Andrew Wilson: Having the Queen works in practice

The Queen became the longest reigning monarch earlier this week. Picture: Neil Hanna

The Queen became the longest reigning monarch earlier this week. Picture: Neil Hanna

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I WAS telling a wise old friend and mentor of mine about another friend who had been denied advancement despite outstanding performance. The explanation from the terribly important decision maker in question was that he didn’t approve of her investment strategy.

“Ah,” said my friend with the benefit of many decades of life and much fortune self-made, “you mean that she is correct in practice but not in theory, a common failing”. And with that he was off, with an impish giggle.

We had a shared monarchy long before our parliament voted away its independence

Reflecting on a week in which Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II became the longest serving monarch, this thought occurred to me.

I once attended a Democratic party fundraiser in Boston where I was scoffed at because I came from a country with an unelected head of state. The irony of the scene was not lost on me. I was in an apartment worth $15 million with people worth many times that, sipping champagne and funding a race for the highest democratic office. Whilst in theory any American can become president, the practice is quite a different matter. Right now the only person standing between another Bush or Clinton family accession is an eccentric billionaire. Democracy? Really?

All those who aspire to lead anything should have crystal clarity of purpose, know what they are for and how they mean to make things better. But if that purpose is borne more of abstract theory than grounded pragmatic reality, then dogma can take over, divisions are cut and the enterprise or country can fail. A short glance at the history of the Soviet Union is a case in point. Lovely theory; horrific, life-destroyingly awful practice.

So what does the SNP make of the institution that pre-dates the Union the party wishes to end, or at least transform? How does the mood and energy of colossal democratic engagement square with the reality of a monarch sitting at the top of a class system that has for centuries vested a narrow share of land, capital and power in the hands of a tiny number?

Because in politics we have to learn the pragmatism of what matters most, works best and maintains the broadest support and contentment of the population. Historic anachronisms can in practice be the one steadying certainty that keeps our society together in times of trouble.

As a parent, you learn early that the single most important lesson is to “pick your fights”. If you allow a stramash about something not fundamentally important to your child or family’s well-being then you can drain your energy, sap your will-power and end the day poorer in all senses.

The Queen has very little practical power and her power of informal influence depends entirely on how sensibly she exercises it.

We have all the democracy we need and the power to determine who governs us and how they govern. Adding another elected layer would add yet more partisanship to a system jam-packed full of it. And for those of us who want to fundamentally transform Scotland there is another element to consider. In persuading the unpersuaded it is critical to reassure about the realities of what stays the same and what changes. Helping people choose to take a forward step into what can never be known – the future – is helped if there are some anchors and certainties from the past.

My parents are in their eighties now and voted Yes with great pride and belief in their grandchildren’s potential. But as children of the war, they maintain huge respect for the British element of their family identity and the shared history, culture and stories that comprise it.

They would find it offensive to be told that they couldn’t vote Yes on their own terms, which means keeping some of the shared institutions most of us believe in. We had a shared monarchy long before our own parliament voted away its independence.

But it is much more than this also. It would be a mean spirit that couldn’t recognise the rare devotion to public service of our Queen over the near 64 years of her reign and the asset she truly is to us all.

Anyone who doubted the affection of her nations should think twice. Watch again the Bond moment from the Olympic opening ceremony or the Jubilee concert where Madness played Our House on top of Buckingham Palace.

Elizabeth was in post when Beeching’s cuts destroyed much of our railways and there she was again with First Minister Sturgeon to open the Borders line that begins that historic error’s reversal at last.

I like that. I understand entirely the theory and the anachronism, but I also think we fail ourselves if our politics becomes no more than a grander version of the shouty sale of Marxist newspapers trading failed ideologies that if put into practice would diminish us all.

We have a major job of modernisation and improvement to do across our country. Let’s get on with that job by picking the right fights, focusing on what counts and recognising what works best in practice. «

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