Following referring an independence referendum bill to the Supreme Court, the Scottish Government has its answer – It does not have the power to organise a referendum on independence. The people of Scotland will be denied that vote on their future, regardless of who they elect to the Scottish Parliament or Westminster, unless the Government of the United Kingdom grants them one.
A significant part of the Supreme Court’s argument for rejecting the bid came from the idea of the threat a vote to become independent would have on the democratic legitimacy of the Parliament in Westminster:
A clear outcome, whichever way the question was answered, would possess the authority, in a constitution and political culture founded upon democracy, of a democratic expression of the view of the Scottish electorate. The clear expression of its wish either to remain within the United Kingdom or to pursue secession would strengthen or weaken the democratic legitimacy of the Union, depending on which view prevailed, and support or undermine the democratic credentials of the independence movement. It would consequently have important political consequences relating to the Union and the United Kingdom Parliament.
The basis for the decision is made clear here. Any independence referendum with any real legitimacy, such as organised through a Scottish Parliament that has the power and mandate to organise it, would have the authority of democratic expression of the Scottish People behind it. As such a vote to become independent would weaken the democratic legitimacy of the Union.
This, it seems, would be obvious. A Union held together despite a vote against it by one of its constituent nations would absolutely lack democratic legitimacy.
But does a Union held together by denying those nations the choice have any more legitimacy? Can such a Union claim to be one of voluntary consent if its members are denied the choice of whether to remain a part of it. Can it have democratic legitimacy if, after voting for a majority in favour of such a vote to their own Parliament, that chance to have their democratic will registered is denied?
Our Republic believes in an elected Head of State for Scotland precisely because we believe democratic legitimacy, mandate, and accountability for our state institutions is vital. We believe that without such legitimacy or accountability those institutions will stagnate and corrupt our society by embedding this contempt for democratic will and equality under law throughout our society.
This is true for the Union as well. Whatever your position on whether Scotland should be an Independent state – It is vital for that status to be supported by a democratic mandate and for there to be a democratic procedure by which the Scottish people can choose to end it.
Without that this Union cannot claim to be a voluntary contract by equal parties. It cannot claim to continue with the consent of its people. Can it claim to be a “Union” at all if you cannot choose to leave? Its continued existence will be forever seen as coercive, the iron grip of an institution that’s future is maintained through its power alone, not its legitimacy.
As the news of the passing of Elizabeth Windsor filtered out the initial response was relatively subdued. The BBC, as expected, silenced its programming and various organisations and leaders expressed their condolences. We did as well, we’re aware that many were deeply shaken by her loss and wished them peace.
But then came the rush to cancel life as we knew it for everyone in Britain. Football and rugby games were cancelled en masse, not cancelled by players or clubs but imposed upon them by their unions. The Trade Union Congress cancelled their conference at the last minute, leaving hundreds of delegates who had already booked leave, travel, and accommodation adrift. Both the Scottish Parliament and Westminster shut their doors, cancelling parliamentary business for weeks after only just having returned from their recess.
All this as we have only just begun returning to some semblance of normality after years under the restrictions of a raging pandemic.
But one institution seemed free to continue as the rest of the nation was frozen. The Monarchy itself. Within hours Charles had issued statements to the country under the title of King. Within days new titles were bestowed and every city in the country was expected to announce his ascension. His staff in his previous office of Prince of Wales were sacked and his brother, Andrew, announced as one of the four Counsellors of the State who may represent the nation in his stead when he is unable to do so – a staggering and unacceptable decision that debased the institution and the country it claims to represent.
Our lives could wait. His claim to power could not.
What is this all for? As a cost of living crisis bites and those most vulnerable cry out for aid, politicians are prevented from carrying out the vital work necessary to deliver them support and hold the government to account to provide that support. As crisis crashes towards us our representatives are frozen, unable to do their vital work to prepare for the winter ahead.
Whilst those on the breadline struggle to hold on, hundreds of them on zero hour contracts saw those hours disappear as employers scrambled to cancel events in deference to a nationally imposed period of mourning.
All this in the name of “respect”.
At the proclamation event for the new Monarch we called on republicans to make their objections heard, and heard they were. Their protests were captured in recordings and widely reported by the media, a brief glimpse of resistance to the media barrage of implicit consent by omission of dissenting views.
