Tiffany Jenkins: Off with the head of state

LUKEWARM Jubilee celebrations and a lack of bunting suggest royalty has had its day, but republicanism fails to find favour in Scotland writes Tiffany Jenkins

LUKEWARM Jubilee celebrations and a lack of bunting suggest royalty has had its day, but republicanism fails to find favour in Scotland writes Tiffany Jenkins

THERE will be a celebration this Saturday on the street where I live; a festive do with bunting, bouncy castle and a band. The organisers are not English monarchists – they are not all that keen on the Queen – and, despite the date, the event is simply billed on the flyer as a “street party” with no mention of Her Maj. It will be Jubilee do that is neither loud nor proud; a quiet event – one of around 30 planned in Edinburgh for the Diamond Jubilee weekend.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The city, with the Palace of Holyrood, will host many of the celebrations in Scotland where, overall, only around 100 were given planning permission, this newspaper has revealed. There will be a concert in the Usher Hall and live streaming of UK events in Festival Square. But, given this is the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne – she will soon be the longest reigning monarch in history – it is a somewhat muted public response, especially compared to the estimated 9,500 parties scheduled in England and Wales.

So far, so lukewarm. We are not that excited about the Royal Family. The celebrations planned appear to be just an excuse for a drink and chat with the neighbours, a far cry from singing God Save the Queen.

In Lanarkshire, where there is a photographic workshop offering 1950s-style portraits, it would seem an opportunity for a nostalgic makeover, rather than anything overtly regal. And yet, whilst this monarchy-lite approach is understandable; especially for a nation thinking about independence, it is also remarkably republican-lite; especially for a nation thinking about independence, which is a problem for a republican Roundhead like me.

A week after the launch of the “Yes to Independence” campaign and you might think that “off with their heads” would be on the cards, or at least an amicable separation. But no. The SNP want to keep the British monarch as Scotland’s head of state. They continue to suck up to the Crown. On Wednesday, the Scottish parliament saw the most grovelling, fawning “discussion” about Her Majesty. Ruth Davidson said that “we could not have asked for one finer.” Fair enough, given this was from the Conservative leader. But all the parties, bar the Greens, doffed their hats and tugged their forelocks to the lady in question.

Johann Lamont praised her for appearing “effortless” in carrying out her public duties”; LibDem Willie Rennie, because she delivers more than anyone expects. But the sick–bag should be reserved for Alex Salmond, who tabled the motion praising “Elizabeth, Queen of Scots”.

Salmond said he had “enormous respect” for her “impartiality and service”, that: “she has always been a friend of Scotland, indeed, she is more than that, she is family”. Not to me she’s not. Thankfully, there was protest from Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie who declared that any debate on the future of Scotland should address how a head of state would be appointed. Hear hear.

All this is for a dysfunctional family, known as The Firm, whose very existence is based on hereditary privilege, who have immense power because of their bloodline, who reign over all of us – for we are their subjects. A family that, during times of austerity, has no financial worries – Forbes puts the Queen’s personal fortune at about £310 million – and which costs the state £32 million a year, according to one national newspaper. And we are meant to thank them for prancing around their palaces, swanning off all over the world, and posing for the cameras whilst holding sick children? Give me a break.

What a strange state of affairs. There is no fevered support for the monarchy, but neither is Republicanism – the idea of governing a nation as a republic, where the head of state is appointed by elections rather than heredity – gaining ground. The Union Flag bunting in our shops barely raises a salute or fist. And yet politicians couldn’t be more obsequious. The time is right in many ways to remove the monarchy and yet the will to do so is weaker than ever. So The Firm is secure. In an age when everything they stand for is mostly discredited, they are sitting comfortably on the throne.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

How did we get here? The monarchy has flourished by capitalising on factors beyond them: the rise of celebrity culture; a need for history and tradition; and the discrediting of politics and democracy. Since walking around the bombed blitz streets during the Second World War, looking on in well-crafted sympathy, they have slowly modernised. The attempt to appear less privileged and more normal rapidly accelerated after the death of Princess Diana in 1997, when they were damned for appearing insensitive, old-fashioned and out of touch. And after a few scandals, they needed to do something for it was looking a little tawdry.

The royal rebranding reached exhilarating heights with the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, who are far more a celebrity couple than the old monarchical husband and wife. As we live in an age when to be famous is everything, Will, Kate, Harry, and Pippa with that bottom, can give the papers what they want. The wedding was more a Hello! Magazine event than patriotic celebration. The Aston Martin replaced the traditional horse and carriage. The daughter of multi-millionaires gave the lie to the idea that an ordinary girl can become a princess.

The other priceless asset the monarchy has enjoyed through the queen’s reign is the increasingly degraded state of politics. The political arena has dramatically shrunk in esteem and relevance. Politicians – once significant figures with significant social support – have become discredited and distrusted, seen as remote and robotic, far removed from the people. The many “expenses scandals” have created an impression that politicians are only in it for themselves. The creeping colonisation of the political centre ground has helped to confirm Thatcher’s maxim: “There Is No Alternative”, and left many wondering what is the point if it isn’t to change it.

As politics has become further tarnished, the idea that society requires something or someone above it has gained ground. This dynamic more than anything has firmed up the position of the royals. In turn, politicians hang on their robes because it gives them some credibility by proxy, some association with a tradition, stability, and history.

The SNP plans to keep the monarch as head of state, presumably, because it suggests the potential break with the Union won’t be that severe and that it won’t have to frighten the horses.

The problem is sovereignty should lie with the people.

Of course, with constitutional monarchies the head appears to hold little real power, but, formally, it is there. Through the “royal prerogative” they can theroetically appoint prime ministers, dismiss governments and dissolve parliament, as well as withhold their assent to legislation. The royal prerogative can also allow the executive – the PM – to bypass parliamentary scrutiny, with powers that permit the government to declare war and make treaties without parliamentary approval.

The very existence of a monarchy is deeply undemocratic. Their success is down to how we see ourselves – not really up to it. As John Adams, the American revolutionary, put it, one fights for a republic if one believes that ordinary people are “sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy and superstition”. Clearly too few do. And that’s is no cause for celebration.