The past couple of weeks have exposed a delightful contradiction at the heart of Scottish nationalism. When I point out that Scottish independence would mean the loss of the monarchy, I am contacted by numerous outraged Scottish nationalists eager to point out that in 2014 the SNP intended to keep Queen Elizabeth as Queen of Scots. On the other hand, when I argue that the British Government should make clear to Scottish voters that if you choose to leave the United Kingdom you won’t have King Charles III or any of his successors, numerous Scottish nationalists tell me that I am making their dreams come true.
Both horns of the dilemma think they are being extremely clever in refuting both of my arguments, but they are blissfully unaware that they are refuting themselves.
The response to the Queen’s death has made it obvious that there is an astonishing degree of support for the monarchy in the UK and indeed around the world. The Royal Family has had its difficulties and this has caused various commentators and pollsters to think that support for the monarchy might be in decline. But look at events on the ground.
The past weeks have been a sort of reverse French revolution for Republicanism in Britain. Whoops you just lost your head. You may still be speaking as allegedly Charlotte Corday did afterwards, but there is not much sense coming out of your mouth.
Not one serious political party will campaign for a republic at the next election. Those politicians who support republicanism in the Labour Party will told to keep their mouths shut. There will not be a referendum on this issue in the lifetime of a new born baby. So, write and protest all you wish. Claim that Charles is not your king. But to what purpose?
So too even in Scotland. When the astonishing scenes of people lining the pavements became undeniable, I was first told by Scottish nationalists that they were tourists. I was then told that they were Scottish nationalists who both supported the monarchy and independence. After all the SNP supports the monarchy. Didn’t you know? Finally, I was told by Mr Curtice and the Scottish establishment to move along please, nothing to see here, nothing had changed and that everything would be back to normal in a few days. Sorry for the delay in campaigning for next year’s referendum.
But the Queen’s death has turned into one of the most significant political events in the past decades. It is not disrespectful to point this out. Rather it is to acknowledge that her reign was even more important that we realised,
We will resume normal politics shortly, but since her death almost no one has been thinking about the cost of living crisis and the price of heating, whatever Liz Truss plans to do and Nicola Sturgeon also has become of so little interest that it has become irrelevant. It’s not so much stop all the clocks as stop all the politics. To suggest that this is not a political event is obtuse.
When something important happens, you can try to diminish it. Look some people are chipping away at the Berlin Wall. Look some planes are flying into the World Trade Centre. Look there are some crowds queuing to view a dead Queen’s coffin. But the key is to realise that some events change how we think about the world and the arguments we can sensibly make about it.
In Scotland the SNP has failed to address the consequences of Brexit. It has used it to try to gain support from Pro UK people who were also Remainers. But it has completely ignored the consequences of Brexit for the independence argument.
In my view any sort of regulated border between Scotland and England destroys the SNP argument. There is no way Scottish voters will choose passport checks at Carlisle plus trade tariffs.
Support for independence is contingent on people believing that the border will continue like now. But that would depend on both the EU and the former UK Government agreeing to some sort of special arrangement, which is unlikely to be in the former UK’s interest.
But to Brexit we can now add the monarchy. If the British Government and Charles III made absolutely clear that it would have no interest in Charles III becoming king of Scotland, then it is true that the hard core independence supporters with their Celtic tops and their hatred of the crown would be dancing a jig, but the consequence of their dancing is twofold. One it makes it obvious that support for the monarchy amongst most independence supporters is insincere. Two that sorry folks independence is not going to happen.
The sort of people who might be tempted to support independence to get Scotland back into the EU are just the sort who lined the pavements of Scotland to say goodbye to the Queen. It is these people you need to win round.
Every time independence supporters tell us how much they hate the monarchy, they emphasise that the SNP’s idea of making Queen Elizabeth the Second Queen Elizabeth the First of Scotland was merely a ruse. Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon calculated that the monarchy was relatively popular in Scotland so they promised to keep it. It might win a few votes for the cause. Once independence had been achieved it was always their intention to have a referendum on the monarchy.
But why would King Charles III subject himself to this? Why would the British Government let him? He is King of the United Kingdom. He is not going to reward those who destroyed his kingdom any more that Louis the XVII would have been inclined to reward those in 1795 who had caused a guillotine to be hanging over his head.
You cannot both want the United Kingdom to cease to exist and express support for the King of the United Kingdom. That contradiction in the SNP’s plans in 2014 has been fully exposed. But the idea that the very swing voters that the SNP needs to win independence, will vote any time soon to ditch the monarchy is to suppose that Queen Elizabeth II was like her distant ancestor Edward II being sent homeward to think again.
The death of Queen Elizabeth II has changed the argument in Scotland and it is the SNP that will have to think again not merely about the economic consequences of Scottish independence, that is the easy part, but that Scots are more deeply involved in her kingdom than we even realise. The monarchy unites us and there is nothing else that could make us line the pavements nor queue in the cold and the rain, certainly not Scottish nationalism.
It’s hard to even imagine anything more powerful than what is attracting people to the Queen, but it is just this that the SNP will have to refute before it can win independence. Unfortunately, Scottish nationalist insincerity about the monarchy has rather stupidly destroyed its own argument.