The response? Our members, and those of the Radical Independence Campaign alongside us, were immediately detained by police. One protester who had a placard reading “F*ck imperialism – abolish the Monarchy” (which for those with experience of protesting will know is fairly mild) had the placard confiscated and then was arrested for “breach of the peace” and held into the evening by Scottish Police.
“Respect” wasn’t just to be expected as part of a period of enforced mourning for Elizabeth. It was also to be enforced, using the force of public order if necessary, to silence dissent to the new Monarch being imposed upon us, and the institution he represents. Only 45% of Scots support the Monarchy? Tough, your feelings are not relevant. Your betters have decided how you must feel on your behalf. It has decided how you must express your mandated mourning on your behalf. This period of mourning is being weaponised to ensure that no one questions the idea that Charles has our consent. His ascension was deliberately tied to the period of mourning for his predecessor to stifle resistance to his claim.
Politicians across Scotland have expressed their fears at what we’re seeing. Carol Mochan, Scottish Labour MSP, said “everyone has the right to express their opinions peacefully, this sets a dangerous precedent” Amy Callaghan, SNP MP, said “republican views are as valid as any other. No one should be arrested for just expressing that.” Scottish Green MSP Maggie Chapman called it “deeply concerning” and reminded us that “free speech underpins any Democracy. Peaceful protest must be protected.” Even David Davis, Conservative MP, wrote to the police saying “I hope that members of the public will remain free to share their opinions and protest in regard to issues about which they feel strongly.”
Is this all a true mark of respect to Elizabeth Windsor? A woman in part defined by a work ethic that had her refusing to ever take time away unless absolutely necessary. Who gave mere days between the death of her beloved husband of decades of marriage and returning to her public duties. That dedication to carrying on regardless was widely respected, even by some of those who rejected the institution she represented.
Our establishment, rather than respecting that legacy, demands everyone do what she never would have done, downing tools and putting their duties on pause. A clear attempt to enforce a national mood of adoration and subservience to her deeply unpopular successor in a desperate attempt to shore up a crumbling institution.
An institution that will be supported by the use of force if necessary.
Note: Mariángela, the protester with the placard, has now been charged and will be brought to the Edinburgh Sheriff Court on 30th September. They have issued a statement – We have a protest in solidarity planned.
It is the frequent defence of the institution of the Monarchy that it does not do any harm. It simply exists, powerless and inert, at the top of the British state, waving cheerily at a grateful public and claimed millions of desperate tourists.
But that isn’t the reality of our Monarchy. It does hold power. It does have influence. It hoards extraordinary wealth. It uses that, far from with a fixation on the country’s best interests, entirely to the benefit of the ambitions and interests of the members of its powerful and self-indulgent clan.
This could not be more clearly demonstrated by the Monarchy’s rally to the defence of Andrew against his sordid connections to Jeffrey Epstein and accusations of sexual abuse of a minor – Funding his legal defences, continuing to give him pride of place alongside his parents, and only making empty gestures at censure by stripping a few of his many titles and honours when it became clear that the contagion of his horrifying actions might stain his extended family in the public eye.
It could be said that was all a little late.
But at least the public have the comfort that it is not Andrew next in line to the throne. Eight others would have to exit this mortal coil before he’d be considered. No, instead we have the disliked but relatively harmless Charles. He is harmless, at least, right?
That would be what the Monarchy would like you to think.
In just the past few months we have seen the following revealed of this would-be-King:
Charles pressured ministers to change law to benefit his estate: Charles exploited a controversial procedure to compel government ministers to secretly change a proposed law to benefit his landed estate. His lobbying secured a special exemption for the village that has to this day left the tenants financially worse off.
Some will argue that due to the limited power of the Monarchy all of this is tangential, our focus should be elsewhere, on other political reforms and on other forms of corruption.
But in Britain the Monarchy are the figureheads our entire society and political edifice is meant to be built below. They set the standards by which our elites measure themselves. Their corruption is, itself, corruptive. As long as the Monarchy remains, such brazen corruption as the Prime Minister’s resignation honours – the moment in which an ousted leader can reward all their cronies and bribes with unaccountable power for life in the House of Lords – remains the status quo of our politics.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and is there any such power more absolute than that completely free of accountability to the people? Charles is not a single rotten apple spoiling the barrel, he is simply the most fortunate among a family whose hereditary and deep-seated entitlement to power and freedom from accountability renders them utterly unfit to lead. This is not a problem with individuals, but with the entire institution. No one would be the perfect person able to rule as a benevolent dictator free of checks and balances.
