THE Queen was at the centre of a political row last night after the Scottish National Party protested at plans to celebrate the Union of the Crowns weeks before next year’s Scottish parliament elections.
Leading Nationalists gave warning of the political problems that would arise if the event were to highlight Scotland-England relationships at a time when the SNP and unionist parties are embroiled in battles over relationships between Holyrood and Westminster in the run-up to the elections in May.
But Labour and the Tories rounded on the SNP, claiming that the party was "tinkering around with irrelevancies" and "insulting the intelligence of Scots" by suggesting that a celebration of the Union of the Crowns could interfere with an election campaign.
The row coincides with the Queen’s jubilee tour of Scotland and comes on the eve of her address to the Scottish parliament in Aberdeen tomorrow.
It involves the Queen in another controversy less than a week after the SNP called on her to consider changing her title to Elizabeth I, Queen of Scots.
Yesterday, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were guests at a morning service held for the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh.
The Union of the Crowns issue was raised by Professor Sir Neil MacCormick, an MEP, who is one of the few Nationalists to accept a Queen’s Honours title.
Sir Neil said he believed it would be a problem if the celebration, which is due to be held next March, was injected into an election campaign and was seen to be partisan.
"I myself am very strongly in favour of the idea of a constitutional monarchy because it puts the issue of loyalty to the heads of state outside the ordinary run of party-political controversy," he told the BBC’s Holyrood programme.
"A celebration of that kind, injected into an election campaign, would exactly deprive the institution of its point," he added.
"By all means celebrate in the summertime when politics are out of the way for a while, but electoral politics and the issue of head of state, as far as possible, should be kept well apart."
Sir Neil said that if a major celebration of the Union of the Crowns was held, with its inevitably politically loaded aspect, during an election campaign, the Palace would forfeit its normal and appropriate distance from electoral party politics.
Fiona Hyslop, the SNP spokesman on the parliament, said the elections next year would be about the relationship between Scotland and England and the powers of the Westminster and Holyrood parliaments.
"We want independence and I don’t think having a celebration will be helpful. I think it would be appropriate for the Queen to stay out of politics," she said.
A Labour MP, Mark Lazarowicz, said he did not believe such a celebration would have any effect on relations in Scotland.
"I think the SNP, quite frankly, are underestimating the intelligence of the Scottish voter by suggesting it would do so," he said.
David McLetchie, leader of the Scottish Tories, accused the SNP of running scared ahead of next year’s election. He added: "This must be the earliest excuse we’ve ever heard for losing an election."
However, support for the SNP concerns came from a leading Liberal Democrat MSP, Donald Gorrie. While agreeing that the Union of the Crowns should be celebrated, he believed it would be a big mistake to hold it during the election campaign.
"I think we could celebrate it at some other time in the year," Mr Gorrie said.
The Union of the Crowns followed the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, when James VI of Scotland acceded to the English throne, becoming James I of England.
What does the First Minister carry in his bag
AS JACK McConnell discovered yesterday, there really isn’t a cool way for a bloke to carry a handbag. Try slinging it over the shoulder, around the body, but in the end you carry it like royalty.
A typical wallet-in-the-trousers kind of guy, the First Minister looked uncomfortable during a service at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh where he took on the important role of "purse bearer to the Queen".
Left arm bolted to his side, the kilted-up First Minister drew interested glances from well-wishers who wondered just what was inside the capacious low-slung maroon bag. In the end, however, the answer from the ministerial office revealed that Mr McConnell’s new accessory was carrying absolutely nothing. No hairbursh, no diary, no lipgloss. Nothing.
A spokeswoman for the Executive said the ceremonial role dated back to the time of the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when the sovereign’s purse bearer carried a bag containing the Great Seal of Scotland. Nowadays, however, the purse is empty.
The Great Seal - now known as the Scottish Seal - is the earliest seal of the Scottish kings and was first used by Duncan II in 1094, whose image, along with Scottish heraldic motifs, is depicted.
All documents from the king were dispatched under the Great Seal, including grants of lands, titles, and gifts of office.
The seal had a more limited role after the Union in 1707, and in 1885 the newly created office of secretary of state took on the task of keeper. The current seal, one half silver and the other alloy, dates from the same time.
The function of keeper of the seal has now passed to the First Minister, symbolising that the Scottish parliament will now enact most of the legislation for Scotland.