Michael Kelly: Pomp, circumstance and endless security checks
THE Queen has brought stability to the United Kingdom, but below her there is a medieval sub-structure that keeps her afloat, writes Michael Kelly
It’s getting harder and harder to meet the Queen these days. Times past it was just a question of being driven down to the airport, greeting her as she came off the flight, introducing her to a few people and waving her goodbye from the steps of the City Chambers.
But yesterday, after responding to the initial invitation from Buckingham Palace, I was sent a further set of tickets with instructions to bring photo ID with me one hour and fifteen minutes before the service began. The security overkill that subjects every airline passenger to harassment has been extended to Royal visits. I have sat beside the Queen at lunch where I had every opportunity to Mickey Finn her drink or slip strychnine in her soup. Did our secret police not know that and slip me in?
But, in the long queue outside in threatening weather, I realised the need for caution. Behind me was someone dressed as the Archbishop of Glasgow. Here was a suspicious character, if ever I saw one. The real archbishop was due on the altar to say one of the prayers. He would be with the VIPs from the Church of Scotland. I approached the imposter cautiously. ‘Are they asking you to queue, too,’ I enquired, having been satisfied that he recognised me. Resignedly he nodded, ‘It’s all democratic.’ Too democratic for me. It is time for profiling to be introduced. No one going into the church had the remotest interest in protesting against, far less harming, the Queen. I recognised most of the congregation myself. Just as Glasgow grannies flying off to a hen party on the Costa del Sol should be waved through the barriers, so only those profiled as dangerous should be stopped and questioned. That may insult particular groups. Tough – it’s the majority’s civil liberties that count. The only relief from the formality of the day was when the second security guard, instead of frisking me again, shouted a welcoming, ‘Hello, Michael’, as I walked in. Nicola Sturgeon never got that.
As I would expect from Glasgow’s middle classes, the queuing was orderly as we entered the former Roman Catholic Cathedral (appropriated c1685). The only rude ones pushing through were members of the Royal Company of Archers. ‘I thought you guys were gentlemen’, I remarked to an officer. His smile told me I had made a mistake. But even he and his men had to produce their passports and unpaid utility bills before they got through. Ludicrous. No terrorist would dress like that to effect entry.
It was then into the fourth row of the nave – further humiliation. Though I was somewhat mollified to see a government minister sitting behind me. I pick up some discrete discussion about the Libor crisis, but any exclusive I hoped to secure was drowned out by the sound of organ music signalling the start of proceedings. The women in recycled wedding hats, continued to discuss Fifty Shades of Grey.
Nor was I the only journalist there. Listed in the order of service, expensively printed in green, white and gold, was Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw, Bt (Rothesay Herald). In these tough times for the written media, it’s good to see local papers still able to cover the top events. All he would have to report was that Lord Steele was late – typical Lib Dem bringing up the rear.
After we had been rehearsed in the opening hymn, the Queen processed down the aisle. She was wearing – no. You don’t need to know that. What you can tell those people who think our National Anthem a dreary little tune is that its rendition by yesterday’s organist was uplifting and inspiring. No wonder Beethoven returned to the tune three times in his works.
For those who have only seen him on television I can reveal that the First Minister is even larger in life. Even although he rushed through the first lesson, he could not have missed the irony in the words of Psalm 46. ‘Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall’. I blame him for most of it. He did not appear at the civic reception afterwards. He must have had an offer of a better free lunch.
Leafing through the programme as we waited for the church to clear, I detected the Queen’s subtle sense of humour. The Private Secretary to the Duke of Edinburgh is Doug King and the Equerry in Waiting is Dan Rex. Very tongue in cheek.
Remember the Queen knows Latin. She had an Annus Horribilis, after all. And on the way out I had a word with another Conservative of Influence to whom I emphasised that insisting on a one question referendum was a line in the sand not to be crossed. He listened wisely. So I think we are at one there with our right-wing brethren.
And, of course, that started me thinking about the day in a much less trivial way.
The monarchy – particularly the way the Queen has reigned for sixty years – has brought stability to the United Kingdom. It keeps politics away from the function of the head of state.
But its popularity in Scotland must be the only reason that the present SNP have grudgingly committed to keep her if they by some great mistake win the one question referendum. It cannot be principle.
For below the Queen is a whole medieval sub-structure keeping her afloat. Yesterday, there were nine Chaplains to the Queen in attendance, plus Dr James Harkness, Extra Chaplain to the Queen in Scotland. There were the Unicorn Pursuivant, the Dingwall Pursuivant, the Ormond Pursuivant, three Heralds, the Hereditary Bearer of the National Flag of Scotland, the Hereditary Standard Bearer of Scotland and the Lord Lyon King of Arms.
Plain, straightforward constitutional monarchy is one thing, but is our modernising, reforming Scottish government really committing itself, and us, to a continuation of this?
And will its party, and the left wing of the Yes campaign – Denis Canavan and Colin Fox included - swallow it without a murmur? Perhaps the Rothesay Herald should address it in next week’s leader.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west