They are all contaminated by the very thing that they claim gives them the divine right to rule. Rule by birthright is the problem. Succession by bloodline is the point of failure. Charles’ status as heir his entire life is exactly what makes him utterly incompatible with the station of Head of State. Charles Mountbatten-Windsor will inevitably rule as he lived, the rotting head of the withering remains of the British Empire.
On Saturday 4th June we were joined by 100 other people from across Scotland and from as far as Nottingham to call for a Republic in Scotland. To say this exceeded our expectations would be an understatement. During a weekend where natural republicans understandably looked to get away and shut off the media barrage of Monarchist PR it was phenomenal to share the land in front of the National Monument with so many calling for change.
We heard from MP Tommy Sheppard, new Edinburgh Councillors and New Scots Yule Bandel and Martha Mattos Coelho. Activists and representatives from the SNP, Scottish Greens, Scottish Labour, Scottish Socialists, the Radical Independence Campaign, and the Republican Socialist Platform took up the mic to say their piece on their vision of a Scotland without the Monarchy. We are a democratic movement and that was made clear by everyone having a chance to stand before everyone and have their say.
From across the political spectrum came the same call – For an elected head of state for Scotland and an end to the hereditary Monarchy.
Beyond that not everyone agreed. There were speakers following one another who fundamentally disagreed in the political future of Scotland, and made that clear. Our audience challenged speakers when they disagreed and cheered their approval at words that called to them.
That’s healthy. That is what democracy should look like.
It is also an important step in the right direction. It’s taking the debate beyond our obvious shared platform and on to the important debates of what the specifics of our future should look like past the Monarchy we all know has to go. It’s the rekindling of the debate over the form our democracy should take and our relationship to other democracies around us.
We live in an era of “unprecedented” politics. Every year seems to bring another wave of norm-breaking events, political decisions, and international developments. It is only a matter of time before the next unprecedented event is the succession crisis of Charles Mountbatten-Windsor and the wave of republicanism that will come with it. We intend to be ready for that time. By making the arguments now, by restarting the debate, we can ensure we are ready to take on that crisis and win the argument for an alternative to succession by birthright.
We know the opinion of the Scottish public is swinging with us. Already only a minority still support the Monarchy and that proportion shrinks rapidly every year. So our role is not just to promote that journey but also to advertise and discuss the alternatives.
You can expect more of that from us going forwards. The debate that began at the Rally for a Republic will continue and we hope you’ll all be involved.
As support for the Monarchy falls to an all time low in the run up to the Platinum Jubilee, with only a minority of Scots supporting the retention of the Monarchy, we are hoping to provoke a long overdue discussion about the future of Scotland. A future without the Monarchy to become a republic.
On the 4th of June, Our Republic are organising a ‘Rally for a Republic’ on Calton Hill from 15:00. The rally aims to hear from speakers from across the political spectrum to demand and discuss a more democratic future for Scotland.
All power in Scotland should be founded on democratic principles. The monarchy is a corruptive influence on our society and culture, creating the impression that unaccountable power, being above the law, is a natural state for people with enough wealth and with the right families.
We want to offer an alternative vision of Scotland. A modern, forward thinking republic with a written constitution. Over the last five years, we have seen how undemocratic Britain has become. From proroguing parliament, political norms abandoned by the government, and high profile members of the royal family entitled to their status in line to rule our country being indicted in criminality. None of these things should be possible in a modern country.
There is cross-party support for the principle that it is the right of people of Scotland to choose the governance that best represents them and remove that which they no longer consider just. A principle set out by the Claim of Right, signed by members of multiple political parties and community representatives from churches to trade unions. As the Monarchy loses majority support of the Scottish public it is time to reconsider whether their status is the will of the people of Scotland. It is time to re-open the debate and decide whether the successor to Elizabeth Windsor ought to be a man entitled by birth right or someone decided by and accountable to all of us.
