, call for a strategy to create wealth and share it as fairly as possible. It will be good for the soul as we construct our anti-poverty strategy and policies.

But I suspect that my well-intentioned egalitarian suggestions will be passed over, nay trampled over, by the successors to Robert Bruce’s faux army of cooks and bottlewashers as they follow their leaders into the next battle . . . the written constitution. Yes and No campaigns will have kissed and made up after the referendum has been won and lost. Presumably, the government and the opposition will be split along predictable lines, but when it comes to monarchy or republic there could be quite a few surprises. Once again, I could be wrong, but I think we are witnessing another change of the monarchy’s image to bring it more into line with the lives of good, responsible citizens.

William and Kate can seal the royal deal

At the start of the 1960s, it was difficult to get the man on the Clapham omnibus to propose a health unto Her Majesty, never mind the apprentice revolutionaries taking up the expanded places in the new courses and degrees introduced into Scotland’s ancient universities and new technical colleges.

Republicanism was the mood in the air. It was distinctly uncool to wear one’s preference to be a belted earl on one’s sleeve when all around were wearing the iconic image of Che on their chests. A referendum on monarchy or presidency might have made republicans very happy. Nobody was talking about a referendum, except the Welsh, some of whom still smarted from the put-up instant ancient ritual to present Prince Charles to the folks West of Offa’s Dyke as their hereditary prince.

Among other things, the real republicanism of the IRA changed the mood. People turned again to the trusted and constant monarchy as showing a good example of how we should behave. The conservative, unshowy, very middle-class image projected from Buckingham Palace was meat and drink to the UK magazine industry, and consumed voraciously by an adoring public.

But the fickle public tired of that and, when the impossible fairy tale of Diana, Princess of Wales provided an excuse, previously uber-loyal and uncritical supporters of monarchy renounced their support for the Queen herself. One of the reasons sobbed out to TV reporters on the evening news was that at that time of such great personal unhappiness, Elizabeth should be among her people . . . these English didn’t count us in.

But if Kate, William and Harry are turning the Firm into a Nordic-style bicycling monarchy, I think a referendum will endorse the preference for a monarchy to reign over us.