WHEN the Queen told assembled members of the House of Lords and Commons yesterday that “my government” would continue to make the case for Scotland remaining part of the UK, she was, of course, not taking sides in the great referendum debate.
The clunky phrases from the speech – on everything from cyberspace, immigration to the referendum – had been written for her, not by her.
But the passing comment provided a glimmer of the kind of influence the monarch could wield if she wishes to do so over the coming months in the run up to September 2014.
This Queen has form. In 1977, she marked her Silver Jubilee by using an address to parliament to sound a note of caution over proposals for devolution to Scotland and Wales. “I cannot forget that I was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” she declared.
She expressed her hope that the Jubilee would be “a time to remind ourselves of the benefits which union has conferred, at home and in our international dealings, on the inhabitants of all parts of this United Kingdom”.
However, it appears that ahead of next year’s independence referendum, the monarchy has decided to sit this one out.
Addressing both Houses of Parliament last year to mark her Diamond Jubilee, it was notable how, in contrast to 1977, she made no reference to the independence referendum at all.
All we are left with is speculation.
Some reports have suggested that the Queen has pressed David Cameron privately with her concerns about the potential break-up of the Kingdom.
But equally there are claims that a pledge by fellow racing enthusiast Alex Salmond to keep the 1603 Union of the Crowns in place has been met with approval.
Mr Salmond felt bold enough last year when paying tribute to her in the Scottish Parliament to declare that whatever path Scotland chose, it would continue to be “firm friends and equal partners” with the rest of the UK – a phrase she had used earlier that year when describing Britain’s relationship with Ireland. The Queen met the comment with characteristic inscrutability.
The great British constitutionalist Walter Bagehot said the monarch had three rights: the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn. That suggests the Queen could speak out if she felt the need.
But more likely, say others, this vastly experienced monarch will be all too aware of the need to ensure the she is seen to stay out of a decision that is now for Scottish voters to make on their own. The best bet is therefore that, unless words are put in her mouth, the Queen will stay mum.
Speech that helped kill off devolution
IN HER Silver Jubilee year of 1977, the Queen gave an address to both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall, where she appeared to attack moves towards Scottish devolution.
The speech came ahead of a devolution referendum for Scotland in 1979, which was already expected when the Queen spoke.
She said: “The problems of progress, the complexities of modern administration, the feeling that metropolitan government is too remote from the lives of ordinary men and women, these … provide the background for the continuing discussion of proposals for devolution to Scotland and Wales within the United Kingdom.
“But I cannot forget that I was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” she said, and expressed her hope that the Jubilee would be “a time to remind ourselves of the benefits which union has conferred.”