We hope that Scotland will follow in the footsteps of many other commonwealth countries who are beginning to question the Monarchy. Barbados removed the Queen as head of state in November 2021, while Belize, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Kitts and Nevis have all indicated they intend to follow suit. Similarly, the question has been raised recently in Canada where 60% of Canadians said the Queen and the Royal Family should have no formal role in Canadian society. We intend to make the case that our future lies with them, not with clinging to undemocratic institutions of our past.
Is there any more ludicrous display which shows just how out of touch our political system is? A Prince sat in obsolete uniform, on a throne of gold surrounded by riches, flanked by family who have done nothing to earn their place, reading laws he has no choice but to sign.
This flagrant display of obscene wealth, of unearned and unaccountable power, by a Prince who feels entitled to rule by birth right, reading laws that require his signature to exist.
This annual farce, this anachronistic pantomime, heralded by people in century-old suits searching the cellars just in case another Catholic has decided to stow barrels of gunpowder down there to massacre our Parliamentarians. What did the BBC note of this absurd ceremony? Only that it was a woman, for the first time, leading the profession of old men into the cellars.
It’s 2022. It has been 400 years since the Gunpowder Plot and it has taken this long to involve one woman in the proceedings. This isn’t a notable improvement, it’s pathetic, and our national media should have the nerve to say it.
For a marginally shorter 350 years an MP, elected by the people to represent them, is held hostage in Buckingham Palace for the duration of the speech. Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick explained that during his 2014 time being the designated hostage it was made clear to him that the military would literally immediately murder him if the Monarch came to any harm.
The MPs then ceremoniously slam the doors of parliament in the face of the Queen’s representative to signify their independence. That famous independence that requires that laws they vote for require the Monarch’s sign-off before they can become law. They then follow the representative as they’ve been instructed, in a fairly on-the-nose representation of how wafer-thin this independence truly is.
Is this who we are? Let alone who we want to be? This isn’t a play, some entertaining historic re-enactment you can go to to see how things used to be in our archaic past where the Monarchy ruled with entitled pomp and arrogance. This is a state proceeding our representatives are forced to undergo as if to rub their faces in how flawed and antiquated our democracy truly is.
We can do so much better than this charade. It’s time to drag ourselves into the present. It is time for change.
“As a party to the exploitation and profiteering of the slave trade we in Scotland cannot compare our experience to that of the people of Jamaica, who suffered under the very same system that built much of Scotland’s modern prosperity. In the early 19th century Scots owned a third of slaves in Jamaica, and that is a legacy we must confront ourselves. Jamaica’s relationship with the British Empire, and the Monarchy that still marks their rule over that Empire as a point of pride, is necessary different from our own. This week we have seen demands for an apology from the Monarchy by protesters and dozens of pollical leaders in Jamaica for their part in the slave trade ahead of the visit of William Mountbatten-Windsor. It is right that the Monarchy, an institution that still continues to benefit from the wealth and power they gained from the horrors of the slavery, apologises for their part in that trade and the people of Jamaica have every right to demand that apology. For William to avoid it it is to deny his family’s direct profit from it, a denial which made from palaces and golden thrones is completely untenable.
Though our relationship to the legacy of the British Empire may be different, the nature of inherited, unaccountable and undemocratic power does not change, and nor does the right for a people to freely determine their own government and future. The people of Jamaica must be free to choose their own course and to choose who represents them, as should the people of Scotland. The only way to check this consent to rule is through democratic elections and an elected Head of State.
We wish the people of Jamaica the best of luck on their journey to implementing full democracy free from Britain’s Monarchy.
The jubilee celebration has triggered fresh debate about the monarch’s role in Scotland, and raised questions over possible heads of state after independence.
Our Republic told The National: “The monarchy is a corruptive influence on our society and culture, creating the impression that unaccountable power, being above the law, is a natural state for people with enough wealth and with the right families.”
“This corruption is unsustainable & will not be saved by a desperate attempt to prop them up by throwing pamphlets at children.It’s about time Scotland returned to our roots, of democratic consent to rule and the sovereign right of the people of Scotland to choose who represents us.”
On Wednesday 19th January Prime Minister’s Questions was focused on one thing: The ongoing scandal of parties held at 10 Downing Street during a time where lockdown was in force across the country.
