Norman Bonney: Monarchy’s future and the accession of Catholics are two loose ends

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It is remarkable that with the referendum debate over independence for Scotland so well advanced, that the public has little idea of what would be entailed should there be a Yes vote to leave the United Kingdom more than 300 years after the union of the parliaments.

The Church of Scotland has done a public service by stating that the Scottish Government should publish a draft constitution for an independent Scotland before the referendum so voters will have some idea of how things will change should independence come about.

So far, the little detail that has been released by the Scottish Government indicates that it plans to retain the monarchy as it exists at present but this would go against repeatedly successful motions in the Scottish Parliament that have insisted on the abolition of the existing discrimination that prevents Roman Catholics acceding to the throne. The Church’s suggestion that it should crown the monarch of Scotland seems completely out of date with 21st-century Scotland. The 2011 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey showed that only 22 per cent of Scots now identify with the Church of Scotland and that a majority now have no religious faith. How can the Church or any religious leaders claim to represent the Scottish people?

There is no constitutional reason, other than the Coronation Oath Act of 1688, to hold a religious coronation. The Act reaffirms the privileges of the Church of England and of Protestantism in Scotland. It is clearly out of date and needs to be amended, whether or not there is Scottish independence.

In an independent Scotland, or in the UK, a new monarch could be sworn into office to “govern the people according to law” by the respective presiding officers of the parliaments and no divisive religious oaths would need to be sworn.

Norman Bonney is emeritus professor at Edinburgh Napier University. His Monarchy, Religion and the State will be published by Manchester University Press in October.