But for a moment, the spectacle turned to farce as Keir Starmer was asked to withdraw a question over something that had nothing to do with parliamentary standards or his colleagues in the Chamber.
He was asked to withdraw it because he mentioned the Queen.
He said “Last year Her Majesty the Queen sat alone when she marked the passing of the man she’d been married to for 73 years, she followed the rules of the country that she leads.
On the eve of that funeral, a suitcase was filled with booze and wheeled into Downing Street, a DJ played and staff partied late into the night.
The prime minister has been forced to hand an apology to Her Majesty the Queen. Isn’t he ashamed that he didn’t hand in his resignation at the same time?”
The speaker intervened, saying “We normally would not, quite rightly, mention the royal family. We don’t get into discussions on the royal family.”
The rules say “No question can be put which brings the name of the Sovereign or the influence of the Crown directly before Parliament, or which casts reflections upon the Sovereign or the royal family.
A question has been altered at the Speaker’s direction on the ground that the name of the Sovereign should not be introduced to affect the views of the House. Questions are, however, allowed on such matters as the costs to public funds of royal events and royal palaces.”
The Royal family, an institution that informs the very workings of the House of Commons; an institution that is capable of rejecting or requesting changes to law as the see fit; an institution whose unaccountable influence is immeasurable, cannot be mentioned by elected Members of Parliament in the House of Commons. Their influence cannot be mentioned in that chamber.
That doesn’t seem right, does it?
In a country where a Monarchy rules over all, opens parliament and reads the laws the government intends to implement, that parliament can’t even mention their name?
In a country where the Monarchy has been found to have repeatedly meddled in the law for their own benefit, where the family is gripped by crisis but will continue to hold the right to lean on the government for their own ends without public oversight or accountability, that parliament can’t even mention their influence?
It seems every time the Monarchy crop up in our news it’s to give us more reasons why their power cannot be left unchallenged.
There’s a better way. It’s time we elected our own Head of State, and held them to account to the people they rule over.
Republicanism in modern Scotland is a strange beast. In spite of the sometimes ferocious constitutional debate, there are few who call for a republic, either Scottish or British. But that is not to say republicanism is absent. Indeed, Scottish republicanism has a long and storied history.
In the wake of victory against Germany, the United Kingdom and by extension Scotland was governed by the post-war consensus. British power remained evident also. Whilst the Empire was beginning to slip away and the global influence of Her Majesty’s Government along with it, Britain retained some trappings of its former great power status. The coronation of Elizabeth II was hailed as the beginning of a second Elizabethan age to match the glories of a past England.
As the years went on, the ‘new Elizabethan age’ failed to deliver glories for the creaking imperial edifice. Fourteen British colonies became independent between 1957 and 1964. It is in this environment, as the sun was beginning to set upon the British Empire, that Scottish republicanism can be better defined. William Hamilton MP is perhaps a salient example of this phase of Scottish republicanism, in that there is nothing particularly Scottish about it. His rages against royalty were primarily based on arguments of expense. In 1975 for example, Hamilton moved to establish a government department dealing with the finances of the Crown with the aim of bringing transparency and parliamentary scrutiny to the Royal purse. Hamilton is an excellent example of the moderate leftist phase of Scottish republicanism. Hamilton’s republicanism perhaps owed more to the fact that his Fife constituency had a particularly radical history rather than any nationalist leanings, had Hamilton been elected in Finchley instead of Fife his brand of republicanism may have remained unaltered. Hamilton is the epitome of this Scot-less republicanism, concerned more with penny-pinching than matters of royalty and republics.
What explains this lack of Scottishness then? Up until the 1960s, Scottish nationalism was ambiguous about its position on the left-right axis. As Scottish nationalism gained more popularity in the 60s and 70s, the SNP devoted more time to its ideological leaning. By 1974, the SNP was officially describing itself as social-democratic. So, throughout the 60s and 70s, left-wing ideas and Scottish nationalism were increasingly in contact.
What consequences did this left-wing nationalism have for republicanism? The answer may be found in the pages of the New Left Review, an outlet crucial for the intellectual growth of left-Wing Scottish nationalism. Of note is Tom Nairn. As a nationalist, republican and socialist all at once, Nairn himself is essential to understanding this synthesis era.
An article from 1981 reveals Nairn’s thoughts on ‘socialists’ who would declare loyalty to the crown, that they are not genuine socialists at all. In 1968, Nairn wrote that the Scottish sense of equality is derived from religion, that all are equal in the eyes of the Lord. However, he considered this Calvinist formulation passive and non-revolutionary. Nairn finished his essay with a call for a left-Wing Scottish Nationalism. As the British state floundered through the crises of the 60s, intellectuals like Nairn viewed nationalism as essential to advance the cause of the left.
In 1981, Nairn stated his belief that that the foundations of the monarchy will crumble in part due to separatist agitation in Scotland. Nairn wrote that the immediate aim of his writing on British republicanism is not to discover how to abolish the monarchy but instead to make the discussion of such an ideology acceptable once again.
Alongside Perry Anderson, Nairn also makes the argument that the British state has remained underdeveloped and stunted since 1688-89 and that British capitalism in turn owed its weaknesses to the primitive feudalistic British state. Essentially, the lack of a proper revolution as happened elsewhere in Europe saddled modern Britain with a stunted 17th Century state structure. So, the British state may be understood as almost uniquely archaic. It is through a historical analysis of republicanism in Scotland that an understanding of the process through which this settlement has been overturned in Scotland.
However, despite both Nairn’s beliefs and the leftward journey of Scottish nationalism, there would be more bumps in the road for Scottish republicans. Of significance is the ‘79 group within the SNP. This faction had three main ideological driving forces: independence, socialism, and republicanism. The republican ideology came from the influence of Chris and Roseanna Cunningham who themselves were influenced by their experiences in Australia. Perhaps it is best to describe the 79 Group as a false start for Scottish republicanism, as they were soon expelled from the SNP for a myriad of reasons, and a rout of explicit left-wing nationalism.
If explicit nationalist republicanism experienced a false start, the implicit variety would fare differently. It is in the 1989 Claim of Right that this implicit republicanism may be found. Issued by the Scottish Constitutional Convention, the text of the 1989 Claim reads:
‘We, gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs, and do hereby declare and pledge that in all our actions and deliberations their interests shall be paramount.
We further declare and pledge that our actions and deliberations shall be directed to the following ends:
To agree a scheme for an Assembly or Parliament for Scotland;
To mobilise Scottish opinion and ensure the approval of the Scottish people for that scheme; and
To assert the right of the Scottish people to secure implementation of that scheme.’
The Claim of Right reaffirms that there exists a separate constitutional tradition of popular sovereignty in Scotland. This declaration puts front and central that of the right of the Scottish people to decide their own future in line with the principles of popular sovereignty. The Claim of Right ‘shot a beam of republican optimism through the mirk of Scottish politics’.
The Claim is of great significance to the revival of Scottish republicanism, for two reasons. Firstly, the Claim refutes any form of democratic legitimacy that the British state might expect to have in Scotland. This is revolutionary and testament to the significance of the Claim. Secondly, the Claim’s proposal for a Constitutional Convention as the means through which Scots would exercise their right to self-determination. These two features identify why the Claim of Right is the perfect example of this phase of Scottish republicanism – representative of a quiet revolution.
The Anderson-Nairn thesis asserts that 1688 denied Scotland a proper bourgeoisie revolution in the manner of the continent. The Claim of Right is perhaps restitution of that historical fact. Further evidence of this can be found in the supporters of the Claim. The list includes MPs, MEPs, local authorities, political parties, churches, trade unions, small businesses, and other social movements. Save perhaps the trade unions, these are all organs of the Scottish bourgeoisie and representative of the quiet ‘revolution’ emanating from the Scottish bourgeoisie and directed against the archaic British state. The Thatcherite project radicalised the Scottish middle class into action. The result, the Claim of Right, is a bourgeois document, evidenced by the backgrounds in the signatories and its drafters.
The structures and procedures of the Edinburgh Parliament stand as proof of this triumph of the Scottish bourgeoisie. The First Minister is formally nominated by elected MSPs rather than being appointed by the monarch as in Westminster. But perhaps the best example of this quasi-republicanism can be found in symbols. Specifically, comparing the parliamentary opening ceremonies of Holyrood and Westminster. In the former, we see a toned down and informal atmosphere in stark contrast to the opulence of the latter. In the Westminster ceremony, the Queen dresses in a jewel-encrusted dress with the potential to blind any onlookers who can see past her golden throne.
The Holyrood ceremony is deliberately designed to foster this contrast. In the 1999 Opening Ceremony, the republican Burns poem ‘A Mans A Man for A’ That’ was recited in the presence of the Queen. Her informal role of Queen of Scots is significantly more limited than that of her formal position as Queen of the United Kingdom, representative of the quasi-republicanism present.
It is in the First Minster Donald Dewar that the clearest representation of this more distant and informal relationship can be found. Dewar himself is perhaps the most salient example of the nature of Scottish republicanism at this time. Middle Class and a small n-nationalist, Dewar embodied the victory of the Scottish middle class over the archaic British state achieved by the establishment of a Scottish Parliament. Dewar was instinctively a republican but during the opening of the Scottish Parliament, such sympathies did not prevent him from forming a rapport with the Queen. In spite of the triumph of Scotland’s bourgeoisie over the feudal British state through devolution, there was no immediate public conflict and explicit republicanism remained outside of the political mainstream.
However, the devolved institutions of Scotland are not simply bastions of republicanism or were designed with that in mind. A belief in ‘new politics’ and European influences informed the structures of the new parliament rather than any latent republicanism. Nevertheless, this remains evidence of a quasi-republican Scottish constitution at the least and some ‘accidental’ republican influence. Given the close links between the Crown and Anglo-British nationalism alongside the dominance of the republican model in Europe, even if the architects of devolution did not intend to construct a quasi-republican constitution they inadvertently did so through their influence from republican-infused ideologies.
Despite these institutional stirrings, open republicanism in Scotland’s major political parties is elusive. However, it is the position of the SNP that is of particular note given they are both the dominant party in the independence movement and the Scottish Parliament. By their own words, the SNP are committed to retaining the monarchy in an independent Scotland. What is of note is their earlier commitments to what form of monarchical government will grace Scotland. In 2002 the SNP envisaged the vice-regal role going to the Chancellor of Scotland, the new role for the Presiding Officer. Such a policy furthers the quietly revolutionary strain of Scottish republicanism in many ways. This position would be no colonial hangover like in Canada or Australia, instead, as the Presiding Officer is a directly elected MSP who in turn is chosen by parliament, the vice-regal role of Chancellor would be indirectly elected by the Scottish Parliament.
However, in the 2013 white paper on independence, no mention was made of this position. Rather, the passages on the Head of State spoke only of Scotland’s commitment to the Crown. But, nevertheless, their previous policy commitments illustrate the SNP’s commitment to the ideals of Scotland’s quasi-republicanism. Irrespective of whether this position is created, Scotland’s quasi-republican institutions remain. An indirectly elected representative of the Crown would only be more evidence of this fact.
Even if it were incidental or accidental, this quiet, creeping institutional pseudo-republicanism is not mere window dressing for Scotland, it has had far-reaching consequences. It can be tempting to view the constant clashes between London and Edinburgh as conflicts of identity, competing nationalisms etc. This may be part of the story but there is another aspect of the conflict – the clash of institutions. Since a pro-independence majority was returned in May the will of the Scottish people expressed through their quasi-republican institutions will crash headlong into the archaic British principle of the crown-in-parliament.
Overall, it is quite clear that in the reign of Elizabeth II, there have existed two distinct yet overlapping phases of Scottish republicanism; a left-wing one followed by a nationalist one. The left-wing phase saw generic anti-monarchists like William Hamilton dominate at first but, as the decline of Britain continued, Scottish nationalism came into contact with left-wing ideals and by proxy, republicanism. This ‘synthesis’ strain lasted throughout the 70s and partially into the 80s. However, as the Claim of Right exemplifies, near the end of Thatcher’s premiership any allusion to left-wing ideals had mostly been dropped and Scottish republicanism had taken on a thoroughly nationalist outlook and a much more implicit character. With the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, the bourgeoisie of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen found a quiet triumph over the uniquely archaic and primitive British state. It is important that the journey of Scottish republicanism be understood for what it is, a quiet revolution that Scotland previously missed out on. The question that now must be asked is this, will the Scottish bourgeoisie settle for this revised settlement? Or will dissolution of the Union and complete erasure of all traces of the primitive British state be necessary to complete the process of their ‘revolution’?